The current crisis in Ukraine has disrupted the lives of millions. Among the affected, disabled children in Ukraine are the most vulnerable to the impact of displacement, abuse and abandonment.
Child Poverty in Ukraine
The United Nations defines poverty not simply as the absence of money but rather as a scarcity of vital resources needed to survive. It is a concept that various internal and external factors influenced. Family income, societal status, natural disasters and armed conflicts all contribute. Before Russia’s invasion, the nation had approximately 90,000 disabled children residing in institutions such as orphanages or boarding schools.
While censuses can measure the monetary value, they cannot attest to the lack of resources available for institutional care facilities. At state institutions, disabled children and their caretakers are experiencing waves of infrastructural deterioration. They are experiencing overcrowding, poor quality of care due to understaffing and shortages in hygienic, medicinal and food supplies.
When all these variables combine, it creates the perfect environment for vulnerable individuals to experience the direst situations. The Arc, an American NGO dedicated to promoting equality and inclusivity, estimates a total of 2.7 million people with disabilities live in Ukraine. Despite the large population, only 4% of Ukrainian infrastructure is reachable to citizens with disabilities. For example, Ukrainian authorities are using its subway system as bomb shelters, which are inaccessible to many disabled citizens.
The Impact of War on Disabled Children
Since the war between Ukraine and Russia began, more than 4 million children have experienced displacement: externally as refugees or internally. Overwhelmed authorities returned thousands of disabled children to their points of origin without assessing how safe they would be in their home environments. This dire course of action significantly impacts impoverished disabled children. Many are returning to areas where they cannot receive proper protection, care or other services needed to survive. The constant internal migration of disabled children in Ukraine further exposes them to dangerous situations; for instance, disabled girls face higher risks of abuse and abandonment.
There is a severe history of war disproportionately impacting the lives of impoverished and disabled people everywhere. This is primarily due to societal stigmas which can prevent families of children with disabilities from receiving appropriate humanitarian action and response. During times of conflict, children with disabilities are more likely to be a part of civilian casualties. This tragedy is due to inadequate and inaccessible resources such as advanced warnings, evacuations, transportation, humanitarian aid, shelters and inclusive services.
Protecting Disabled Children in Ukraine
However, countless organizations have become involved in providing relief. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been working in Ukraine since 1997 and remains the leading organization that provides humanitarian aid for children. UNICEF and its associates have prioritized awareness campaigns to minimize human rights violations against disabled children in Ukraine. Mobile “child protection” teams also emerged to administer mental health resources to displaced children and caregivers. UNICEF also sponsors local Ukrainian associates to accommodate rehabilitation services, accessible technology, inclusive supplies, essential sanitation items and others.
In addition, UNICEF has developed “Blue Dot Hubs” in Ukraine’s bordering countries, taking in refugees. The hubs act as checkpoints where migrating families are equipped with vital information. This is also a space to document, identify and protect unaccompanied or separated children. UNICEF has also built child-friendly spaces. Here, displaced children can be kids and have access to family reunification services and trained professionals like psychologists and social workers. This kind of aid can be directly beneficial for children with disabilities.
As of Monday, August 8, 2022, USAID, in cooperation with the U.S. government, arranged for an additional $4.5 billion in direct aid to the government of Ukraine. The support will help Ukrainian authorities continue to manage infrastructural functions. Meaning, this will include the power to hospitals, humanitarian assistance and compensation to essential workers. The additional relief also provides vital economic and social subsidies. Those who benefit are internally displaced and impoverished citizens and disabled children in Ukraine.
Political figures, celebrities and non-governmental organizations sustain calling for immediate aid and action to protect disabled children in Ukraine and elsewhere. Foreign support and humanitarian assistance continue to funnel essential resources in hopes of counteracting the symptoms of war.
– Ricardo Silva