The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) says it is “gravely concerned” that people with disabilities remain trapped inside institutions in Ukraine, after reports revealed disabled people are being used as “human shields” by the Russian Federation armed forces.
The CRPD is urging Ukraine and the Russian Federation to prioritise evacuating thousands of disabled people in these institutions, as their safety is at significant risk.
At least 12 people with disabilities have died in a residential institution in a Russian-controlled territory
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and ever since, the UN Committee and other human rights organisations have grown increasingly concerned for people with disabilities, particularly those locked away in institutions.
A recent BBC documentary exposed this abuse and neglect, revealing that many disabled adults living in institutions are forced to lie in cots all day, only sitting up to eat and drink. Others are tied to chairs and benches, with no stimulation or activity.
Now, the CRDP says they have heard reports that disabled people are being used as “human shields” by the Russian Federation armed forces.
They have also revealed that at least 12 people with disabilities have died in a residential institution in a Russian-controlled territory since the start of the war.
Ukraine and the Russian Federation must prioritise evacuating disabled people
The Committee says that people with disabilities who remain in residential institutions are at severe risk, as their access to basic rights such as food and acceptable standard of living, including access to heating in the upcoming winter months, are jeopardised.
Jonas Ruskus, Vice-Chair of the committee says thousands of disabled people are being kept in “inhuman conditions” and their evacuation from residential institutions in conflict areas is not being prioritised.
At a press conference in Geneva, he urged both Ukraine and Russia to evacuate those who remain in residential institutions on the Ukrainian territory under their respective control, and to ensure that the evacuation process is monitored by independent parties.
Mr Ruskus has reminded all concerned parties that they have an obligation to ensure that people with disabilities, including in the current situation in Ukraine, have access to services and relief in communities on an equal basis with others.
A culture of institutionalisation
Human rights organisations warn that this culture of institutionalisation, abuse and neglect towards disabled people long predates Russia’s invasion and is a result of an outdated, Soviet system.
As a result, Mr Ruskus is calling for rapid de-institutionalisation and investment in community services. He has also called for the inclusion of disabled people in decision-making processes whenever international cooperation funds are used.