The Russian-Ukrainian war has forced over 5 million Ukrainians to seek refuge from Russian aggression in other countries. Among the refugees, there are many individuals with disabilities who face challenges at every step. The lack of access to necessary rehabilitation tools or mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, crutches, and canes, complicates their daily functioning. Many of the medications and medical supplies needed to support their health have either been left behind in homes that no longer exist due to Russian rockets or are located in temporarily occupied territories.
The program “We are from Ukraine” on Latvian Radio-4 aims to find answers to these questions and explore how people with special needs overcome the challenges of war. It delves into the types of support available, particularly in Latvia and Poland.
The first and foremost needs of people with disabilities after evacuating to another country include temporary housing, basic necessities, and medical assistance. The next step involves obtaining the necessary documents to access available support and benefits.
Confirmation of Disability in Latvia
There are differences between Ukraine and Latvia when it comes to assessing disability and support systems for people with disabilities. Therefore, to obtain certification, a person must undergo a disability assessment in Latvia once again.
Ukrainian citizens residing in the Republic of Latvia who hold a valid long-term visa or residence permit have equal rights to undergo a medical assessment for determining disability, as stipulated by the laws and regulations of the Republic of Latvia, regardless of their citizenship. The disability assessment is conducted by the State Commission of Physicians for Health and Work Capacity Expertise.
Latvian legislation allows citizens of Ukraine who have a first-group sub-group A disability in Ukraine or have childhood disability status in sub-group A to apply to the State Commission in Latvia for the need for special care without the necessity of undergoing a reassessment of disability in Latvia. This provides them with the opportunity to receive specialized assistance in the field of care. The main purpose of implementing this rule was to provide immediate financial support to Ukrainians with significant functional limitations.
Volunteers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
Currently, Ukrainian displaced persons with disabilities receive significant assistance from Latvian volunteers and non-governmental organizations, including the Latvian organization for the cooperation of people with special needs “Sustento” and the Samaritans’ Association of Latvia.
Gunta Ancha, the Chairperson of Sustento, shared in the Latvian Radio-4 program “We are from Ukraine”: “At the beginning of the war, we assisted nearly 200 individuals with disabilities in transportation from the Ukrainian-Polish border to Latvia. In March, we helped a group of 16 individuals to come here, followed by a large group of people with mental disabilities from a special institution in Bakhmut, whom we, in cooperation with the Ministry of Welfare, managed to place on social support in Latvia. We assist Ukrainians with disabilities not only with transportation but also with advice, necessary mobility aids, and more. We provide assistance to Ukrainian children with disabilities, and we have a very good collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Foundation in Latvia. Recently, we were approached by the Department of Child Protection in Ukraine. In the Sumy region, 150 children with disabilities need help. Right now, we are looking for ways to assist; some of them will be received in Latvia, and other European countries will provide shelter for the rest. Evacuating these children is of utmost importance.”
Ukrainians with physical disabilities can seek assistance by calling 67590437 or find information on the organization’s website at www.sustento.lv.
The head of the charitable foundation “Boomerang of Kindness,” Olga Ovsyannikova, shared in the program “We are from Ukraine” about how she, along with her daughter and other Ukrainians with special needs, managed to leave the war-affected Sviatohirsk.
“On March 12, when the first bomb hit the Sviatohirsk Lavra, where the center for people with disabilities was located, I realized that we wouldn’t survive there. I immediately wrote to Tetiana Vorontsova, who is the government commissioner for the rights of persons with disabilities. She quickly organized our evacuation. Within a few hours, buses were waiting for us. I and thirty-five people with special needs traveled by bus first to Sloviansk and then by train to Lviv. We didn’t know where to go next. There were several options, and finally, we decided to go to Latvia, where good conditions were prepared for us. It was tough, of course, as these are people who cannot care for themselves, some needed wheelchairs, some needed diapers. But we had volunteers with us throughout the journey who helped us,” shared Olga Ovsyannikova.
Yulia Patlan, an employee of the National Center for Folk Culture “Ivan Honchar Museum,” found herself in a wheelchair due to the war. Fortunately, with the help of volunteers and the Samaritans’ Association of Latvia, she is in Riga, where she is successfully receiving treatment and can even move independently. Yulia emphasizes that the journey of a person with disabilities from a war-affected country is incredibly challenging.
“The Samaritans’ Association of Latvia, led by Andris Berzinš, provides me and a group of people with disabilities from Ukraine with accommodation, meals, support, and assistance in addressing certain issues. Everything happens very warmly, with a great spirit, optimism, respect for us and for Ukraine. I want to note that here in Latvia, there are friendly people, attentive healthcare, and a significant concentration of humanity, which is extremely important and necessary for us right now,” emphasized Yulia Patlan.
Assistance from Poland to Ukrainians with special needs
For comparison, in Poland, which has taken on the most significant burden of integrating Ukrainian immigrants, individuals with disabilities from Ukraine have the opportunity to enjoy the same rights as Polish citizens. However, to do so, they need to obtain a Polish certificate by applying to the disability office in their place of residence.
“The certificate provides the right to benefits and other forms of assistance. To obtain the certificate, you need to present previously translated Ukrainian medical documents into Polish. In case of their absence, a medical examination in Poland is required,” explained Yuri Tokar, the Consul General of Ukraine in Wrocław, in the program “We are from Ukraine.”
In Poland, people with disabilities from Ukraine have access to various benefits and assistance. For example, they can use special parking spaces and receive financial support for purchasing medications, prostheses, and specialized equipment. Additionally, parents who cannot work due to caring for a child with a disability receive financial assistance. Free rehabilitation services are also available.
Funds to support Ukrainian immigrants with disabilities in Poland are provided through the Polish Fund for the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities. Recently, a support program was launched in Poland for Ukrainian military migrants with a disability of the first or second degree. Under this program, they can receive financial support for the purchase or repair of prostheses, orthopedic devices, crutches, wheelchairs, insulin pumps, and other necessary equipment. To be eligible for this program, individuals must have the status of a forced migrant due to the war and have their disability group confirmed in documents issued in Ukraine.