Ukraine means freedom: no to reconstructing enslavement institutions for people with disabilities

Ukraine means freedom: no to reconstructing enslavement institutions for people with disabilities

Currently, Ukraine claims to pursue two major goals: recovery and EU membership. Both of these processes should be supported by the abolition of institutional care system (namely deinstitutionalization – DI). These are the recommendations that Ukraine received last year from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, the Committee emphasized in its separate Guidelines on deinstitutionalization that efforts to rebuild justice should be accompanied by a refusal to recover and/or reconstruct all kinds of institutional facilities. Because the residential system of social and medical services alone does not comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Ukraine has been a party since 2010. Ongoing efforts to reform approaches to the provision of social and rehabilitation services, as well as the commitment to support member states in their attempts to implement DI, are laid out in the European Commission’s Strategy Union of Equality: Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030.

Instead, the Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, February 2022-February 2023, jointly compiled by the World Bank, the European Union, the United Nations, and the Government of Ukraine, refers to a request from the Government of Ukraine to reconstruct damaged residential care facilities. The state is requesting $127.5 million to repair places of freedom deprivation, instead using assistance of the international partners to change the system and ensure the right to independent living.

Such a request to reinstall an abusive system disregards Ukraine’s human rights obligations and the new challenges the country faces due to the war. While the war in Ukraine causing so many people to lose their homes and social networks, or to suffer injuries and traumas, the need for effective social services, supported decision-making, and independent living in communities is increasing. Back in 2014-2015, the civil society sector drew the State’s attention to the fact that massive forced displacement and the consequences of war lead to an increase in forced institutionalization. Because of the situation when the current system of social services and rehabilitation, as well as communities, cannot offer alternatives. This situation escalates in 2022-2023. The response to this new wave of forced institutionalization should not restrict to restoring damaged institutions, but rather to reforming the entire system of social services and support and moving to a model of independent living in communities and supported decision-making so that every person in Ukraine can live with dignity and enjoy human rights equally.


We appeal to the Government of Ukraine and the President to refrain from reconstruction of the destroyed institutions of all types and immediately launch a reform of social services, including those currently provided, based on the residential care. Right now in 2023, Ukraine must:

  1. Commit to deinstitutionalization.
  2. Reform the current legislation on deprivation of legal capacity and introduce supported decision-making mechanism.
  3. Start providing support services to enable the independent living of people with disabilities in communities.


We also appeal to Ukraine’s international partners, including the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Bank, to support Ukraine in implementing DI in line with the EU Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Together, we must ensure the recovery of Ukraine to be in line with a human rights-based approach.



The Ukrainian authorities have not launched a comprehensive program to switch from the residential care system to supportive decision-making, independent living in communities, and changing approaches to recognizing legal capacity over the 30 years of independence. In 2023, Ukraine is still unable to dismantle its extensive and complex, costly and inefficient, dangerous and abusive system of residential care institutions for adults with disabilities and the elderly. By 2023, Ukraine still refers to such institutions as places where people can get “social care services” and does not recognize that such institutions should not exist in a country aiming for the European Union. The reform of the children’s residential care system launched in 2017 was not completed and lacked steps to reform the adult “care” system.

As of 2023, according to government authorities and CSOs monitoring, there are 260 residential care facilities for adults with disabilities and the elderly in the government-controlled territory of Ukraine, of which at least 27 boarding schools and 11 psychiatric healthcare facilities are under regular artillery shelling.


Among other things, the Ukrainian system of residential care is notable for the large capacity of institutions, which, as the 2014 experience and the events of 2022 have shown, impedes rapid response and effective evacuation of people. On average, residential facilities house 200–300 individuals, while the largest residential facility for adults with disabilities and the elderly accommodates 700 people at a time. Between 2022 and early 2023, only 46 residential institutions of the social protection system were evacuated, as well as patients subject to compulsory medical measures and those in medical institutions in Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. There are still 24 residential institutions and 7 psychiatric healthcare facilities in the uncontrolled by the Government territory (temporarily occupied since 2022).

Numerous war crimes committed by the Russian military against residents and staff of the institutions, as well as causing damage to buildings, were documented by CSO. Moreover, according to the data received from the regional military administrations in response to information requests, 25 social detention facilities (in early 2023, only adult institutions) were damaged.


There is no doubt that people living in residential facilities need support and assistance, ranging from safe living conditions to access to justice and reparations in cases where they have been victims of war crimes.

Nevertheless, the key challenge being faced by the Ukrainian Government is to shift away from residential care and create the conditions for a transition to supported decision-making and independent living in communities model. This is clearly a lengthy process that must be carefully planned together with the community of people with disabilities and the civil society sector. However, this process should be launched today, when the current residential system has already proved ineffective. After all, neither in peace nor in war, the state is capable of guaranteeing respect for human dignity and ensuring human rights in residential institutions, as monitors of the National Preventive Mechanism and international experts from the UN Committees Against Torture and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have repeatedly pointed out.

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