The Effects of the War on Ukrainian Orphanages

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His screams go unheard, and no one will untie him because he was tied to a bench on an unbearably hot day. People are being abused and neglected in Ukraine’s orphanages. No one is allowed to visit these institutions, but BBC News accessed them and found widespread abuse.

 

Human rights investigations say Ukraine should not be allowed to join the European Union until it closes its three existing prisons. Before the war with Russia, there were promises from the Ukrainian government of prison reform.

 

Vasyl has epilepsy and learning disabilities. The staff at his orphanage do not respond to his screams, and he rocks back and forth in a nappy.

 

These adults are fatigued and overworked, and it is clear that it is easier -and accepted- to restrain these children instead. There has been an influx of evacuees from the east, which has put pressure on the system, but there have also been cases like this before the Russian invasion. Next to Vasyl, who is lying on the ground, another young man is sitting. His hands are bound together with his clothing sleeves. His void eyes are staring into space, and there is a puddle of urine below him.

 

Vasyl’s family felt they had no choice but to give him up.

 

They tried to get a diagnosis for him when he was very young. They even consulted a neurosurgery doctor in the UK with their concerns. Still, they couldn’t provide adequate care at home because of his frequent epileptic seizures and aggressive tendencies.

 

Vasyl’s mother says that it is hard for a disabled child to grow up around other people who are not disabled. She also says she doesn’t question Vasyl being tied down or seeming perturbed by him being tied down.

 

“I’m proud to be Ukrainian, but we do need to have more support from the state. It was hard when our son was born, and I couldn’t have him with me. If we lived in the UK, he would live with us.”

 

The first few years of visiting Vasyl were difficult, but now they have learned to live with the situation. Ukraine has the largest number of children living in institutions in Europe. They are casualties of a Soviet-era system that made it easy for parents to give their children to the state. There is a belief by many in Ukrainian society that disabled children receive better care in an institution. Romania closed many of its orphanages after discovering appalling conditions and finding that children still live there, almost 30 years later.

 

But before the Russian invasion in February, about 250 children were enrolled on an institution a day. In Ukraine, there are 700 institutions which receive money from the public and employ 68,000 staff. The government has promised reforms for the past few years and acknowledges that its system needs to change.

 

The Ukrainian government did not offer a response when asked about their plans for disabled orphans in the wake of peace.

 

Eric Rosenthal, CEO of Disability Rights International, has seen many institutions in China where disabled people are looked down on and treated like commodities. He’s seen many different facilities and is always shocked by what he finds. In one facility near Vasyl’s orphanage, disabled men in their twenties live in cots for babies.

 

The people living in these cages rarely leave them, and they primarily drink fluids from staff members through the bar. Eric says the bones that stick out the man’s ankles and the boy’s ribs result from “malnutrition over a lifetime.”

 

Eric says that the man is dying a slow and painful death. He has been neglected for decades.

 

There’s been a man in the next room who has been in bed for decades. He’s 43 and was sent to this institution as a child.

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This user has cerebral palsy, which affects his movement and coordination. With the right care and support, people with this condition can live full and independent lives.

 

Oleh has a somewhat positive reaction to the journalist coming into his room. He laughs and smiles when he finds out they are there to write about him. Oleh interacts with Halyna Kurylo, an investigator from DRI, “in a warm way,” according to the journalist interviewing him; it is clear that he does not see many people. However, Halyna Kurylo allows for a negative interpretation of Oleh’s behaviour because she believes he could have lived up to more in life if it weren’t for being confined to the hospital.

 

The director of Oleh’s institution, Mykola Sukholytkyi, believes that children with disabilities should live there because they will be cared for and have proper food. These facilities benefit society because they can be free from dysfunctional families.

 

According to Eric, money is needed for many purposes, one of which is shutting down orphanages. Rather than wasting money on a system that doesn’t work, the money should go to families and support programs that promote child welfare and educate society so that it is more open to children with disabilities.

 

In his orphanage in Ukraine, Vasyl is being abused by the other children. The other children are making fun of him and tying him up. Maryna is grateful for everything the orphanage provides, but she would like it if her child was not suffering from abuse.

 

What  would you suggest if you were given the chance to help these orphanages?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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