“Where did you lose your weapon? The same place I lost my leg!” How the state plunges servicemen with disabilities into a bureaucratic maelstrom

When they were evacuating Senior Soldier Maksym Slipets after he got injured, he kept shouting one thing: to take his documents along with him.

This happened in April of last year near Marinka. Slipets was moving from one position to another when he heard the “exit” of a Russian mine. In an instant, it exploded right next to him.

When he came to his senses, he couldn’t feel his legs.

“My right leg was literally hanging on my pants,” he recalls.

They started carrying him away from the battlefield, and there, under Russian fire, in a semi-conscious state, Maksym Slipets asked his comrades to take his backpack with his documents while saving him. He didn’t want them to burn in the trench, he would explain later.

His documents were taken with him. However, this didn’t guarantee that after enduring the amputation of his leg, going through rehabilitation, and returning to civilian life, Slipets wouldn’t get bogged down in the Ukrainian bureaucracy.

Ukrainian Pravda tells the story of Maksym Slipets and the new challenges he and thousands of Ukrainians like him who ended up in wheelchairs due to Russia’s military aggression — face.

The report on the pants

His childhood smelled of coal.

It’s this smell that Slipets recalls when talking about his hometown of Lysychansk. A glass factory was located just 300 meters from his house, with a railway leading to it. Young Maskym sometimes couldn’t sleep until three in the morning — it’s hard to fall asleep when freight cars are being unloaded so close to you.

That Lysychansk now exists only in memories. Maksym saw it during peaceful years when smoke still rose from the factory chimneys. He was a resident during the difficult months of occupation — from May to July 2014, the city was controlled by the LPR militants. He witnessed the Ukrainian flags fluttering over Lysychansk after its liberation in 2014. However, Maksym doesn’t know what the city looked like before the Russian invasion. At that time, Slipets had already been serving in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for 4 years.

When Maskym left the hospital after his injury in April, there was nowhere to return to — in July 2022, Ukrainian troops had left Lysychansk.

His new home became Kropyvnytskyi — where his former wife was from. The first thing Maksym had to do was register in Kropyvnytskyi and apply for his pension. It turned out that since then, Slipets knows the city’s government offices much better than most other parts of it.

Maksym Slipet’s story is somewhat atypical in some ways. Volunteer and local businesswoman Victoria Bobita and International Aid to Ukrainians coordinator, former head of the Kirovohrad Regional State Administration, Maria Chorna, stepped in to help the soldier return to normal life. Their involvement significantly expedited certain processes. However, on the other hand, it became apparent that even with such strong support, resolving the bureaucratic problems of a soldier quickly was impossible.

“It’s very difficult. We go with him from one institution to another all day long, I come home and just collapse from exhaustion. What would he be able to do if he were alone?” sighs Victoria.

“We go to the Administrative Services Center, and they say, ‘You don’t have this particular paper, go to the draft board.’ We go there, and the draft board says, ‘We don’t have it, go to the regional one.’ We arrive at the regional office, and they say, ‘This paper is not with us,'” Bobita recounts the seven circles of hell that a wounded soldier has to go through.

Victoria Bobita is full of energy and gives the impression of a person who knows how to break down walls with her persistence. When it comes to processing documents, this trait seems not just useful but crucial.

They managed to break through one wall – registering Slipets and getting him benefits. The biggest obstacle in this was that they demanded a military ID for his registration.

Maksym registered with the territorial conscription center and handed over his military ID there. He didn’t know that a document required in one place would be demanded in another. When he came to retrieve it, Slipets was told that they couldn’t return it until the weapon assigned to him was accounted for.

It turns out that when Slipets got injured, he was supposed to shout to his comrades to not only take his documents but also his rifle out of the battlefield.

“They asked him, ‘Where is your weapon?’ Where is his weapon? It’s where his leg is! Did he have to hop on one leg, jump around, and retrieve the weapon?” Maria Chorna exclaims in frustration.

This problem was resolved after Maksym found a photocopy of his military ID and was able to have it certified at the territorial conscription center.

However, the military ID is also necessary for pension processing, and this maneuver didn’t work in that regard. According to the law, the military service record must have a note regarding the return of personal weapons. No weapon, no note, and without the note, they cannot process the document.

In theory, the commander should write a report stating that the weapon was lost or destroyed under circumstances beyond the soldier’s control and inform the relevant authorities. How they will resolve this issue in practice — Maksym doesn’t know yet.

Maksym Slipets

Source: Victoria Bobita

“Writing off lost items is a dreadful problem. You have to prepare a massive pile of documents,” says a Ukrainian military member, who works in the military unit headquarters and deals, among other things, with the paperwork for disposing of weapons.

However, losing a rifle is not such a common occurrence. For instance, for every 20,000 hryvnias (541 dollars) worth of timber, nails, and staples used for fortifying a trench, a separate document for disposal must be submitted. And if, for example, a drone that was on the inventory list gets shot down, be prepared for an official investigation.

“I understand that a drone costs 250,000, and we could write it off. But there are much cheaper things, and we still have to do it. A person left the combat zone and lost their pants. That’s it; we need to write a report about the pants,” says the military member from the headquarters.

Long rings

The second piece of paper that became a roadblock on Slipets’s path to his pension is a certificate of additional financial support. The military unit issued such a certificate, but it turned out to be in the wrong format, and it only listed the base salary: no bonuses, no seniority payments.

The pension amount depends on the level of the previous income, so Slipets turned to the military unit again for the correct figures. Two months have passed, and there is still no response.

See also: How Ukrainian soldiers after being injured are kept in military units with a salary of 500 UAH per month instead of rehabilitation

“In most cases, to obtain a certificate from the military unit — for example, about the circumstances of an injury — soldiers go through seven circles of hell,” says Dmytro Yovdiy, a lawyer and managing partner of the law firm Social Parity.

“When a serviceman is under the jurisdiction of the military unit, there are still some contacts, and communications. If he exits the system, he completely loses contact with them. And they become indifferent to him. For months, he struggled to obtain this certificate,” adds Dmytro Yovdiy.

Ideally, says Yovdiy, a unified, automated system that includes all participants in the process and where the military personnel wouldn’t have to run around and collect all the documents would be needed.

Currently, there is no standardization even on how to process specific certificates. That’s why cases like Maksym Slipet’s happen, where soldiers have to reissue documents for which they have spent a lot of time and effort to obtain.

An anonymous military member from the headquarters also complains about this. For him, it’s a routine task — submitting a document and getting it back because the next link in this paper chain requires a certificate in a different format.

“At all levels, there is a fear of making mistakes because there is no clear regulatory framework, and people are afraid of potential audits, and no one wants to take responsibility. Everyone wants to avoid trouble because if they miss a document that was done incorrectly, someone higher up will come and say, ‘What are you doing?'” He explains.

Maksym Slipets

Source: Victoria Bobita

In turn, lawyer Yovdiy uses the process of obtaining one-time financial assistance for a wounded serviceman as an example of the bureaucratic system’s workings.

The soldier has to overcome three major bureaucratic barriers. The first is the need to obtain a certificate from the military unit regarding the circumstances of the injury. The second is going through a military medical commission and obtaining a conclusion that the injury is related to defending the homeland. The third is undergoing a medical and social expert commission, which will determine either disability or loss of work capacity for the injured.

“The bureaucratic machine demotivates and creates conditions where a large number of servicemen simply do not receive what they are entitled to by law,” says Yovdiy.

From time to time, Maksym Slipets tries to call the military unit to inquire about the fate of his documents, but all he hears are long rings.

In the meantime, he lives on 2,000 hryvnias (54 dollars) per month — this money is provided to him as a temporarily displaced person.

Life with barriers

Document processing is a lengthy process even for a healthy individual. For a military serviceman who cannot get up from a wheelchair, it can sometimes be an insurmountable path.

Once, Slipets came to the draft board as a healthy man to enlist in the Armed Forces. They welcomed him with open arms and sent him off to war. During the war, Maksym lost the ability to walk. And when he returned to the draft board, he was met with stairs.

“There are no ramps in any draft board, whether regional or local,” says Victoria Bobita.

She recalls that sometimes she herself had to climb into the territorial conscription center building to fill out the necessary documents on behalf of Maksym.

But what should a person with disabilities do, someone who is not familiar with volunteers who could come to their aid?

Maksym Slipets and Victoria Bobita

Source: Victoria Bobita

The problem of accessibility is not limited to draft boards or service centers. Maksym cannot independently visit the nearest stores. He hasn’t found a hairdresser he can reach in a wheelchair. He’s forced to ask volunteers to go to the pharmacy for him.

After his injury, Slipets managed to go to the United States for rehabilitation. He believes that the American rehabilitation program is not significantly different from the Ukrainian one. However, what seems incredible to him is the difference in the opportunities for people with limited mobility.

“There, everything is made for people with disabilities. There are no obstacles like we have here. It was easy for me to just go out and buy cigarettes or coffee. There are ramps everywhere, entrances and exits,” he says.

From that trip, Maksym brought back two T-shirts and a vision of a truly barrier-free world.

Ukrainian cities are not equipped for people with limited mobility. There are isolated pockets of accessibility. For example, in Kyiv, it’s the Golden Gate area. But that’s only a part of the city — try to get there,” says the founder of the initiative Accessible.UA, Dmytro Shchebetiuk.

His initiative, which sheds light on the lives of people with disabilities, has developed a methodology for assessing the accessibility of cities and then set out to test them throughout the country. The latest accessibility rating of Ukrainian cities was released just before the full-scale invasion. Mariupol emerged as the leader at that time.

Shchebetiuk complains that even some newly constructed buildings do not comply with state building regulations that were supposed to ensure full accessibility, convenience, and independence for people. Not to mention buildings that were erected when the maximum concern for people with limited mobility consisted of two steel rails that a wheelchair still couldn’t pass over. Although even now, Shchebetiuk encounters people who genuinely believe that these rails are already a significant help and provide accessibility.

“At the initial stages, it’s very challenging. But anyone with a lot of energy and a thirst for life eventually adapts to the point where life becomes easier,” says Shchebetiuk about the condition of a person who finds themselves in a wheelchair.

It took him two years to adjust after his injury. In just six years, Shchebetiuk was able to embark on a hitchhiking journey across Ukraine.

Maksym Slipets is waiting for another journey. Right now, all his efforts are focused on processing his documents. And when the last piece of paper is accepted at the final institution, he hopes to fully dedicate himself to his rehabilitation.

Health is important. But if he devotes himself to rehabilitation now and leaves the pension paperwork for later, how will he live on that occasion?

Respect for one’s military is a sentiment that unites Ukrainians. Respect for the defenders of Ukraine should be maximum — this is no longer an assertion that someone is willing to dispute but rather a reminder.

But what should the state’s respect for the military look like?

Perhaps it should consist not only of words of support, public demonstrations of honor, and the recognition of heroes.

Perhaps this respect should also manifest in not throwing people who have returned from the frontlines into another battle, this time with the bureaucratic machine.

Because often, veterans who did not back down in the face of the well-armed Russian army find themselves surrendering in the battle against Ukrainian paperwork. They cease to fight for their rights and do not receive the deserved benefits.

“I think the state only sees you when you remind it of your existence. When it comes to taking people to war, it immediately finds the resources. But when you’re wounded or in need of something, it promptly turns a blind eye,” says Maksym Slipets.

The number of individuals who have lost limbs during the Russian military aggression could soon reach First World War proportions. The Wall Street Journal estimates between 20,000 to 50,000 Ukrainians, equivalent to the population of cities like Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi or Fastiv.

And with each passing day, the number of these individuals continues to grow.

This means that more and more people feel that their needs are being overlooked.

Originally posted by Rustem Khalilov on Ukrainska Pravda. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: In the trap of silence, queues, and thousands of pieces of paper. How does the state test the families of fallen soldiers?

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