Ukrainians are fighting for survival

W saidTanya Herasymova woke up on February 24 to the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine, her first intention being to go down. If the Russian army starts firing on its hometown of Kamianske, near the Donetsk border checkpoint, the problem will be even greater in its 4th -floor office. But there’s another problem: wheelchair users can’t. one of the city’s explosive buildings, leaving Herasymova with a place to cover.

“It’s a terrible feeling because I know I can’t go there on my own. I can’t be alone, I need someone to help me,” Herasymova said. “I knew the only way to be safe during the war was to leave.”

Like many sick Ukrainians, Herasymova felt that she should be excluded from the protection and assistance measures designed for the sick population. The NGOs European Disability Forum and Inclusion Europe estimate that there are about 2.7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine, while other estimates suggest it may be low. Many Ukrainians are more vulnerable to the Russian aggression, even though there is more discrimination, violence, and discrimination in their communities.

Herasymova and her mother bought train tickets in Lviv, near the western border of Ukraine, the next day. The train was full of people, there were many stops and no tickets. “Half of our trip was black with no lights,” said Herasymova, avoiding a train spotted by Russian planes. “It was a terrible thing. Lots of people, lots of kids crying and crying all the way. “

After several hours of driving from Lviv to the border by minibus, they headed back to Poland. Speaking to TIME from Denmark, where she lives, Herasymova said she would not have gone to safety without her friend and flawless colleague Yuliia Sachuk, who knew her staying on the land and arranging his travels.

Sachuk has been preparing for the onset of a Russian invasion since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. As head of Fight For Right, a Ukrainian nonprofit supporting people with disabilities, he noted the the importance of organizing response strategies to conflict.

“I got an idea of ​​the war situation, us [the disabled community] They are the ones who are injured first, “Sachuk said.” It may not be right, but we will be vulnerable because of our physical disability. We knew no one would come to help us in our quest for survival. “

Sachuk said that for months before the war, Fight For Right had been trying to work with officials to develop programs to help people with disabilities leave. The group’s volunteers are ready – they’ve received donations through GoFundMe, but they need to help make it happen. But no help came, Sachuk said. “In Ukraine we don’t have a systemic way to help different groups, the elderly, people with disabilities, children.”

Believed to have been abandoned by state aid organizations and humanitarian organizations, Ukrainians patients quickly moved to help their communities. Because of the strength of the pre -occupied land’s nets, the workers joined the disabled communities outside at an amazing speed. So far, the Fight For Right group of 40 volunteers – many of whom are disabled themselves – has helped 400 people flee the country.

The importance of unity among disadvantaged communities became clearer as the war progressed, the traditional shelters opened, and misconceptions were eradicated. In a 2020 report on disability rights in Ukraine, the pan-European human rights NGO Council of Europe found that patients were frequently excluded from the Ukrainian society due to negative stereotypes, legal discrimination. and workplaces, and higher levels of establishment. The war exacerbated these problems, and Yannis Vardakastanis, director of the International Disability Alliance, called it “a human problem in crisis.”

In some cases, the lack of education and awareness of disability has made it difficult for Ukrainian patients to seek help or leave safely. Oleksandr Nikulin and his partner have HIV – they have been banned from government measures to ban men of conscription age from leaving Ukraine. But after a 16 -hour trip to the border between Ukraine and Slovakia, they found themselves explaining their inadequacies in the military.

“When we first tried the border, a guard got on our car and said, ‘You’re a man, what are you doing here?'” Nikulin said. They explained that they had received certificates confirming their medical condition from the military. “But the guard said, ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re a man, come back.’

After several unsuccessful attempts, Nikulin and his partner met with a volunteer who took them to the border police and argued about their safety. However, the knowledge shocked Nikulin. “It’s really scary because I don’t know why,” he told TIME from Frankfurt, Germany, where he lives with a friend. “I’m not a criminal, I have documents. I don’t know how to fight or kill. I can help people with disabilities to leave Ukraine.

Ukrainians with disabilities, like Nikulin, often face high levels of stigma and discrimination. Raisa Kravchenko, 61, was forced to leave Kyiv with her 28 -year -old son, who has an intellectual disability, following the start of the Russian invasion. They moved to Kravchenko’s home town 60 miles to the west and tried to establish a common practice to comfort his son. They went for a walk every evening, but she could not control what others did to her.

“There are military police at the entrance and the entrance of the town,” Kravchenko said. “He went on a tour and was told to stand by the army but he wasn’t. And so they shot. Thank God, they shot into the air, but they called the police who took him home.

This was done three times, he said. “The police are saying why don’t you protect her? And I told the police: try and tell the wind where to blow. Now, her son is often scared when they go outside. of the city.

Kravchenko, who has a disability himself, has to make the same decisions many people with disabilities and their families are forced to make. She knew her son would not be able to drive or not, and she was afraid she would get sick if she traveled too far. Therefore, she and her son will live in Ukraine.

They also had a hard time getting to the explosive huts at the sound of the trumpet – so they decided to stay. “Without looking at all these spices, my life would be better but if I responded and went to the museum, I could get a stroke or something,” Kravchenko said. , noticing the sound of a bomber flying overhead.

“I’m kind of a fatalist,” Kravchenko said. “Why should I spend the rest of my life? I don’t know how long I’ll live. Why should we run so fast and live in open and difficult places?”

Kravchenko has spent many years improving the lives of Ukrainian patients and their families. Dissatisfied with the state’s desire to treat people with disabilities in the offices, Kravchenko formed the VGO Coalition, a group of 118 local NGOs with a view to improving policies and procedures. with support for the disabled. As the leader of a local NGO in his area, he successfully persuaded local officials in Kyiv to establish a day center for banks with disabilities. It provides a hub for their caregivers – mostly mothers – to come together and share support.

Having that site was “life -changing,” Kravchenko said. “We have raised a new generation, another generation of people with disabilities with a different way of life. They were able to live in the city, talk, do important things. They had friends, sometimes they were in love and some of them were married. “

The center was closed when the war began. Now cut off from the group, Kravchenko has to find different ways to communicate with other mothers. Some of them have a Viber chat, where they quickly exchange messages and updates from all over Ukraine. The other day, Kravchenko received the news that a woman and her son who had cerebral palsy had been found in an explosion. The child was very hurt. His mother had to watch him die for two days, unable to get help.

Kravchenko was aware of the situation, but he did not stop trying to help in any way he could. The VGO Coalition now receives € 20,000 ($ 22,000) in grants from Inclusion Europe, a global NGO that supports people with disabilities. Most mothers live in rural areas, and have no cell phones or bank cards. However, the word was spread online, and the company distributed the money through family and neighbors.

The VGO Coalition, like Fight For Right, is led by the same community of people who are trying to support it. Katarzyna Bierzanowska, a Polish activist who helps the Fight For Right create a stable that is available to physically abandoned refugees in Poland, fears that the burden of helping others on disabled workers will fall. . “We don’t need tired heroes,” he said. “We need willing volunteers.”

Despite having health and mental health benefits of their own, many disabled workers feel they are able to do the job better than others. “We know how to talk to people, how to empower them because we have the same experience,” Sachuk said. Herasymova agreed that it was important to be able to communicate with other people. “When I said I was going to use a wheelchair and I was released, they thought ‘well if you could, maybe I could do this.’

While their colleagues and other disabled people live in Ukraine, the displaced will continue to receive help from afar. They are struggling to adjust to the reality of the situation.

“We continue to live there. We are in the body, but we have our thoughts and feelings in Ukraine, “Sachuk said. Although she managed to escape with her son, her husband and parents are living in a shelter. fight.

“Of course, I’m safe,” Nikulin from Frankfurt said. “But happy? I do not understand. Because there are many people with disabilities in Ukraine. I can’t believe there is war in my country in the 21st century. I can’t imagine.

Unsure if they can return, Sachuk and Herasymova are looking for solace in their external defect system, which is stronger now than ever before. “I’ve worked here for many years,” Sachuk said, “but I haven’t seen any unity and solidarity among the disabled community.”

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