Ukraine in Focus - Development Together

Ukraine in Focus

Ukraine is situated in Eastern Europe and is one of the largest countries in the area in terms of both population and size. The capital of Ukraine is Kyiv (commonly spelt Kiev). Ukrainian is the main language, with Russian also spoken by the majority of the population and mostly used as a ‘business language.’ Depending on where you are in the country, Hungarian, Romanian and Polish are also widely spoken. Whilst English is less commonly spoken, its prevalence is increasing, especially among younger generations. 75% of Ukrainians identify as religious with the majority being Orthodox Christian. In regard to climate, January is the coldest month, with temperatures generally below zero degrees Celsius. July is the warmest month, with temperatures ranging from low to high 20’s (Celsius).

Ukraine is the second poorest nation in Europe in terms of GDP per capita, meaning that living standards are much lower than surrounding countries. This has impacted on the Ukrainian currency (the Hryvnia) which is valued relatively low. This is beneficial for tourists visiting as it makes eating out and sight seeing cheap, but is a challenging reality for the locals. Ukraine has a rich cultural heritage, and is popular for its large collection of art and ornate architecture, and incredible architecture of its churches and public buildings. Ukrainians also have some interesting cultural traditions, such as Maslenitsa week – where people make and eat pancakes for an entire week, painting intricate designs on eggs at Easter and celebrating New Year twice (13 days apart). Ukrainian people are incredibly warm and love to laugh and welcome new visitors.

Kyiv in winter.

Ukraine has many popular tourist cities. Whilst many are relatively unknown in the West, Eastern Europeans have been enjoying Ukraine as an attraction dating back to Soviet times. Below are our picks for the top 3 places you should visit on your Ukrainian adventure.

1) Lviv

Located in the far west, Lviv is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is Ukraine’s historical centre, and is located 70 kilometres from the Polish border. The city is intertwined with Polish, German, Austro-Hungarian and Soviet influences. World War II left the city largely unscathed, meaning that its plethora of historical buildings can still be admired today. Some major attractions include the Lviv Opera and Ballet, The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Potocki Palace and the Market Square. No matter where you go, there is always something to see and do in Lviv!

Development Together volunteers on a guided city tour of Lviv.

2) Kyiv

The capital of Kyiv is the largest city in Ukraine, and is the most well-known. Kyiv is home to a number of historical monasteries, including St. Sophia and Percherska Lavra, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are many parks, bars and cafes dotted around the city. Kyiv is also said to have the best nightlife in the country! Furthermore, Kyiv is one of the cheapest cities in Europe, making it a fantastic choice for budget conscious travellers. Kyiv has played host to many world-renowned events in recent years, including the UEFA European Championship and UEFA Champions League finals in 2012 and 2018, as well as hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005 and 2017.


Kyiv in winter.

3) Odessa

Odessa is a major Ukrainian port city located on the Black Sea. It is one of the warmest cities in Ukraine and is said to have the best beaches in Eastern Europe. However, Odessa isn’t just about the seaside! It was also one of the most important trading centres in the Russian Empire, and its old town is a fantastic sight for tourists. Odessa still has much of the charm of the major cities, having a strong arts culture and plenty of architectural marvels! Don’t forget to check out the Odessa Opera House, one of the largest in the world.

Odessa is famous for its beaches.

When people talk about Ukraine, many will automatically think of the current war against Russian-backed separatists. However, Ukraine is a very large country, and the central and western regions (where Development Together volunteers stay) remain safe areas with no conflict zones. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has assigned Western Ukraine the same level of safety as countries such as France and Belgium, but does urge travellers not to visit the Eastern regions of Ukraine (especially Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk as these are active conflict zones).

The large cities such as Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk in the Western regions of Ukraine are regarded as safe, and generally have low levels of crime. Visitors to the Western regions will be unlikely to come across any major problems. However as with all travel, visitors should consider their personal safety when out and about, and be vigilant and avoid any protests or demonstrations.

Development Together volunteers walking at night in central Lviv in the snow in January.

Development Together currently offers placements at the Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv. These placements are open to Education, Dietetics, Nutrition, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Pathology university/college students or professionals with experience in these fields. They range from 2 to 4 weeks and our small groups (of less than 12 people) are accompanied by a professional Australian Speech Pathologist to provide support and guidance.

Development Together Education/Teaching volunteer working with a child with a disability at Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre.

Dzherelo is a Rehabilitation Centre committed to treating, rehabilitating, educating and counselling children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities and their families. Dzherelo was opened in 1993 and since then, they have become pioneers in this field in Ukraine where they now look after close to 200 children and adults as part of their daily programs, with an aim to extend its services to some 2,000 disabled children in the surrounding area. Ukraine has amongst the highest rates of disabled people in the world, yet only 4% of buildings are ‘disability-friendly.’ Furthermore, disabled people receive very little government funding. Development Together volunteers visit twice a year and are able to aid in assisting local staff to deliver their services by working directly with clients and their families, and also providing education sessions on current therapy practices outside of Ukraine with local staff to contribute to their professional development.

Development Together Speech Pathology student volunteer working with a child with disability at Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre.

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The Amazing Technology Behind Speech Therapy Training in India

Everybody deserves to have a voice. It’s a basic human right that should be available to everyone regardless of their background or physical ability. It’s something we can take for granted without even a second thought. Unfortunately, there are a number of conditions that can arise, whether from birth or otherwise, that limit a person’s ability to speak. Some of these conditions, such as cerebral palsy, can also limit a person’s ability to move their hands, making it difficult for common speech solutions such as sign language to be a viable option.

Cerebral palsy, for example, affects between 1.5 to 4 per 1000 child births, according to studies around the world. Thankfully there are technologies available that aim to give those with speech impediments the ability to speak with minimal effort.

Enter Tobii, a company that produces eye-tracking technology that uses both hardware and software to allow anyone with a speech impediment to communicate quickly and effectively.  Eye-tracking technology allows a person to control a computer using only their eyes – they can do anything from browsing the web to even playing complex video games such as Assassin’s Creed (which was the original purpose of the Tobii company).

The speech therapy software that Tobii has created, Dynavox, presents an easy to use, structured interface of words and actions to choose from. Its layout is also purposefully designed to not only give the user a voice, but to make learning how to structure sentences and communicate effectively simple. Eye-tracking technology makes this possible by observing what icon the user is looking at, pronouncing the word(s) and adding them to a speech box which, when activated, reads the completed sentence out loud. No other input is required from the user.

Tobii Dynavox Speech Therapy software - Development Together
The Tobii Dynavox speech therapy software at a glance. (Photo courtesy of Tobii).


This all sounds great, but there still exists a need for someone to bridge the gap between the production line and the end user, those who are truly in need of aid. The technology can also be quite expensive and out of reach for many, particularly for those in developing countries such as India. Should this kind of assistance be unattainable for someone simply because they can’t afford it? Of course not.

That’s where organisations such as Shishur Sevay and the ideal of inclusive education come in. Shishur Sevay, based in Kolkata, India, was founded by Dr. Michelle Harrison, and houses 15 “un-adoptable” girls who were otherwise destined for a poor existence. Two of the girls have cerebral palsy, with no way to communicate. This prompted Dr. Harrison to seek out a solution, a search which led her to the Tobii Dynavox product. But she needed an expert to help implement the software and incorporate it into a more comprehensive speech therapy program at the school.

Development Together was introduced to Dr. Harrison via Ms. Nicky Hurwitz, a Speech Pathologist from Perth, Western Australia, who was a supervisor for a group of health science students sent to India by the Curtin University and their Go Global program. Shortly after, Development Together forged a partnership with Shishur Sevay. Soon after that Ms. Emily Goulet, a Canadian speech therapist with extensive training in the Dynavox software, offered to volunteer her time and expertise with the children at Shishur Sevay. The experience was a resounding success, garnering the attention and support of the local community.


Speech Therapy - India - Volunteering - Development Together
         Emily Goulet using Tobii Dyanvox to aid speech therapy with students at Shishur Sevay.


Development Together aims to send at least four professional or university student participants to Shishur Sevay for volunteer/work experience every year: a marketing volunteer to help with fundraising and public awareness; a teaching/education volunteer to assist with classroom education and local teacher up-skilling; a speech pathologist/therapist volunteer to assist with speech therapy and Dynavox training for local staff; and a business/commerce volunteer to help with clerical duties, generating reports and up-skilling local staff. Check out our destination page to see how you can get involved with this amazing training program!

Learn more about how you can get involved by visiting our website at or email



Images courtesy of Ms Michelle Harrison and Ms Emily Goulet. Copyright 2018.