Analysing Social Needs of the Ukrainian Ex-Combatants: Looking on The Lived Experience

Tetyana Semigina, Anna Kachmaryk, Olena Karagodina


Since 2014, Ukraine experiences armed conflict on the territory of its eastern part. The Ukrainian government had announced the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) to combat the separatists. This paper reports on research exploring the social needs of ex-combatants in Ukraine and pathways for social reintegration available to them. The research data reached theoretical saturation by interviewing ten ex-combatants and 11 representatives of different services (social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists, priests etc.). Additionally, field notes and grey literature were also considered for the analysis. To triangle, the data received from an interview the analysis of national legal acts on social protection of ex-combatants were analysed.

The following emerging themes came from the study: 1) expectations vs ambivalent attitudes and needs; 2) needs in social workers vs lack of social services. First, the study demonstrates that the primary need of the ATO (OOS) participant after returning home is social and psychological support. ATO participants say they have high expectations for the family and society, not from the state. However, some of the ex-combatants face ambivalent and hostile attitudes.

Conducted interviews reveal that social support to ATO veterans is reduced mainly to material benefits: privileges, subsidies, cash payments, etc. There is still no single model of social support for ATO participants that is legally defined. In addition, there is no prescribed standardised mechanism for providing social services to combatants.

The Ukrainian legislation includes several acts related to providing various benefits and guarantees of social protection for veterans. However, the ex-combatants stated that they filled unprotected. Opportunities for employment, education and good quality of life overall without the support promised by the legislation was rather tricky. Data suggest that transition to civilian life for ex-combatants is undermined by inadequate procedures, lack of support, and complicated administrative demands.

Based on the study findings, the recommendations to amend the state program of physical, medical, psychological rehabilitation and re-adaptation of ATO participants were proposed. The changes to the program might include the introduction of social and psychological support to be provided by all centres and services for ATO veterans. Furthermore, social participation and inclusion of ex-combatants concerning the DDR (Disarmament –Demobilisation and Reintegration) concept and resilience-based approach should be a core idea of social work approach instead of paternalistic social welfare approaches inherited by Ukraine from the Soviet model of social assistance.

The findings indicate pitfalls in the protective framework of war veterans. Currently, the available social support comes down to material benefits: benefits, subsidies, cash payments and more. Respondents point out the need to develop comprehensive social work interventions for combatants. This paper concludes that more needs to be done to enhance the social services for the new group of social work clients, including services that could enable ex-combatants to develop the skills they need to reintegrate within their community.



armed conflict aftermath; ex-combatant; social needs; reintegration; social work; protection frameworks

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