We meet Oleksandr Teren, a war veteran and wheelchair user, and Natalia Haripova, the producer of a popular Ukrainian YouTube show on accessibility, on Bohdan Khmelnytskyi Street in central Kyiv to take a walk to Khreshchatyk, another central artery of the city. Oleksandr has had both legs amputated below the knee; he has prostheses and can move about without a wheelchair. Meanwhile, many people who don’t have prostheses rely on wheelchairs to navigate the city. We asked Oleksandr to use a wheelchair for this story – to see just how accessible our route today would be.

Photo: Serj Khutsanu

As soon as we set out, we’re faced with a steep climb; Oleksandr asks if he could walk while we push the wheelchair, because the hill is too steep to manage in the chair. When we ask him if the incline is also difficult to manage for someone with prostheses, Oleksandr says that it depends on the type of prosthesis and where the leg was amputated from: if the amputation was above the knee, a steep hill can become a real challenge. A person with leg prostheses might also struggle going down a set of stairs.

Natalia is pushing the wheelchair, which catches on loose tiles and potholes; she says that the terrain varies throughout the city, and it’s normal to have areas that are at an incline, but the defects in the surface of the sidewalks could be leveled out by laying new tarmac. “You could kill yourself on these tiles, it’s just a complete travesty,” she says.

Earlier, architect Yulian Chaplinksyi told The Village Ukraine that Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovyi only had the cobbled Rynok (Market) Square in central Lviv re-paved after an appeal from Taras Pastukh, another war veteran who had both his legs amputated and is now using prostheses. At the time, he used a wheelchair, and his wife complained that her arms would get tired whenever she would push him on the cobblestones.


As we approach an intersection, there’s a strip of yellow tactile paving, which alerts people with visual impairments that they’re at a crossing. In a perfect world, there would be guides made out of a similar tactile material leading up to the crossing to let people with visual impairments know they’re approaching a road. “So what’s been done is quite superficial, tactile paving is still not being used enough,” Natalia says.

There’s a curb, so Oleksandr carefully moves his wheelchair off the sidewalk and onto the road: “Not ideal, but manageable.” We ask him what types of curb are more comfortable for wheelchair users, but he says they shouldn’t have to deal with curbs at all: municipal regulations stipulate that there should be curb ramps at every intersection.


Oleksandr and Natalia say businesses should be responsible for making their entrances – and the area just outside establishments like shops, pharmacies and cafes and restaurants – accessible. “They should be at the forefront of change. Isn’t it in their interest to attract customers? Otherwise they’re inaccessible to 25% of their potential customers, which is the percentage of people with disabilities. And that’s destructive from a business perspective,” Natalia says. People with disabilities could also be working at those establishments, as well as being customers.


“Let me show you curtailed accessibility,” Oleksandr says with a sly smile as he approaches a pedestrian crossing. There’s tactile tiles and a dropped curb, so he easily moves from the sidewalk onto the road in his wheelchair. On the other side of the road, though, there isn’t a curb ramp, so anyone using a wheelchair will be forced to figure out how to get up the curb while in the middle of traffic. You have to be pretty strong to be able to heave yourself up a curb in a wheelchair. There aren’t any tactile tiles on this side of the road, either, not even a warning strip.

There’s a bakery and an office on this side of the street, both accessed via stairs. Lots of other places along the street are only accessible via stairs, and so are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users.

We walk past a counter selling take-away coffee, but the window is so high that a person in a wheelchair couldn’t reach it to order a coffee – even though state building regulations (SBR) stipulate the appropriate height of the counter for places like this. Natalia says she once went to a cafe with her husband, who was using a wheelchair at the time; outside the cafe entrance, an arrow next to a sign with a person in a wheelchair pointed to the courtyard, suggesting there was an accessible entrance there – but there wasn’t one. Natalia drew on this episode when creating the opening credits for her YouTube show.



We stop at the intersection with Ivan Franko Street, one of the very few streets in central Kyiv that has been fully renovated. It features tactile paving with special guides leading to it, a cycle lane, curb ramps, and fresh, still bright road markings.

Still, at one of the pedestrian crossings we run into a semi-sphere, which is supposed to prevent cars from parking on the sidewalk. While a wheelchair user would be able to go around it, someone with a visual impairment wouldn’t know it was there – so it could be an obstacle for them. Natalia explains that there should be warning tactile tiles on both sides of obstacles like that.

“But if you’re using the guides, it’s not in your way,” Oleksandr says as he points towards the yellow guides designed to help people with visual impairments maneuver the street. Natalia agrees.

In our recent Lviv reporting project, Valerii, who has lost sight and who was an intern at The Village Ukraine at the time, was most frustrated about the electric scooters dotting the city, which he would constantly trip over. He said there were also very few traffic lights with an audio signal in Lviv.

There’s a car parked at one of the pedestrian crossings that prevents both wheelchair users and parents with buggies from easily crossing. Oleksandr and Natalia talk about their experience of exploring the accessibility of different Ukrainian cities for the YouTube show Natalia produces. They say what struck them is that large cars are often parked on sidewalks, at pedestrian crossings, or in the traffic lane closest to the sidewalk – all of which is a source of danger to wheelchair users.


The first building on our walk that Oleksandr would be able to enter is the administrative building of the Kyiv Administrative Court; the entrance has a ramp with handrails. “I used to not give much thought to handrails and didn’t know what they were for. But you need them to stay on the ramp and prevent you from falling or rolling off it,” Oleksandr says.

A few meters past the court building, his wheelchair gets stuck in a gutter. Open gutters are a major obstacle for wheelchair users: they have to be covered by a grate of a certain size to prevent the wheels from getting stuck. Oleksandr gets up from the wheelchair and pushes it in front of him whenever he spots an open gutter.


There are three popular establishments at the intersection of Ivan Franko and Bohdan Khmelnytskyi streets: Pure Naive, a bistro, McDonald’s, and Print24, a printing service. There are steep stairs leading to each.

Pure Naive has an open terrace in the summer, making it accessible to someone in a wheelchair – though it still doesn’t have an accessible toilet. When we ask a staff member how Oleksandr could access the premises inside, they say they’re working on making a more accessible entrance, but for now the only option for a wheelchair user is to be carried in.

A Pure Naive manager tells us that installing a lift is rife with red tape, but the team is working on a solution.

Activist Uliana Pcholkina recently said on a podcast that she feels particularly embarrassed when someone has to carry her because a space is not wheelchair-accessible – so she just avoids those spaces.



There’s an electric wheelchair lift near the McDonald’s, but it’s hidden under a cover. When we ask the staff if we can use it, they say the lift is currently not working as it needs to be serviced. They also tell us a person in a wheelchair could be carried inside if they wanted to come in.

A pharmacy nearby is also only accessible by stairs, and another building nearby has a large marble curb right in front of it, and no ramp to access it.

Oleksandr points out the entrance to 11 Mirrors, a boutique hotel, with its wide ramp. A bit further, another cafe has a window for orders to go; the sign in the window says “The window of coffee opportunities”, though Oleksandr and Natalia only see a missed opportunity, as a person in a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to reach the counter to place an order.


A very steep hill runs down toward the TSUM on Khreshchatyk just after the intersection of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi and Volodymyrska streets. Natalia pushes the wheelchair while Oleksandr uses the stairs. “If a wheelchair user ends up here, there’s no guarantees they’ll make the descent alive,” Natalia jokes.

There’s a confusing-looking ramp to our left; it looks like it was cobbled together from several separate planks. Natalia says it must be a memorial to ramps; half-joking, again.

The entrance to the Teatralna metro station deserves a separate mention: there’s narrow, steeply angled tracks that run along the stairs, impossible for a wheelchair user to navigate up or down. “A killer ramp,” Natalia calls it. We decided that we could write a horror story about killer ramps taking over the city, threatening the lives of wheelchair users.


A glimmer of light on our walk is the new pedestrian crossing at the intersection with Yevhen Chykalenko Street.

“I think we would be able to say that real change is underway when Perepichka [a popular cafe serving baked and fried pastries and pies to go] makes its counter lower,” Oleksandr says with a smile, adding that wheelchair users struggle with most take-away counters because of their height.

We try to get into TSUM [a popular department store]: the doors are very heavy; there’s usually someone there to help customers with the doors, but not on our visit. There’s a button that lets you slow down the revolving glass door, an alternative entrance, and there are lifts inside the store itself.

Sense, a bookstore on the central Khreshchatyk Street, has a ramp at one of the entrances, though the lower level remains inaccessible to wheelchair users. Staff tell us that there’s going to be a lift and even a special room for people who feel distressed from noise and large crowds.



We ask Oleksandr about his experience of working on the YouTube show about the accessibility of Ukrainian cities with Natalia. He says that Dnipro was the most accessible city that they had visited. “Other cities are about 5-7% accessible, while Dnipro is maybe at 20%. There are entire streets that are fully accessible.” This is thanks to activists with Ruslan Shyrynov at their helm. Dnipro is also the only city in Ukraine that has above-ground bomb shelters. What’s lacking there is a more systematic approach, Oleksandr says. For example, it would be great to have an accessibility map.

Additional accessible trams were launched in Vinnytsia after the release of the YouTube show, and the city’s also working on an accessibility map.

Oleksandr says that unfortunately the majority of change is still initiated by activists, not municipal officials. So far, Ukraine’s Ministry for Veteran Affairs hasn’t put forward any proposals. So far, there isn't even a department in the ministry that could work on making spaces more accessible.