1. Headline
  1. Headline
Sergei Chuzavkov  /  AP
A blind model presents an outfit during the Fashion Chance show for disabled women in Kiev, Ukraine, on July 25. The event hoped to bring attention and dignity to some of Ukraine’s most marginalized citizens.
updated 7/26/2012 9:10:29 AM ET 2012-07-26T13:10:29

At a glitzy Kiev night club brimming with neon lights and energetic pop music, the models showed off sleek evening gowns and glamorous hats as Ukraine's celebrities cheered on. But this was no ordinary fashion show — some models rolled on wheelchairs, others were blind.

At the Wednesday night event dubbed Fashion Chance a dozen designers, mostly from Ukraine, presented outfits for physically handicapped women, in a bid to bring attention and dignity to some of Ukraine's most marginalized citizens. In a country where most buildings lack wheelchair ramps and only a few public schools accept disabled children, the show was a small but vivid step toward removing the stigma that cloaks Ukraine's disabled.

"People on wheelchairs, the blind, the handicapped should all feel accepted," said 26-year-old Ilona Slugovina, an avid wheelchair ballroom dancer, who modeled a lilac-colored glittery evening dress.

Some models moved confidently down the runway — on wheel chairs, or accompanied by handsome young men in elegant suits — flashing smiles and some attempting to mimic the traditional model gait. One blind model coquettishly held her hand on her hip and played with a lock of hair. Others appeared nervous.

Moved by the show, some in the audience cried.

"I felt beautiful, I felt confident," said Antonina Krivobok, who masterfully rolled and turned around in a wheelchair and posed in front of TV cameras as she presented a purple evening dress.

Baby with Down syndrome lands a swimsuit campaign

Beginning and already established designers presented elegant dresses and suits for women on wheelchairs or with other handicaps. Some of the outfits differed little from what ambulatory women would wear, others were cut in a more voluminous fashion to accommodate the needs of those in wheelchairs.

"God made the woman beautiful and the designer's goal is to stress that beauty," said Natalia Anri, a top Ukrainian designer.

But it wasn't just about clothes.

Yulia Kozluk, 28, who runs a fund that trains and then finds computer jobs for those on wheelchairs like herself, said she hoped such projects would help Ukrainian society grow up and accept those who are different.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. 7 things you're doing wrong to prevent skin cancer

      Here's a scary fact as you plan another sun-soaked vacation this summer: Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is o...

    2. 'Bachelorette' superfan: Stop the shame game!
    3. The 10-minute, 100-calorie burn workout
    4. 6-year-old 'Rapunzel' chops off her hair for kids with cancer
    5. James Franco shows Jimmy Fallon how to take a cool selfie

"When I roll in my wheelchair, people stare at me like I am an alien and it wounds," said Kozluk, who became paralyzed at age 23 after a car accident. "But I am not an alien, I am a regular person."

Ukraine's physically handicapped people are barely visible to the country at large, confined to their homes in the absence of ramps, elevators and specially equipped buses and mostly shunned by society in a grim legacy of the Soviet era.

The Soviet authorities aimed to maintain the image of a happy and healthy society devoid of any problems, locking many disabled, including maimed World War II soldiers, into specialized institutions and even remote islands, where they could not be seen to the general public, while discussing the plight of the handicapped was virtually a taboo in Soviet media.

DIY Louboutins? Fashionistas customize their shoe soles

Today, children with disabilities are usually hidden away in specialized schools or orphanages, where they are deprived of a chance to interact with other children and society as a whole does not learn to co-exist, accept and help those with disabilities. Only a handful of public schools accept disabled children, because building entrances, canteens and toilets are not equipped with ramps, teachers lack the necessary training and other students and often their parents object to having such classmates.

In Kiev, home to tens of thousands of disabled children of school age, only about 10 schools provide inclusive education, according to Larisa Baida, an education activist with Ukraine's National Assembly for Disabled.

"It's sad," said Baida. "It's a constant struggle, every day they fight for their life."

The Education Ministry declined a comment for this story.

Sergei Chuzavkov  /  AP
Two blind models present outfits during the show, which left some in the audience moved to tears.

Universities also offer very few chances for the handicapped, lacking audio books for hearing-impaired and computers for the blind. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union over 20 years ago, not a single book in the tactile writing system called Braille has been published for the visually impaired, according to the Assembly.

Dive in: The best looks from Swim Week

Only a handful of news programs on television are translated into sign language, while none of entertainment shows for adolescents or children are accessible for hearing impaired. Most Ukrainian websites, including those of the president and the government, lack the special software that allows the blind to convert them into audio.

Finding a job is also a major problem, with about only 25 percent of the country's disabled employed, mostly at low-skilled and low-paid jobs, according to the United Nations Development program.

"When we look at a disabled person, we are not ready to see a person in them" who wants to study, work and eat at restaurants, said Natalia Skripka, Assembly's director. "While we should first be seeing a person and only then notice their peculiarities — are they tall or short, do they have blond or dark hair, do they have disabilities or not."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Best dresses on the runway

loading photos...
  1. Dresses on the runway

    Goregous gowns and flirty, sexy dresses were spotted all over the New York Fashion Week Fall 2012 runways. Take a look at the best styles, from Betsey Johnson to Jason Wu.

    Sophie Theallet
    Pretty drapes? A model walks the runway at the Sophie Theallet Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 14. (Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Tadashi Shoji

    A gorgeous green gown is presented at the Tadashi Shoji Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 9. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tadashi Shoji

    Models present creations by Tadashi Shoji on Feb. 9. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Tadashi Shoji

    The Japanese designer was inspired by the glamour of 1930s Shanghai for the Tadashi Shoji Fall/Winter 2012 collection show on Feb. 9. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Catherine Malandrino

    Inspired by the 1982 movie "Cat People," the French designer opted for dark and sexy styles at her Catherine Malandrino Fall 2012 on Feb. 12. (Dario Cantatore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Zac Posen

    Supermodel Coco Rocha walked the runway for her close friend (and wedding dress designer) Zac Posen, at the Zac Posen Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 12. (Arun Nevader / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Zac Posen

    A beautiful, blush-colored gown from the Zac Posen Fall 2012 collection on Feb. 12. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Narciso Rodriguez

    The American fashion designer sent down a fishtail-sporting model at the Narciso Rodriguez Fall 2012 show on Feb. 14. (Kathy Willens / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Cushnie et Ochs

    Cushnie et Ochs, a recent favorite of first lady Michelle Obama, sent models down their Fall/Winter 2012 collection runway in sexy, body-hugging dresses on Feb. 10. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Monique Lhuillier

    One model looks like she's starting a fire at the Monique Lhuillier Fall 2012 collection on Feb.10. (Louis Lanzano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Monique Lhuillier

    The celebrity-favorite designer gave a sexy twist to her signature black-tie gowns at the Monique Lhuillier Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 11. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Carolina Herrera

    The iconic designer presented a graphic-print gown at the Carolina Herrera Fall 2012 on Feb. 13. (Victor Virgile / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Carolina Herrera

    A model shows off a graphic gown at the Carolina Herrera Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 13. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Betsey Johnson

    Known for fun and colorful fashion, Betsey Johnson showcased pretty, '90s-inspired floral prints in her Fall 2012 collection. (Kathy Willens / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. DKNY

    A simple, elegant gown from the DKNY Women's Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 12. (Victor Virgile / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Altuzarra

    Luxurious gypsy chic seemed to be the theme at the Altuzarra Fall 2012 collection on Feb. 11. (Diane Bondareff / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Tracy Reese

    Flirty cocktail dresses and bright metallics sashayed down the runway at the Tracy Reese Fall/Winter 2012 collection on Feb. 12. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Tracy Reese

    "I wanted to do something bold and vibrant," designer Tracy Reese told Fashionista.com of her Fall 2012 collection, shown on Feb 12. "The skirt lengths are shorter – I just feel [like a shorter hemline] seems more active and energetic. And I want the clothes to have a lot of energy." (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Oscar de la Renta

    Red carpet favorite Oscar de la Renta presented dramatic gowns during his Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 14. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Oscar de la Renta

    There was a bit of "Mad Men" elegance spotted on the runway at the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 14. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Jason Wu

    The popular designer, loved by first lady Michelle Obama and Target shoppers, presented sultry, dark styles at the Jason Wu Fall/Winter 2012 collection on Feb. 10. (Allison Joyce / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Zang Toi

    Way to make an entrance: A model presents a big, red creation from Zang Toi Fall/Winter 2012 collection on Feb. 13. (Adam Hunger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Peter Som

    Modern, futuristic shapes took hold at the Peter Som Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 10. (Peter Michael Dills / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Costello Tagliapietra

    A model presents a swirly creation at the Costello Tagliapiertra Fall 2012 fashion show on Feb. 9. (Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Video: Olympic glam: Show your spirit with style and bling

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Alex Miller via YouTube

    Sister loves brother too much to let him grow up

    7/30/2014 1:26:08 AM +00:00 2014-07-30T01:26:08
  1. 7 things you're doing wrong to prevent skin cancer

    Here's a scary fact as you plan another sun-soaked vacation this summer: Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is on the rise. So much so that a worried U.S.

    7/29/2014 9:12:37 PM +00:00 2014-07-29T21:12:37
  1. Bren Herrera

    Join Fresh Cooks Live! Make skewered veggies, fruits and more

    7/29/2014 11:16:14 AM +00:00 2014-07-29T11:16:14
  1. Javier Pesquera / ABC

    'Bachelorette' superfan: Stop the shame game!

    7/30/2014 12:27:07 AM +00:00 2014-07-30T00:27:07