Hoping again: four years of displacement for children with disabilities in the Donbas

Hoping again: four years of displacement for children with disabilities in the Donbas

On June 21, the opening of the ramp by People in Need in the collective center for people with disabilities and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sviatohirsk took place. The ramp was constructed and installed with the generous financial support from the Czech private donor. This installation enabled dignified access for some 100 people with disabilities to the premises of the collective center providing opportunity not only to attend classes and trainings, but also to overcome isolation as in Sviatohorsk there is no opportunity for disabled children to attend regular kindergarten or school.

Conflict in the east of Ukraine forced more than two million Ukrainians to flee their homes and resulted in 1,6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 66,000 of them are persons with disabilities (UNHCR). International organization People in Need has been supporting the most vulnerable populations affected by the conflict through its programs in the eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the military conflict in 2014. Among its activities, the organization has been providing assistance to people with disabilities (including children) and IDPs living in the sanatorium in Sviatohirsk since 2015, trying to bring a light to the life of those children hoping for peaceful future.

The little town of Sviatohirsk with 4,600 inhabitants is famous for its nature and monastery, where many only come for holidays, hosted thousands of internally displaced people since the beginning of the conflict. Its high number of sanatoriums (medical rehabilitation centers) and summer camps has allowed it to host people who came directly after shelling and bombing without anything but psychological trauma and stress.

One of those sanatoriums is Sviati Hory, home to 214 IDPs, including 102 persons with disabilities, 30 of whom are children. IDPs come here from different locations of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (Debaltseve, Horlivka, Donetsk, Makiivka, Luhansk and many others). After heavy fighting, those places ended up in the Non-Government Controlled Area (NGCA) separated by a de-facto boarder from the rest of Ukraine. All this led not only to restricted access to basic services, but also to separation of families and isolation.

Except for the successful example with the collective center, integration in the local community is not easy in Sviatohirsk. This is especially true for people with special needs. If you are on a wheelchair, it is difficult to move around town. IDPs and people with disabilities affirm that local residents blame them for doing nothing, but receiving humanitarian aid.

“You are coming back to your home after work in the evening, eat dinner with your family using your own dishes, go to sleep in your bed… But people like us, we have nothing. We don’t even have our own plates or spoons. We still hope that this situation with displacement is temporary,” said Olga, IDP from Donetsk who stays in Sviati Hory sanatorium with her disabled daughter, to one of the local residents of Sviatohirsk.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the situation of people with disabilities has dramatically worsened, as they do not have access to the medical services they used to have in the towns or cities of residency. In the new location, they are struggling to obtain the documentation to prove their disability status in order to receive government financial support to which they are entitled. According to Olga, the assistance provided by the state is insufficient for leading a dignified life. She receives 2,300 Ukrainian hryvnia (around 75 EUR) of state social benefit per month. Other families with disabled members receive even less, between 1,300 and 1,700 hryvnia (around 45 EUR) per month, depending on the disability status.

“We are so grateful to the humanitarian organizations providing assistance to such families as mine. Our children are special and we want them to forget all the horrible moments they have survived due to the war in our country, and to have a normal and dignified life in the new place (though we have lived here for almost four years). Moreover, it is great that the Center for people with disabilities and IDPs was opened last year in Saviatohirsk. Now our children are able to spend some time with others, to play and even to visit a psychologist.” /Olga/

People in Need with generous support of the UK’s Department for International Development (UKaid) provided a grant for the opening of the center, delivered construction materials for the rehabilitation of the building as well as furniture, toys and other materials for its operation.

With the opening of the Center for people with disabilities and IDPs, new opportunities were opened for those living in the sanatorium and in Sviatohirsk and Sloviansk raion. Now children as well as adults have the possibility to attend crafts’ master trainings, “Robotics” club (where children with abilities for computer programming gain experience through games, building robots), yoga classes, various outdoor activities and receive psychological support. Parents of disabled children are able to have some time for own business while children attending trainings, classes and other activities in the center.

Psychologists from People in Need provide regular psychological counselling to those willing to attend. This activity is implemented with financial support of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO).

Though the center was operational since 2015, the access to its premises for children in the wheelchairs was hampered by the absence of a ramp, meaning that they were dependent on their parents and other adults to enter the building. Now they are able to come to any training or class whenever they want and spend time with their fellows.

“I’m so happy that a ramp has been installed. I don’t need to ask my father to help me to climb up the stairs at the entrance any more. I can’t go to school in Sviatohirsk because there are neither a ramp nor inclusive classes for disabled children, which I used to have in my school in Luhansk before the war has started. Though I can’t attend school, I can spend some time with my friends here in the center. Besides I’m visiting a psychologist here. Her advices help me a lot.” /Vlada,16 years old IDP from Luhansk/

With funds received from a private Czech donor, People in Need installed the ramp in the Center for people with disabilities and IDPs.

“This center is like a sunlight in our grey daily life. It opens different opportunities not only for our children but as well as for adults. Personally, I can leave my daughter for a couple of hours in the center and go to buy some food or do some other things at home. I know that my daughter is having a good and productive time with other children, while I’m busy with some daily routine. Besides some of my neighbors are attending yoga classes in the center. They say it helps them not only physically to keep fit, but also to calm down emotionally.” /Olga/  

Author: People in Need