The impacts of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities in Ukraine (with a particular focus on internally displaced Persons with Disabilities)

Lead Research Organisation: Edinburgh Napier University
Department Name: School of Applied Science


The recent comprehensive assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on the socio-economic situation in Ukraine (September 2020) confirms the 'devastating impact of COVID-19 in Ukraine' (UN Ukraine 2020), including a disproportionate impact on the conflict-affected population in eastern Ukraine (5 million) and those in the situation of protracted internal displacement (1.5 million). Among the 1.5 million IDPs, 51,412 were officially registered as having a disability as of September 2020 (ibid.) The most recent report by UN Migration (2019:4) identified that households with PWDs (comprising 12% of all IDP households as of September 2019) were more likely to rely on 'stress strategies' and 'crisis strategies' as a means of survival amid the deteriorating socio-economic situation of IDPs compared to households without PWDs.
The proposed research will provide an in-depth qualitative assessment of the multifaceted impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on internally displaced PDWs in Ukraine. We will research and work together, in a participatory and emancipatory manner, with people with disabilities (including those in the situation of protracted internal displacement) and with key stakeholders at the national and regional levels (including government agencies, international, national and regional NGOs led by and/or working with people with disabilities). Recognising the urgency in assessing the impact of the pandemic and the limitations imposed by social distancing measures and travel restrictions, the project will rely on a combination of qualitative research methods (co-designed with the representatives of community organisations led by/working with people with disabilities) to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the intersecting inequalities of (dis)location, disability, gender and age.
We will engage with more than one hundred organisations led by/working with PWDs in Ukraine by setting up an online survey to record unique organisational perspectives on the impact of the pandemic and their views on potential strategies for inclusive recovery. To document the impact of the pandemic on the daily lives of internally displaced PWDs, we will undertake a telephone/video-conferencing survey of 300 persons with disabilities and/or their carers from 10 regions of the Ukraine, which host the largest number of internally displaced people. This will be complemented by a system of written and/or audio/video diaries recorded by PWDs over the period of 8 weeks to understand the disrupting impact of the pandemic on their daily lives, and which policy and practical interventions may be urgently required in response.
The proposed research programme we enable us to assemble a mosaic of views and opinions of PWDs affected by displacement and those assisting them 'on the ground' to identify existing gaps in the provision of support services within the context of the pandemic, paying attention to its gender dimension. In doing so, the project will provide opportunities for groups to be heard who are often excluded from public debates about wellbeing, displacement and humanitarian/development assistance (particularly those who are the targets of these policies).
The project will draw on a unique set of skills and expertise within the context of a multi-disciplinary (disability studies, migration studies, sociology, social policy, wellbeing, demography), multi-partner (three academic institutions, one umbrella NGO representing almost 120 organisations working with/led by PWDs) and multi-country (Ukraine and the UK) research project. It will deliver a range of outputs for specific audiences (research participants, policy-makers, academic audiences, general public), it will make a significant contribution towards developing new research competencies of project partners in Ukraine (including ECRs), and will generate a set of legacy materials (an online repository and a methodological toolkit).


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Title A series of illustrations on the everyday life of persons with disabilities in Ukraine 
Description We have developed a series of project-specific illustrations which show some of the issues that persons with disabilities faced during the pandemic. 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact These outputs serve a dual purpose: they relay some of the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities in Ukraine during the pandemic. They can also be used as a basis for an easy read version of the outputs for persons with intellectual disabilities. 
Title COVID-19 And Persons With Disabilities In Ukraine: A Series Of Illustrations 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2022 
Description We have applied for an extension to the project since its completion has been severely disrupted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. We are reporting on the first key findings (related to our work with the organisations of persons with disabilities); further findings will be available at a later date in 2022.

This war hits Ukraine as the country began to emerge from the consequences of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, as our research suggests, magnified vulnerability of persons with disabilities in Ukraine by limiting their access to healthcare, social services, and transport. It increased their social isolation and undermined their economic security. The pandemic has shattered the resilience and vitality of organisations providing support to persons with disabilities. Special Rapporteur notes that there is 'no such thing as an inherently vulnerable person, but only persons with disabilities placed in vulnerable situations' (UN General Assembly 2021, para 16). Our research suggests that a wide range of 'vulnerable situations' shaped lived experiences of persons with disabilities in Ukraine before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020. Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons with disabilities and those in need of humanitarian assistance, as a result of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine in 2014, faced an additional layer of socio-economic vulnerability impeding their access to housing, healthcare and social services. COVID-19 and the government response to the pandemic amplified both the volume and the scale of such vulnerable situations.

Update March 2023:
Follow the internal re-calibration of the project in response to a significant impact of war on both the scope of the project and the availability (and safety and security) of staff used in Ukraine, the project successfully developed and published the second project report, which sets out, in detail, the impact of the pandemic on persons with disabilities in Ukraine. The findings paint a picture of entrenched economic and social deprivations experienced by people with disabilities in Ukraine, patterned by the intersecting and reinforcing inequalities of gender, age, locality, displacement, and socio-economic status, and exacerbated rather than created by the pandemic. The project also developed a series of 'Guiding Questions' for policy-makers for each key theme that the report considers. The project suggests that these recommendations inform all responses by any agency, including public authorities in Ukraine and the increasing number of international public and private donors, in supporting the people of Ukraine in a way that foregrounds disability, human rights and justice.
Exploitation Route One of the key recommendations emerging from these results is that the organisational of persons with disabilities should be included as key stakeholders in developing and implementing any humanitarian / rapid response to public health and other emergencies. These findings are being communicated to key international organisations working in the field of disability, including the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy


Democracy and Justice

Security and Diplomacy

Description The findings of this project focus on the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities in Ukraine. The completion of this project was interrupted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The scale and the impact of the ongoing war and its impact of persons with disabilities in Ukraine have overshadowed the impact of the pandemic. However, the findings of the study highlight the issues of economic and social vulnerability of the persons with disabilities in Ukraine which were further magnified by the pandemic; they also highlight the issue of inadequate availability and accessibility of public services, including healthcare, to persons with disabilities in Ukraine. These problems, which were magnified by the pandemic and recorded/highlighted by the study, have been further exacerbated by the war. The study made a series of recommendations to a variety of stakeholders in Ukraine (focusing on the role of the organisations of persons with disabilities in Ukraine) and also formulated a range of questions (based on the second and third published reports) to policymakers and stakeholders in Ukraine which should inform the planning and delivery of public services to persons with disabilities in Ukraine in the context of public health and other emergencies, indulging the ongoing war. These recommendations and findings are used by the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine - the largest network of organisations of persons with disabilities in Ukraine - in their work to ensure that the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities in the context of war are sufficiently recognised and addressed. There are no quantifiable market of impact at this stage. The project team is planning to run a series of consultations with disability activists in Ukraine in 2024 to understand what impact the project findings had. We are aware however, that organisations of persons with disabilities in Ukraine rely on the study fundings to demonstrate the need for strategies and policies that foreground disability considerations in the humanitarian response.
First Year Of Impact 2023
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

Policy & public services

Description A series of bespoke training opportunities for disability activists and practitioners in Ukraine
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Internal Research Excellence Grant
Amount £7,200 (GBP)
Funding ID R1912 
Organisation Edinburgh Napier University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 07/2022
Description Disability activist workshops in Ukraine 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A series of training workshops for disability activists in Ukraine (target audience 35 each), including:
'Nothing about us...without us' - a series of three workshops on conducting participatory research with people with disabilities delivered by Dr Susie Balderston
Workshop 1 (May 2021): Principles for Good Research.
Workshop 2 (May 2021): Ethics and safety, and Interviewing Skills.
Workshop 3 (June 2021): How to use research findings to foster change and who do we need to tell our findings to.

'Human Rights Framework and Removing Disabling Barriers to Being and Doing' - a series of two workshops delivered by Dr Jo Ferrie (July 2021)
Workshop 1 (June 2021) Using Human Rights Based Approach in Research
Workshop 2 (June 2021) Human Rights and Disability: Scotland, Legislation and Implementation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release setting out a summary of research funding and linking it to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, highlighting the role of the organisations of persons with disabilities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Project website to increase public engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The project developed a dedicated website, which is abatable in both English and Ukrainian to report on the development/trajectory of the research and to disseminate outputs as they become available. The website recorded more than 380 unique visitors over the last year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022