The situation of disability and poverty in Ukraine has reached unprecedented levels due to the ongoing conflict with Russia. As native Ukrainians flee the war-torn areas in search of safety and peace, individuals with disabilities are often left behind, unable to defend themselves. A recent study conducted by UNHCR revealed that among the nearly 18,000 fleeing Ukrainians, 22% reported having family members with unmet specific needs, further exacerbating the challenges faced by displaced individuals with disabilities. In April 2022, UNHCR reported that approximately “2.7 million people with disabilities” were at risk due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
According to CNN, Russian forces have targeted more than 700 health care facilities, averaging one attack for every 10 facilities. These attacks have not only caused fatalities and injuries but have also displaced many individuals who are unable to access the necessary care and support to meet their needs.
War and Poverty in Ukraine
Prior to the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, Ukraine had been experiencing a consistent decline in poverty rates, stabilizing at 37.8% in 2019. However, the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 caused a significant increase, soaring to 43.6% and erasing years of progress.
With the war persisting in Ukraine for nearly 16 months, the World Bank has projected a further alarming rise in the national poverty line, reaching close to 60% by the end of 2022. This means that more than 7 million individuals living below the poverty line in Ukraine are unable to afford essential resources for survival due to a severe lack of income.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, several initiatives have emerged to assist refugees, combat local poverty and aid individuals with disabilities across the country.
One such organization making a difference is Djerela, a Ukrainian-built and operated force of sanctuary. Established in 1996, Djerela has been dedicated to providing support exclusively for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Djerela serves as a safe haven and a peaceful oasis. Throughout the week, it organizes dances and other activities in the evenings, offering a space for family members to embrace their loved ones. To ensure maximum tranquility and safety, Djerela’s locations have been relocated to secluded areas while remaining steadfast in their mission.
Regional and International Support
The European Disability Forum (EDF) and the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities in Ukraine, along with 120 public organizations, have joined forces to provide support for individuals with disabilities. The focus is currently on locating and housing people with disabilities, which are crucial conversations taking place.
Throughout Ukraine, regional affiliations and local efforts are unfolding, with participation and ongoing support from neighboring nations.
Since 1988, Inclusion Europe has been advocating for the rights of intellectually disabled individuals. The organization has played a vital role in fostering education and creating equal opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities of all ages. Representing individuals with disabilities from 38 European countries, Inclusion Europe reported that 60% of those with intellectual disabilities in Ukraine live with family members.
In 2022, Inclusion Europe received more than €630,000 in donations to support people with disabilities. The donations are currently in use to improve access to medicines and other necessities for individuals with disabilities.
Donation summaries released by Inclusion Europe focus on “helping people with intellectual disabilities and their families.” The organization has utilized these donations for individual cash contributions, benefiting 470 Ukrainians with disabilities, providing care for eight individuals with disabilities for 10 days, and supporting maintenance projects in the surrounding areas.
Amid the challenging circumstances faced by individuals with disabilities in Ukraine, there are glimmers of hope and ongoing efforts to provide support and assistance. Organizations like Djerela and Inclusion Europe are working tirelessly to create safe spaces, offer essential resources and advocate for the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities. Regional and international support networks are joining forces to address the unique challenges affecting the vulnerable population, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity and providing a ray of hope for a brighter future for individuals with disabilities in Ukraine.
– Chandler Doerr