Protecting children with disabilities amid the war in Ukraine

By Liza Yanovich | March 8, 2022 | Europe & Eurasia | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation

Global Fund for Children’s partners in Ukraine are risking their lives to save children with disabilities during the ongoing Russian invasion. Here’s what they shared with GFC about what they’re seeing on the ground and the actions they’ve taken to protect children.

Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, GFC has been in close contact with our partner organizations on the ground. We’ve launched an emergency fundraising campaign, and thanks to the generosity of donors, we’ve already disbursed the first emergency grants.

GFC is working hard to support all our partners within Ukraine, those who have fled Ukraine, and those working to assist refugees in neighboring Moldova and Romania.

Many of the local organizations that GFC supports in Ukraine work with children with disabilities. These children urgently need support. According to UNHCR, more than one million refugees fled Ukraine in the first week of Russia’s invasion, and these refugees include children and youth with disabilities.

As of 2019, according to Ukraine’s State Statistics Service, there were more than 160,000 children with disabilities under the age of 18 in the country. As is the case in many places around the world, children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in Ukraine and often lack access to services, opportunities, and education. Children with disabilities face grave dangers and have unique vulnerabilities that put them at higher risk of harm and neglect during armed conflicts and crises.

A building in Kyiv that was hit with a Russian rocket

A building in Ukraine that was struck by a Russian rocket. Photo provided by GFC Spark Fund panelist and youth activist Rostik.

The children with physical disabilities supported by GFC’s partners require assistance and assistive devices to take shelter during a bombing attack or to flee the war zone. Meanwhile, children who have visual, hearing, or intellectual disabilities may not even know about or understand the full scope of the situation. The lasting trauma children experience during armed conflict is immeasurable, and it can be especially severe for children with disabilities.

Two of GFC’s partners in Ukraine who support children with disabilities have been updating us on the horrific situation they find themselves in. (For their safety, GFC is not naming its partner organizations in Ukraine.)

On March 2, we spoke with a partner organization that supports families with children with disabilities all over Ukraine. This organization was originally based in the Donbas region until 2014 when its city was taken over by the Russian occupation. The staff have lived and worked in exile in Kyiv ever since.

The director and a staff member spoke to GFC from a center for people with disabilities in Riga, Latvia, where the group had just arrived. They told us about their harrowing escape from Kyiv driving 19 women and children with disabilities in a specially modified minibus. Their journey took them from Kyiv to Poland, through Lithuania, and finally to Latvia. When asked what their needs were, they said that they are in direct contact with about 500 families in Ukraine who have children with disabilities and need help. GFC is sending this partner organization an emergency grant, which they will use to send small cash transfers to as many of these families as they can.

The executive director of a partner organization in Kharkiv, whose mission is to improve the quality of life and integration in society of children and youth with disabilities, described the situation in her city as a “horror movie”. She told GFC about constant bombings as Russian forces surrounded the city.

“I can’t believe what’s happening here is true.” – The executive director of a GFC partner in Kharkiv

The director reported that on March 2, Russian forces bombed a school for visually impaired children (the V.H. Korolenko Kharkiv Special Education and Development Complex for Children with Sight Loss or Impairment). GFC was able to confirm this information in news reports from UNIAN, the Ukrainian Independent News Agency of News, as well as in other media sources.

The day before the bombing, this GFC partner helped evacuate some of the children. The director reported that two buses of children were taken to safety. GFC sent the organization an emergency grant, which it used to evacuate more visually impaired children from Kharkiv.

This organization described the director of the school for visually impaired children as a courageous person who has been doing everything possible to keep the children safe. Before the school was destroyed, there were 65 people – children and school staff – hiding in the basement. GFC’s partner organization was helping the school as much as possible by supplying medicine, clothes, and fuel.

Map of GFC partner locations in Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Italy

Global Fund for Children supports community-based organizations in the cities in Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Italy shown above. For their safety, GFC is naming its partner organizations in Ukraine only when they have asked to be publicly identified.

This GFC partner organization helps not only children and youth, but also elderly people who are visually impaired and who have no relatives. Its staff and volunteers are making sure that these people have water and food, and they are helping them take shelter during the shelling.

GFC has known some of our Ukrainian partners for over a decade, while new community-based partners came on board recently as part of the Spark Fund, a partnership with the Avast Foundation that invests in youth-led and youth-focused groups.

All of our Ukrainian partners, old and new, are currently focused on providing emergency relief, connecting people to vital services, providing the basic necessities for survival, and doing their very best to keep the children and families they serve safe. It is still winter in Ukraine, and families whose homes have been destroyed or who are fleeing to western Ukraine and abroad need safe shelter, fuel, warm clothing, and food.

GFC condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly the targeting of children and families. Endangering the lives of Ukraine’s children, including children with disabilities, is inhumane. We stand with our local partners who are risking their lives to protect their communities under incredibly dangerous circumstances.

Donate now to help local organizations provide emergency support to children in Ukraine.

Header photo: View from a Global Fund for Children site visit to Ukraine before the war started. © GFC

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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