Trigger warning: This article discusses war and discrimination of disabled people during humanitarian crises. If reading this could trigger you or cause you any distress, please skip it and stay safe. You should go and read my other articles, instead.
It is 2022 and the war just started in Europe amidst the global pandemic.
This would be quite a good opening sentence for a dystopian novel, as a description of our reality it sucks.
On Thursday Putin attacked Ukraine under the guise of protecting Russians in Luhansk and Donetsk. I said Putin instead of Russia because I want to make it abundantly clear that this is his doing. Russians didn’t start a war, he did, and he forces men as young as twenty years old to go and die in it.
Fate in humanity restored?
As of now over 150 000 people have fled Ukraine and this number is only going to grow.
I am from Slovakia and there is one thing that gives me hope during this nightmare: seeing my countrymen welcome them with open arms.
For the past few days, I have been watching NGOs and our government doing everything they can to meet their needs and lay the foundation that will help them to start a new life in Slovakia. What is even more heart-warming are ordinary people offering their summer houses or even their own homes to people fleeing from Ukraine, providing transport for them, or donating money and goods.
Other countries have followed suit: Ireland lifted the visa requirements for Ukrainians and Poland allowed them to enter the country with their pets even if they don’t have the passport or the necessary vaccinations.
Fate in humanity restored, right? Not quite. There is one group that is already being forgotten: the disabled.
There are 2.7 million people registered as disabled in Ukraine (registered is a key word here, since being disabled still carries a huge stigma in Ukraine, the real number could be even higher) and according to the European Disability Forum (EDF) their situation is appalling. Shelters in Kyiv are inaccessible which forces disabled people to stay at home where they are at the mercy of Putin’s bombs.
More medals than ramps
During the Summer Paralympics in 2016 activist Kateryna Avramchuk wrote on her Facebook:
“Ukraine has already won 37 medals in the Paralympics, 12 of them are gold… We have more medals than wheelchair ramps in an average Ukrainian town.”
As you can imagine getting around without a ramp if you use a wheelchair is next to impossible. People with reduced mobility must register so they get on the list of people who need assistance. I can almost hear my entire community gasping in horror as they read this sentence. We have all applied for various benefits and assistance in the past. It doesn’t matter which country you live in; this type of thing always involves waiting for hours on the phone, filling endless forms, and collecting supporting documentation from your doctors. It takes AGES and after submitting your application there is still a chance that it will get lost and you will have to repeat the whole process from the start.
What was that? They surely sped it up this time? Very well then, let’s hope, it is faster than tanks and bombs.
Disabled lives matter
It is not just inaccessible shelters or escape routes that are the problem. A lot of disabled people take medicine that must be taken daily or are using lung ventilation and other life-supporting technology that runs on electricity, all of this could make escaping difficult but not impossible. It is just something that needs to be considered when evacuating a disabled person.
Disabled Ukrainians living in institutions are now at risk of being abandoned as their carers flee the country. “Well, what do you expect them to do? Stay and die?” No, I expect them to help their clients to escape as well. You would never try and justify teachers at the boarding school leaving their pupils behind so why is the same thing ok when it comes to disabled people? Our lives aren’t worthless or worth less than yours.
Healthcare professionals have the duty of care same as the soldiers have the duty to defend their country.
Ukrainians already showed that they are incredibly brave but to be able to save the most vulnerable members of their society they need our help. We have been sending arms and supplies to support them, now we need to send people. Red Cross and Doctors without Borders both have experience with helping in conflicts and they cannot be targeted.
The team of Doctors without Borders is already in the east of Ukraine where they have been helping people affected by the civil war prior to Putin’s attack: “The situation is fast-evolving, so we are mobilising a general emergency-preparedness response to be ready for a variety of potential needs. Our teams in Belarus and Russia stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance if needed and we are looking to send teams to other neighbouring countries to be ready on stand-by, either for response in Ukraine or to provide humanitarian medical assistance to refugees seeking asylum abroad.”
We should all go ask them to prioritise disabled people in their response because as EDF said: “In any situation of crisis or conflict, persons with disabilities face disproportionate risk of abandonment, violence, death, and a lack of access to safety, relief, and recovery support. Women with disabilities are at increased risk of sexual violence and children with disabilities are more exposed to abuse and neglect. Crucial information on safety and evacuation is often inaccessible, and evacuation centres themselves are also rarely accessible, meaning that persons with disabilities are too often left behind.”
We should also provide the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders with all the aid they would need to help disabled people in Ukraine.
Pick us, pick us! We know the answer
Disabled Ukrainians will need help with more than just getting out of the country. After getting to safety in any country they would need access to medicines, healthcare, accessible housing, adaptive technology and mobility aids, personal assistance, work, and education.
And no, locking disabled refugees up in institutions isn’t the answer. They are victims not criminals.
To be able to meet their needs in a way that will also respect their human rights we have to work with disability organisations and activists. Disabled community is a valuable resource in creating an effective crisis response and as such shouldn’t be excluded.
We know what disabled refugees could need and we also know how to get their needs met, because unlike you, we have been living in a dystopian novel for a long time, its title is Ableist Society. If you would like to support disabled Ukrainians financially, you can do so HERE.