NPR: “What is Ukraine like for people with disabilities — and those who fled”

One year into the russian invasion of Ukraine “What is Ukraine like for people with disabilities — and those who fled”

A voice interview published by the National Public Radio (NPR) on February 23, 2024.

Listen to the interview here. Transcript below.

>>Robin Young: A year into the war in Ukraine, how are the almost 3 million Ukrainians with disabilities fairing? Well here is Tanya Herasymova who uses a wheelchair and works with a group called Fight for Right helping people with disabilities in Ukraine and she still does that work after being evacuated herself by an American disability rights group. 

>>Tanya: When I left home on February, 24 in 2022, I did not expect that I would not return home for the next year. The opportunity to help people with disabilities in Ukraine is the only thing that helps me feel better and feel my involvement in the approach of victory and I want everyone to know about it. We are not sitting by. People with disability rescuing the community.

>>Robin: People with disabilities rescuing their community. Tanya now works with Anna Landre who is with the U.S. Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies. She's in Vienna at a UN conference [Zero Project Conference] – Anna what is it like for people like Tanya in Ukraine?

>>Anna: It’s been pretty dire since the start of the war, just one year ago, we found that in the mainstream response, by humanitarian organizations, Disabled peoples’ needs were not being served; they were being left in high rise building with no electricity, their mobility equipment and assistive technology was not being replaced and properly cared for in a war time setting, and above all they were physical unable to leave unsafe places, to get into an inaccessible bomb shelter or to get to a safe country, away from their home. 

>> Robin: And we can only think, they need medications, I can imagine, devices that might run on electricity. Tell us more about what the needs are.

>> Anna: Because the Disability Community is so diverse, it includes wheelchair users, like myself, but also people who are Deaf, or blind, or autistic, or elderly, or, perhaps, are receiving cancer treatments. You’re really seeing a wide range of needs from medication to one on one human support, to accessible vehicles, and unfortunately the emergency response organizations were just not prepared.

>> Robin: Well, we know you helped a couple, who like you, is in wheelchairs. Tell us their story.

>> Anna: Absolutely, so a lot of the people that we served, in partnership, I want to stress this, really strong partnership with Fight for Right, are wheelchair users and this one couple that you’re speaking about, they were trapped in Bucha, which was one of the cities most hard hit by the war that was occupied by the russians, shelled and under really difficult low resource conditions, and they were not able to get to their local bomb shelter. They were not able to leave their home and eventually were only able to get out in a humanitarian green corridor, and with the help of Fight for Right were able to get to a safe place and are now settled elsewhere in Europe, but it’s a really ongoing struggle for these people. And I also want to say that, once we help them get out the support can’t stop there. Because these are people with high support needs, who, as refugees, are going to need continuing equipment, continuing personal support, medications, accessible housing and shelter, and we’re finding that the countries to which these people are going are likewise unprepared.

>> Robin: Look, there are many humanitarian organizations and they have inclusion rules, without throwing shade, do you think there’s something profoundly different because yours is a Disabled community led organization?

>> Anna: I think that’s why we are able to do what we do so effectively. As you say, there are standards, there are rules, in the humanitarian sector which say you must include everyone, you must serve people with disabilities, but what we’re seeing is that those rules are not implemented. There’s breakdown going on from the words on paper to the practices happening in an emergency and people get left behind and disabled people die, so that’s what we at The Partnership do: we go into those emergencies, we make networks with disabled organizations on the ground, who know their community, who know their needs, who know the people; and we try our best to get them exactly what they need and fill the gaps that are being left by mainstream humanitarian organizations.

>> Robin: We will let our listeners know how they can be linked up to your great organization. This is a war that could go on for a long time. Obviously, you haven’t finished your job.

>> Anna: No, certainly not, we’re still having dozens of people calling every day from Ukraine to ask to ask us for help and we’re not only continuing to help them, but looking towards more future endeavors, like working to produce accessible and practical bomb shelters because in Ukraine that was a huge need. People couldn’t get to safety from the shelling and we’re looking at five pilot cities right now and we’re also looking to make a hub for Disability and disaster response more so then we even already had. And finally, looking towards reconstruction, you know, it’s a tragedy that Ukraine has been so destroyed, but all we can do now is think about how to build back in a way that is equitable, in a way that is accessible, and that is going to make Disabled people included and safe in Ukrainian society.

>> Robin: Anna Landre, the Global Research and Response Lead for The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, Anna, thank you.

>> Anna: Thank you Robin


Graphic of building on fire with text "Emergency Response for Ukrainians with Disabilities by Fight for Right. Saving Lives 24/7 during russian invasion."

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