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Deaf Ukrainian Refugees Face Language Barriers in Sweden

Ukraine’s Battle of Signs in Sweden

Amidst the chaos of the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, deaf Ukrainians who’ve sought asylum in Sweden are facing urgent challenges. With just a handful of Ukrainian sign language interpreters available, they’re navigating a foreign society silently.

Who’s listening?

Around 120 deaf Ukrainians have fled to Sweden since the war outbreak, but only three interpreters – including Alice Kloch based in Stockholm – can communicate with them through Ukrainian sign language. The situation reveals how intricacies of sign language, which varies from country to country, further burden already distressed refugees.

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Lost in Translation

Unfamiliar systems like the Employment Service are complex even for locals; imagine the plight of displaced deaf Ukrainians who have no equivalent back home. Their questions predominantly revolve around the employment process, they’re baffled about why they can’t instantly find jobs despite having the Public Employment Service in place.

Waiting Room Woes

The scarcity of interpreters means waiting for weeks, sometimes resorting to Google Translate or asking their hearing children to interpret medical consultations and job interviews, which isn’t ideal or even allowed in some instances. Another hurdle? Lack of mobile subscriptions to contact interpretation centers, making bookings difficult.

When in Sweden

Different institutions in Sweden teach Swedish sign language to these refugees. While some learners grasp it quick, others aren’t so lucky. However, deaf Ukrainians desire familiar communication, hence the demand for Ukrainian sign language interpreters remains unfilled.

Sign of Hope

Remarkably, Alice Kloch offers a glimmer of optimism. She references an ongoing deaf sign language interpreters’ training where some participants are familiar with Russian sign language, opening possibilities of assistance with Ukrainian sign language. It’s hope worth clutching during such tumultuous times.


Expat communities often grapple with language barriers, but deaf refugees face unimaginably higher stakes. Their silent struggle exposes how we lack accommodating systems for such unique situations. Yet, as Alice’s hope suggests, there’s always room for change. For now, Ukraine’s battle of signs continues in silent Sweden.

Fact: Swedish authorities must hire interpreters and make documented content accessible for people with impairments that heavily limit their ability to see, hear, or speak. The requirement applies to cases where people don’t know Swedish or have disabilities. Patients with specific disabilities, such as hearing impairments or blindness, are always entitled to an interpreter in healthcare settings. Source: Authority for Participation, National Board of Health.

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