Solidarity and Mutual Aid: A Study on the Evacuation of Persons with Disabilities from War Zones

The newspaper «День» (day.kyiv.ua) published preliminary results of a sociological study of the evacuation of people with disabilities in Ukraine, conducted by the organization Fight For Right/Борьба за права людей с инвалидностью. This summer, the organization conducted 20 in-depth expert interviews with public activists, volunteers, representatives of government agencies and international organizations involved in helping people with disabilities in Ukraine. They discussed the needs of people with disabilities during the war. The survey concerned evacuation from Kyiv and the region, Kharkiv and the region, Kryvyi Rih, Donetsk, Luhansk, Sumy, Chernihiv, Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions.

Many respondents noted the weakness or lack of a systematic approach on the part of the state towards people with disabilities after the start of Russian aggression in February 2022. For example, [people with disabilities experienced] problems with access to the bomb shelters, the use of wheelchair evacuation vehicles, and the lack of a barrier-free environment in places of temporary accommodation. Most organizations had to develop evacuation algorithms and border crossing procedures for people with disabilities, their guardians or accompanying personnel from scratch. It was the active advocacy actions of public organizations of people with disabilities that forced the state to develop a decree with clarifications on crossing the border of people with disabilities and accompanying persons. The procedures for agreeing on lists for evacuation abroad with the Border Guard Service of Ukraine and expedited processing of documents for travelling abroad were also created.

The researcher notes that the effectiveness of the evacuation of people with disabilities often depended on the coordination of their actions. For example, a person moving in a wheelchair helped to select the means of rehabilitation and accompanied the group. A visually impaired person was explaining to other blind people how to find an evacuation vehicle. Some organizations noted the importance of independent decision-making on evacuation and the ability to influence its course. The interaction of people with disabilities within the community and active cooperation on the ground with the police, military, and various government agencies in the process of coordinating evacuation movements gave many a sense of their importance to society.

“We were among the first to create an emergency response specifically from the community of people with disabilities. That is, not from the position of objects of assistance, but from the position of subjects of law”, says Yulia Sachuk, head of Fight for Right, in an interview.

At a press conference in Geneva, Deputy Chairman of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Jonas Ruskus, said that he was seriously concerned about the situation of people with disabilities in the regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia. According to him, people with disabilities are kept there in inhuman conditions, and their evacuation from institutions in conflict zones is not considered a priority. Referring to information received from several disability organizations in the country, Ruskus said that the Committee had become aware of the death of at least 12 people with disabilities in boarding schools and hospitals in Russian-controlled territory. Members of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have said that people with disabilities in Russian-occupied territories are reportedly being used as human shields by the Russian armed forces.