“Weeks of horror. And we cannot possibly leave.”

European Disability Forum, Inclusion Europe, and EASPD organised a press conference 10 March to inform about the situation of people with disabilities affected by Russia's war on Ukraine. Representatives of Ukrainian disability organisation, and others spoke:

``Weeks of horror. And we cannot possibly leave.``

There are 2.7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine. Their lives and wellbeing are at risk during the war. Government agencies and humanitarian organisations must make protection of their lives a priority.


European Disability Forum, Inclusion Europe, and EASPD organised a press conference 10 March to inform about the situation of people with disabilities affected by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Representatives of Ukrainian disability organisation, and others spoke:

  • Valery Sushkevych, president of the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities Ukraine;
  • Raisa Kravchenko and Yulia Klepets from the Ukrainian VGO Coalition;
  • Yannis Vardakastanis, chair of International Disability Alliance
  • Gunta Anca, general secretary of the European Disability Forum
  • Milan Šveřepa, director of Inclusion Europe
  • Maya Doneva, secretary general of EASPD.

Scroll down to watch recording of the press conference.

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Valery Sushkevych:

I would like to thank all NGOs. I would like to thank all international organisations and European organisations who are actively supporting us.

You give active financial and humanitarian aid. Our refugees are being relocated. I know many organisations are talking to their governments so as to provide persons with disabilities with relevant protection.

I would like to say that the Ukrainian government does whatever they can or cannot even do so as to address social problems that are related to the Russian against Ukraine.

Russia launched 710 missiles on the territory of Ukraine. They’re using cluster bombs and other banned weaponry. And for the blind person,  persons using prosthetics or people who have intellectual disabilities, those people are completely helpless and defenceless. There’s no way to defend them against missiles and rockets.

There are cases where people die in bomb shelters because they’re blocked there and there is no water, there is no access to water in bomb shelters.

People call me and say: “Listen, I’m on the 16th floor in a residential building. They started bombing again. I am alone, Valery, get me out of here. Save my life.”

We have mass murder of people. And the most vulnerable are persons with disabilities on the wheelchairs, who have visual impairment, hearing impairment, and so on and so forth. They’re easier to kill.

It takes six days to travel from Kyiv to Lviv by car because there are so many check points and there is a risk that Russia may attack the car and shell the roads. We have plethora of such cases.

Yulia Klepets:

We have seen two weeks of horror. I am in Kyiv together with my adult daughter. She is autistic and she has a behavioural issues and intellectual disabilities. It is very difficult for us here. And we cannot possibly leave Kyiv. We cannot leave our flat. I also have 82-years old mother. She’s immobile.

We live on the seventh floor in the residential building and we cannot go downstairs to the bomb shelter. Even that, we cannot do. We’re not the only ones in this type of a situation. There are many of us all over Kyiv, all over Ukraine.

Raisa Kravchenko:

Thank you for the mighty support which we feel every day both our organisation, families of people with intellectual disabilities.

We are the network of 118 local non-governmental organisations which unite about 14,000 families with a member with intellectual disabilities.

Many people with intellectual disabilities have difficulty comprehend what is going on. This can result in aggression. I have a 37-year-old son with behavioural problems and I have to dedicate all my time to my son. I have to harmonize his feelings and his behaviour.

The major need of families who take care of a person with intellectual disabilities is personal care for their loved one. All day care programs stopped. So if my son, Yulia’s daughter, used to go to the day care centre now they stay all days at home. And they are concerned and don’t understand why.

We need personal personal assistant to our children. One of our NGO leaders says that because of her son’s autism, she can only leave him for one hour. She can’t go to the pharmacy. She can’t go to the bank to get money. She has no supplies. If she had some like a personal assistant to her son, she could be able to go out and purchase some food.

We are grateful to Inclusion Europe, and to the NGO from Denmark who already provided financial support. According to Ukrainian law we can pay families individual donations to a certain amount. With the help of Inclusion Europe we give money to more than 250 families.

All of our 118 NGOs stopped their professional activities and can only volunteer. Many people go to Europe or elsewhere. We ask for your support to restore day care services.

During COVID pandemic, when a mother or another caregiver died, person with intellectual disabilities remains careless. We would be grateful for your help to start supported living. Mothers are burning out. We see that our children, adult children are exhausted. They would definitely need rehabilitation.

In the suburbs of Kyiv a man with cerebral palsy in his twenties was injuring from bombing, There was no medical care, he died within two days. He was dying for two days. And he was buried in his garden.

Yannis Vardakastanis:

There are 2.7 million persons with disabilities in Ukraine. Since the  beginning of the war, persons with disabilities face compounded threats. The risk of abandonment, violence, injury, and death.

There is a lack of access to evacuation support, a lack of access to information, and a lack of access to emergency shelter.

Women and girls with disabilities are disproportionately facing risk of sexual and gender-based violence in particular women with intellectual disabilities and psychosocial disabilities.

It’s estimated at least 82,000 children are segregated from society. Thousands of adults with disabilities also reside in institutions.

We are already aware of such institutions that have run out of basic things such as food, water, essential medication, and fuel for heating. We are told that in some cases, staff have left leaving the residents without support. This is an impending humanitarian crisis within the crisis.

At the same time, persons with disabilities who have managed to evacuate by themselves are not being supported when they arrive in neighbouring countries. Reception centres are overwhelmed and have no access provisions. We call for national governments and humanitarian response mechanisms to ensure that the refugees with disabilities have full access to all services including integration, education, livelihood, and social protection.

Gunta Anca:

All kinds of support and help is very much needed. The help and support from volunteers involved in different countries who accommodate people with disability by providing accessibility.

We need coordination system to help. They need to know where to go just to be sure that the care is there.

We are disappointed that Europe a little bit slow in its reaction to this situation.

Just five minutes ago, I received information that a train with more than 200 people with disabilities is coming to Lviv. And we are sitting here thinking what we can do for them.

Milan Šveřepa:

There are 260 thousand people with intellectual disabilities in Ukraine.
Most of them – and their families – cannot leave their homes to protect themselves.

There are 30,000 of people with disabilities in residential care homes.
They are at grave risk of being left without food, supplies, or care as staff leave the areas.

There is urgent need to provide food, water, medicine, and other necessary items to the families, and to people in care homes.

Around 10% of refugees are people with disabilities, both inside and outside of Ukraine.
They need accessible accommodation, rehabilitations, equipment, and other support.

Disability organisation and other NGOs are doing tremendous work supporting people with disabilities and their families in Ukraine, and in neighbouring countries.
They need proper, coordinated support from national and EU institutions, and humanitarian organisations.

And first and foremost, Russia must stop its war on Ukrainian civilians.

Maya Doneva:

Right now the systems are not responding the way that they should. And it’s all left to the people in communities. Most of you mentioned the support of volunteers and the support of individual caregivers. Which is crucial. But it shouldn’t rely only on that.

The systems that we have, the European values that we stand for should be more responsible to what right now is needed to happen in Ukraine.

I have to say also that we are urging you to support the NGOs that are still working in Ukraine. I cannot even imagine how difficult it is to still sustain any type of activity if bombs are flying around.

I would also like to say that we are delighted to see the EU Care Initiative is starting to be a reality.

We have to stop being concerned and we have to go towards more actions toward the decision and towards a budget that is actually targeting the organisation and the support that is needed now, today, yesterday.

I cannot ignore what Valery said: We have to save the people. And this is not something that can be postponed.

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