This Could Be Any Of Our Children. This Could Be James.

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.

An unnamed disabled young person in Ukraine

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: from where you can also watch the full report on BBC iPlayer. You can also see it directly here:  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

See also:
The Toll Of War On Ukraine’s Disabled Children

The Institutional Torture Of Our Children

7 thoughts on “This Could Be Any Of Our Children. This Could Be James.

  1. Mark, I didn’t see this broadcast but will follow up on it. Thanks for the reminder of how appalling this is. Here in Guatemala it is the norm that people with additional needs are ignored, neglected and mistreated and the battle is so overwhelming that sometimes the horror is overshadowed by the need. Here too often I have seen children tied up in their homes because parents have no understanding of how to deal with a child who is not neurotypical, medical resources are few or non-existent in many places, and if they are available there is not the money to pay for them. Three of our men came from an institution only slightly better than what you described, and there are over 100 children in the same institution who spend most, if not all of their days locked in their cribs. And this is the best institution I’ve seen. The government facilities are unspeakable. Furthermore the government puts so many requirements on a children’s home for those with additional needs that few ministries can meet their expectations. Services for adults are non-existent and that is why we have chosen to focus on those over 18. The government doesn’t care what we do with them–unfortunately.

    Those with physical disabilities fare somewhat better, though it is still normal to see them crawling on the streets and begging. My heart breaks as I write these things because they have become part of my everyday life and I seldom stop to really see the horror. Thank you for reminding me why we are here and doing what we do. We have 2 homes and need 200. Every week I turn people away who are seeking help. It’s nice to know that someone “out there” in the developed world recognizes the plight we face.

    Blessings on your work, Pat Duff

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this Pat, my heart breaks afresh to see how widespread this issue is. There is much to do, but we can all play a part in bringing about change. You are doing so much important work and anything I can do to shine a light on what you are doing, the need that you face, I will. Thanks for sharing your web site too, I’ll have a look. It’s good to be connected with you and your vital work Pat.


  3. You are totally right to compare this with the old Soviet era. Back then, it was Romania which was cited over these orphanages and homes. It is sadly ( as above) a situation which has not changed in my parts of the world, and we are fortunate that here it has, since certain drugs and insights have changed the way these children and adults are viewed. We ourselves are fortunate in that our autistic grandson is one of those who is in ordinary school and so far, though not reading (he’s nearly 6) and being a very anxious person is possibly going to become an independent adult. But that doesn’t stop us feeling very concerned that inso m any countries, human beings with feelings , emotions, and all the needs of a live person, are being treated as of no worth or capable of any achievement to live as happy and achieving life as they are able. If only the global community would concentrate its resources on these things rather than ridiculous wars over territory and interfering in the lives of other countries. God bless your efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. PS I will put the link to your piece on the Association of Christian writers prayer room site (it is closed so should be safe) and ask them to pray. Several of us have autistic children or grandchildren, and I know they had a session on a book written by a young non-verbal person, using a computer modeling system, at the recent ACW ‘jubilee’ weekend. I think his name is JonathanBryant?

    Liked by 1 person

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