I watched the BBC News last night, and it broke me. I’m not the same since and I don’t think I ever will be. There was a report about children, young people, and adults, with additional needs and disabilities in Ukraine and how they are kept in horrendous conditions in institutions that have no place in the 21st century. (See link to the report at the end of this blog post.)
The report found teenagers left restrained and in nappies all day. Adults left in large cots all day. Every day. The film showed the distress these children, young people, and adults were in, are still in today, tomorrow, the next day. Many of them reminded me of my son James, young people in their late teens or early twenties, condemned to a life of suffering, abuse and mistreatment in a broken system.
This isn’t anything to do with the war, other than that the number of ‘inmates’ has significantly increased. This broken system is the legacy of the old soviet system that Ukraine was a part of until 30 years ago. Nothing has changed since.
The report shows Vasyl, pictured in the header of this blog post. Vasyl is 18 and is tied outside to a bench all day, in a nappy, screaming in distress, but no one comes to untie him even though it is baking hot. He rocks back and forth, screams in a long high-pitched scream, but no one reacts.
There are many, many examples like this in the report. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever watched.
The staff are overworked and exhausted, but there is such a lack of care or of basic human decency that it is heartbreaking. They seem to have no idea how to give Vasyl and the rest of the inmates at the institution a better life; no understanding of his additional needs or how to help him. And there are 700 such institutions across the country. Many, many thousands of lives that are suffering terribly.
The staff say things like “There is nothing we can do to help this child. Unfortunately, nature has decided their fate.” “They are not used to dealing with this level of disability.” A nurse gestures dismissively around a ward full of disabled teenage girls and asks “What intellect can you see here?”
As I watched this film I saw children, young people and adults that reminded me of people I know in the UK, that reminded me of my own son James. If James had been born in Ukraine this could have been his story. I can barely even think about that.
So, if I can’t think about how this could be James, I also can’t just let it go that this is the only, final, story for the children, young people and adults of Ukraine. I can’t be saddened by what I’ve seen and then move on. I don’t have answers, I don’t know what I will be able to do, but I must do something. We have to do something.
If someone reading this has contacts that might be helpful, please get in touch with me. I will publish this blog and the links to the report wherever I can. I plan to write to the Government and agencies to ask them to look into this. I will try to contact the BBC team that made this film. I am praying for this awful situation. This story must not slip off the radar. We must do all that we can to bring about change. For Vasyl, for Viktor, for Ivan, for Oxana, for Antonina, for Natasha, for them all.
Here’s the BBC News website link to the story: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/disability-62226636 from where you can also watch the full report on BBC iPlayer. You can also see it directly here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0019w1c/locked-away-ukraines-stolen-lives I warn you, it’s harrowing.
We have to do something, will you join me?
Update (27/07/22): So far, communication made with the BBC News team, my local MP (currently a Minister in the Government), and the Disabled Children’s Partnership.
Text © Mark Arnold/The Additional Needs Blogfather, images and video content © BBC
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The Institutional Torture Of Our Children