Stop the War in Ukraine: statement in support of disabled people
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Stop the War in Ukraine: statement in support of disabled people

Photo: A woman is pushed in a wheelchair, as she arrives by ferry after fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the Isaccea-Orlivka border crossing, Romania, March 8, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo

Together with social scientists and humanities scholars researching disability in Eastern Europe and Eurasia I have signed a joint statement in support of disabled people affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine. The document also includes a list of resources and ways to offer support. I thank my colleague Svetlana Borodina for the initiative in making this important statement and compiling the list of resources to support disabled Ukrainians. Below I provide the text of the statement with slight changes regarding disability terminology (I prefer using ‘disabled people’):

Decades of academic research show that disabled people are among the worst affected by war.

First, war greatly exacerbates the inequalities, exclusions, and marginalization faced by disabled people. When emergency sirens go off, when tanks enter home towns, when bombs land close, disabled people tend to have the least access to life-saving yet inaccessible shelters, transport that takes one far from the fire, or vital services of support. As situations worsen and food and other resources become scarce, the harrowing refugee escape – on crowded public transit or walking long distances over dangerous and uneven ground – is laden with barriers. Those disabled people who can evacuate on trains face the need to leave their mobility devices such as wheelchairs and crutches behind, because of the crush and crowds.  For those disabled people who live in closed institutions and for whom life and death decisions are made by the personnel of these institutions, the refugee escape may not be an option at all. Instead, they face an increased risk of remaining forgotten and unprotected against approaching militarized attacks.

Second, the violence of war renders more people disabled: injuries create lasting impairments and the destruction of public infrastructure renders impairments more disabling. War also creates new forms of impairment and disabilities. It injures bodies, mental health, healthcare systems, and vital infrastructures of support. Health care, support services, and accessible mobility systems and built environments collapse. War destroys the present and the future, causing senseless loss, broken communities, and individual suffering. It eradicates the resources that help people heal and live fulfilling lives in their communities.

Third, traumas of war linger long after the end of military action. Every new day of war creates more suffering and loss of human vitality, life, and essential support. Cultural divisions, prejudice, and stigma related to conflict can become entrenched for generations.

Fourth, in times of crises, confusion, and mass humanitarian disasters, disabled people fleeing from war, especially women and children, are at heightened risk of becoming victims of sexual abuse and violence.

When war unfolds in the region of Eastern Europe, it poses additional life-threatening risks to disabled people living there. The liberal approach to disability as a social issue relies on the nation-state to act as the arbiter of justice. Activists around the world have long observed that in the context of political collapse and/or erupting violence of national and international scales, the intensification of authoritarian regimes prevents the implementation of laws pertaining to the human rights of disabled people. This has already been the situation for many of the creative, resilient community advocates working for disability services and recognition in Eastern Europe. In the context of violent invasion (Ukraine) or aggressive suppression of political dissent (Belarus, Russia), when the nation-state functions as a war machine, the claims and demands of the disability community fall by the wayside. Laws and standards are compromised. Access and inclusion protocols are not enforced at every institutional level. For the many disabled people in Eastern Europe and especially in Ukraine living in state care, the situation becomes extremely dire, and the always-present threat of death from neglect among those in institutional care is amplified. Many people with mobility impairments live in family apartments in ageing, inaccessible Soviet-era architectural standards apartment buildings across Ukraine, and rely on friends, family, and neighbours to bring food and household necessities. These informal care networks can be interrupted during the panic and scarcity of war. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, disabled people in Belarus and Russia now face a crashing economy, an increasingly deepening crisis of supplies, severe mental and physical strain, intensifying policing and repression in the public sphere, the instantaneous disappearance of public platforms and channels to make their voices be heard and life-saving connections be maintained. Already disproportionately poor and subject to multiple forms of violence, disabled people in Russia now have to bear the mental, corporeal, and material burden of the unfolding war they did not choose. Acute and slow violence associated with this war must be stopped and addressed on both sides of the border.

We condemn the senseless aggression that the Russian army under the command of V.V. Putin has wrought in Ukraine. 

We call for an emergency increase of support for disabled people affected by the war in Ukraine, as well as for people who become disabled or acquire impairments as a result of this war. Relief efforts and programs to support Ukrainians must hear the voices of disabled people and meet their immediate and long-term support needs in ways that respect their dignity and self-determination. We call on refugee and war response humanitarian enterprises to follow the calls to integrate disability access into human rights responses: disability issues are women’s issues, refugee’s issues, children’s issues, poverty issues. 

We call on response efforts to create an urgent public agenda of how the involved countries will ensure the realization of the rights of people becoming disabled during this war; to fund organizations of disabled people; to recognize the expertise of disabled people to assert their own needs; and to create task forces that are led by disabled people. We recognize the diversity of needs of the disability community and insist that relief efforts and communications begin from an orientation of access that considers the needs of those living with sensory, mobility, and mental/intellectual impairments.

Above all, we demand peace, safety, and appropriate support for all victims of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

If you wish to positively support and provide assistance to disabled people affected by this war, please consult the document we compiled

If you wish to support and sign this statement, please send your signature information in the “Request edit access” form (located in the upper right corner of the screen) and we will add it to the list of the signees.

This is the link to the statement to see the full list of signatures.

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