Social Services in Ukraine: Empowering Local Action

The number of Ukrainians requiring social assistance is rising. In response to this challenge, the EU seeks to further strengthen social services in Ukraine and sees decentralisation as one of the keys to achieving this.

P0095100021Currently, 13 million retired people, 2.6 million disabled people, two million victims of Chornobyl, 1.6 million WWII veterans, and many others depend on social protection and state support in Ukraine.

Now added to this list are increasing numbers of people affected by the war in eastern Ukraine. “We are in contact with soldiers of the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) who have faced amputations and now need a prosthesis or wheelchair. Quite often the prosthetics provided for them by the state are of low-quality,” says Ivan Marusevych, head of the Ukrainian Association of Disabled People. He believes that the state should provide only financial assistance, allowing the affected person to choose his/her own prosthesis.

Marusevych shared his views during a conference held on October 30 by the Ministry of Social Policy in partnership with the EUfunded project, “Support for the development of the social services system in Ukraine.”

The development of appropriate infrastructure for people with disabilities, and the provision of social assistance as soon as the disability begins, should also be top priorities of social policy, believes Marusevych. This must include psychological support, social reintegration, and assistance with household needs.

However, the number of social workers available to provide these services is critically low in Ukraine. While in EU countries the work of social workers is well remunerated, in Ukraine these services are provided mostly by enthusiasts.

When I worked as a social worker at one of the services in Kyiv, we did it as volunteers. Of course our main motivation was to help people,” says Hanna Katerynchyk, a volunteer who is studying social pedagogics in one of Kyiv’s colleges. Her passion for helping people has had to face up against the adult reality of needing to make a living.

The EU is assisting Ukraine in overcoming these and many other problems through its project, “Support for the development of the social services system in Ukraine.” Its regional training sessions are intended to help strengthen professional capacity in the Ministry of Social Policy and its organisational structure in the regions. This is expected to result in better support for vulnerable groups in the regions and a better understanding of their needs.

The decentralisation of social services and strengthening decision-making capacity at the local level, which is common practice in the EU, is also one of the priorities of the project.

In Spain, the social needs of vulnerable groups are defined at the regional level. At the same time the state guarantees a certain scope of social support and its high quality,” says Jacobo Martín Fernández, an official at Spain’s health and social services ministry who deals with support to disabled people. He adds that Spain’s decentralised model of social services means they are of a higher quality.

“Decentralisation in social policy would mean the transfer of authority and financing to the local level,” explains Andrei Tretyak, French resident Twinning advisor and expert on social policies. He warns, however, that this process might take a long time for Ukraine, as it did in France. “Local institutions would not be able to take on all the functions at once,” he added.

Natalia Fedorovych, Ukraine’s deputy minister for social policy, says that the government’s first step toward decentralising social services will consist of a shift from “financing institutions to financing services.” In this regard, the government can work toward providing high quality social services through analysis of communities’ needs, coordination of the work of state institutions, and cost control. Another aspect of social policy decentralisation could be to empower contractors from NGOs to provide services at the request of state institutions, she adds.

Background information

The “Support for the Development of the Social Services System in Ukraine” project operates within the framework of the Twinning Cooperation Programme financed by the European Union. The state institutions of Ukraine and France have been paired to exchange best practices. With an overall budget of €1.5 million, the project aims at strengthening the institutional capacity of the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy in order to assure the creation of effective social services policy for vulnerable groups of Ukrainians in compliance with European standards.

Also within the Twinning Cooperation Programme the EU implements the project “Approximation of Ukrainian legislation to the EU norms and Standards in the sphere of vocational rehabilitation and employment of persons with disabilities”.

For more information about the project please visit