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Seeing the Ability: “I am not handicapped! I am a human!” – Roman Kysliak

An exceptional taxi driver with CP who fled the war in Ukraine’s east suggests declaring next year ‘The Year of Tolerance’ towards disabled people  

The story of Roman Kysliak, a displaced man affected by cerebral palsy (CP) from Donbas who now lives in Lviv, hit the headlines over a year ago when Roman was ordered to leave a fancy Vapiano restaurant because of his ‘suspicious’ looks.

After this shameful accident, Roman initiated an awareness-raising flash mob entitled “Take a friend to coffee”. It was about inviting a person with special needs out and spending some time together in public.

He was born in Makiyivka near Donetsk and, as a child, he developed a range of CP symptoms. At the same time, he gained two degrees – one in journalism and another in psychology. For 10 years he ran a Christian newsletter for young people. After it stopped being produced, Roman went on to work as a taxi driver. Having his condition, he managed to use his own car to evacuate 75 people from war-torn Donbas.

Our colleagues and journalists in collaboration with Radio Liberty have met Roman to record an extremely honest interview with him.

It seems that Roman does not particularly enjoy the media hype surrounding his personality. In his words, he does not consider himself ‘a hero’, but, with his life, he is keen to fight stereotypes about the people living with cerebral palsy, as well as public misconceptions about the displaced “bandits of Donbas”. And Roman’s biggest motivation in life is to see Ukrainians change their attitudes towards fellow countrymen with special needs. He says he got used to being called ‘handicapped’, but he refuses to get used to discrimination.

Roman has called on Ukrainian First Lady Maryna Poroshenko, who met him once as a result of his infamous ordeal, suggesting that she helps to organize the “Year of Tolerance” towards people with disabilities in Ukraine next year.

“Perhaps, we ought to call a round-table meeting or something where we could discuss how to best implement this initiative. How to make life easier for the disabled. Because we need them [authorities] to create conditions for us to live and to live as all other people do. These are my crazy dreams, aren’t they? But this is my urge to live, because people like me cannot live much on stress and in depression,” says Roman.

See Roman in his everyday life – Internews has supported the production of this 360⁰ video (in Ukrainian).  The video and the text were created with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Global Affairs Canada.

We promote tolerance journalism and conflict-sensitive reporting in Ukraine. Over the past year, 130 journalists attended Internews-supported workshops as part of our journalist professional development projects. The topics included reporting about IDPs and conflict-affected communities, minorities, people with disabilities and representatives of other vulnerable groups.