Dmytro Shchebetiuk is an extremely positive person. He always smiles and seems not to be familiar with the word “tired”. He sleeps three hours at night and is constantly on the road. He is traveling across Ukraine and checks if spaces are accessible, he is an athlete and a motivator for us. Opinion talked to the Ukrainian who always believes only in a better future.
Your schedule is impressive: 15 towns and cities in two weeks or so. Not taking into account your work in projects and on TV. Isn’t it exhausting?
Actually, I enjoy my life exactly because I have no days off. Sometimes, I even don’t know what I will do the next day and my schedule sometimes looks extremely intensive but what I do brings me satisfaction. However, I happened to lie on a sofa at home and do nothing for a week. Now I have learned how to recharge my energy and it’s Ok now. I work with people on projects, and I can’t let them down.
You used to say that you were lazy.
It is true. We are good friends with my laziness, and I know how to get on well with it so we both are satisfied. I am an impulsive person. When some idea comes to my mind, I know that I have to embody it immediately because later, I will get lazy and give it up. That’s why I have many projects because responsibility to others motivates me. And if I promise something only to myself I can fail to do it. Sometimes it is the responsibility to others that makes me go outside when I have no strength and just want to do nothing.
Especially when you have been on the road for a month already.
It is very hard. Sport helps me and the fact that I am in good physical shape lets me “live on the road”. In every city, I look for a pool where I can loosen my stiff muscles after hundreds of kilometers. And this shift of loads really helps. When I only have public meetings and trips for a month, I feel like am breaking apart.
Do you get such a feeling from your journeys?
Now we travel mostly by car, sleep for 3-4 hours. We shift with a driver, it helps. Though I like trains more. There are always two tickets reserved for disabled people and you can buy one a day before a journey. There is always staff at big stations that help you to climb the stairs into a carriage and then as the occasion requires: whether wheels are taken off if the wheelchair can’t do it in an aisle or I am carried. There are even special carriages which have to be booked. They are spacious enough, have a convenient WC and a compartment with just one lower and one upper berth.
Nevertheless, you have covered thousands of kilometres via hitch-hiking.
Actually, it doesn’t make any difference: whether in a wheelchair or not. The only thing is that trucks don’t stop, but it is good because I won’t ever climb into it. There is no problem to get to a highway from Kyiv: the city has low-floor public transport. The same is in Belarus. People sometimes give a ride in the country. No problems.
But many cities and towns still have high-floor trams and trolleys.
I don’t go by such transport. I ask people on a bus stop to help me get on a vehicle. However, some drivers happen not to want to take me on board. Once, one driver just went away, I didn’t even have enough time to come up to the vehicle. That’s why I ask people to help me before a bus comes, so I am inside before a driver knows it. And if he wants to go away, I don’t even have to do anything – passengers will deal with him.
It is clear with the transport. But what about Ukrainian pavements?
An average town isn’t accessible for people in wheelchairs, but the situation is being improved. I can hardly say because any hill is not a problem for me. But others find a steep wheelchair ramp impossible to go over it. Although, formally it will be OK. In the city of Odesa, for example, they have finally set lifts near the railway station. However DostupnoUa and I have secretly checked these lifts, and it turned out they didn’t work. There are many such things in Kyiv as well. Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk seem the most comfortable cities for me. They have very big areas equipped for disabled people. We don’t highlight bad things in our project. Everybody knows it without our help. Vice versa, we show what a person can see in a city being in a wheelchair.
In Odesa, there are some beaches for disabled people but you can get there only by car.
First of all, there shouldn’t be any beaches for the disabled. But signs that an area is accessible for a person in a wheelchair are important. Of course, we can’t change the earth’s relief or go to a beach down the hills. It is a safety issue. That’s why such places have to be equipped so people don’t find it difficult to get there. Europe is used to that.
It concerns seniors and young parents as well.
Yes, for example, many young people live in the town of Irpin, Kyiv region. Authorities understand there that mothers with baby carriages need comfort. However, some developers can make a very steep wheelchair ramp in new buildings. They say that it is inconvenient only for the disabled. No, it concerns everybody. Let them try to do it with a baby carriage. A person needs a comfort city on each stage of his or her life. Even if we speak about a bicycle or a big case being taken into an entrance hall.
Why then do such conflicts as in Kharkiv arise? When neighbors didn’t let a Paralympic champion to set a ramp on a porch of her block of flats so to be able to get outside?
Unfortunately, it still happens sometimes. However, there are less such howling situations. People who are ready to stand for their rights don’t suffer that much from such an attitude. The fact that she managed to set the ramp should motivate everybody who feels insecure. Because such refusals, such an attitude can destroy a person. A person starts to think that everything is horrible and nobody needs him or her. Here the question arises: what is your attitude to the world and whether you are ready to go to the mat. It is important to articulate such things, to make them public. Then, more frequently, there is a happy ending of a situation.
Should people write about such situations on social networks?
In fact, Facebook is a powerful tool. When I had only 300 friends on Facebook, we stirred the pot and made one of the gym chains more accessible for the disabled. At once, we found people who were ready to help. The crucial thing is that everything was fair and sincere. We should speak up!
Are Ukrainians changing their attitude to fellow-beings?
Yes, they are. By the way, I was very surprised when I found out about the Kharkiv case. Because the tendency is the opposite. After the Revolution of Dignity, people began thinking of their fellow-beings, they became more conscious. And when the ATO broke out and there were many injured, Ukrainians started to think even more of respect to others. In some cities, people without disabilities concern about the accessibility more than people in wheelchairs do.
In winter, there was a joke that our Paralympic athletes were very cool because getting somewhere through our streets is a great deed.
We shouldn’t get hurt by the joke because it is true to some extent. You have to obtain certain skills to be able to move by yourself. But I highlight that it is true only to some extent. Because Paralympic athletes have such tough training as Olympic athletes do. That’s why we have such a powerful national team. However, I admit that disabled people have more motivation because the sport has been for a long time almost the only possibility to earn well and fulfill some ambitions: because: if you don’t leave your home – you won’t have a job and so on. It is changing now and I hope that it won’t influence our sports results.
Do you tell about this motivation at your lections?
I am not comfortable to say it but yes – it is everything to inspire people. To make them think of accessibility, to change the attitude to the disabled. Before I was injured, I also saw people on crutches begging for some money in a metro. And now, I see how many great people are around me. We say that people shouldn’t treat a disabled person like a hero or vice versa like he or she is pathetic. We don’t mark anybody. Everybody deserves to live in comfort.
Interview by Kostiantyn Rul
Photo by Dmytro Zhuravel