Ukraine burns as the world watches on in horror. Many Ukrainians are escaping to neighbouring countries or relatively ‘safe’ parts of western Ukraine, but many millions are trapped in the living hell of cities being constantly shelled and bombed by the Russian military. As always, those who suffer most in conflict zones, whether through the trauma of displacement and loss or the nightmare of being in the line of fire, are children and young people with additional needs and disabilities.
What is happening?
“Carers hugged the frightened children and whispered soothing sounds. It was not a time or place for words. There were none that could have explained the madness engulfing the world of the children from Kharkiv’s Hippocrates Care Centre. They were aged between one and three and all were disabled, with serious medical conditions.”
“Kharkiv is only 54 kilometres from the Russian border and was one of the first places targeted in the invasion… One of the young carers on the bus, Iryna Miroshnichenko, said that when the bombardment began staff had to make an urgent decision: hide in the basement shelter of the centre or to try to leave immediately. Either way they ran the risk of death or serious injury…”
See more on this story from the BBC News website here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-60648735
For young people that have managed to escape to neighbouring countries, many have found a generous welcome, although the trauma of escaping from a war zone, the displacement from everything they know and have had to leave behind, and the total uncertainty about their future, means that these are still exceptionally difficult times for the disabled children and young people involved.
“Territorially, the orphanages are where the rockets flew, where there were bursts of rifle fire. A metro station near the orphanage was blown up,” said Larissa Leonidovna, the director of the Svyatoshinksy orphanage for boys in Kyiv. “We spent more than an hour underground during a bombing.”
“Disabled orphans fleeing Kyiv have been received by Poles and Hungarians. Some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable citizens have reached safety in Poland through an effort of solidarity and compassion that transcended borders and raised a powerful counterpoint to war”
“Leonidovna said the day-long journey from Kyiv had been arduous — and there was still another long bus ride to go. “It is very difficult, you can see that it is very difficult, they all need special care and support,” she said of the children.”
See more on this story from the ABC News website here: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/disabled-orphans-fleeing-kyiv-received-poles-hungarians-83223961
Not everyone has been able to escape to relative safety though, with reports of people with disabilities being ‘left behind’ as refugees flee the war zone.
“Obtaining medication, such as epilepsy pills, had become “impossible” and accessing bomb shelters “incredibly difficult” for people with conditions such as autism who were left to “just stay in their homes hoping for the best…” while families with children with disabilities are living in the bathrooms or basements to [try to] protect themselves from bombs”.
See more information, including a link to the story above from ‘The Independent’, on the Inclusion Europe website here: https://www.inclusion-europe.eu/ukraine-people-with-intellectual-disabilities-mustnt-be-abandoned/
And there are other harrowing first-hand accounts from Ukraine of the experience of disabled children and young people, including attacks on disabled children and reports of Russian troops using them as human shields…
See this video from Joni and Friends (warning, it’s hard to listen to… also, let it load the next video for more info and ways to pray) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa4OjxPdTLs
What can we do?
All of this can leave us feeling helpless, not knowing what we can do to either process the harrowing information we are receiving or to try to make a difference for those living through these desperate times.
One thing we can do is to contact our MP’s (you can find yours and write to them here: https://www.writetothem.com) to make sure they are aware of the open letter from the Down’s Syndrome Association (see below) and are ensuring that the UK Government does all that it can to help disabled children and young people fleeing from the war zone.
The open letter from the Down’s Syndrome Association is here: https://www.downs-syndrome.org.uk/news/news-research/dsa-news/open-letter-to-the-head-of-the-european-institutions-european-russian-and-ukrainian-heads-of-state-and-nato/
We can give, responding to the DEC appeal raising vital funds to help Ukrainians fleeing the war zone as well as those still trapped there. DEC charities are in Ukraine and neighbouring countries meeting the needs of all refugees and displaced people.
The DEC appeal website is here: https://www.dec.org.uk/appeal/ukraine-humanitarian-appeal
We can also pray, maybe guided by what we’ve read and seen, maybe helped by the videos from Joni and Friends, maybe praying through the open letter from the Down’s Syndrome Association above.
Perhaps we can also be encouraged by these words from Micah 4:6-7, taken from the New International Readers Version of the Bible: “The time is coming when I will gather those who are disabled,” announces the Lord. “I will bring together those who were taken away as prisoners. I will gather those I have allowed to suffer. I will make the disabled my faithful people. I will make into a strong nation those driven away from their homes. I will rule over them on Mount Zion. I will be their King from that time on and forever.” Our prayer is for that day to come soon for the disabled children and young people of Ukraine. Amen.
If you have children or young people who are affected by what is happening in Ukraine, especially children and young people with additional needs who may be fearful, confused and upset by the news reports they might have seen or heard, the resources below provided by Anna Kennedy Online and BBC Children In Need may be a help, including a section on advice about how to talk to children and young people regarding the conflict, easy to understand news, and some visuals to help children and young people who are worried…
Anna Kennedy Online info and visual resources: https://www.annakennedyonline.com/ukraine-resources-and-visual-aids/
BBC Children In Need info and resources:
Header images © BBC (top left) and Associated Press (bottom left).
Bible passages taken from the New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
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Spiritual Warfare And My Special Needs Child