Down Syndrome International (DSi) is urging parties involved in the Ukraine conflict to ensure protection and safety for people with Down’s syndrome and disabilities who are still in the country.
The news comes after people on the ground in Ukraine told the charity that the situation for the 2.7 million disabled people in the country is “appalling”.
Shelters in Kyiv are reportedly inaccessible, leaving many forced to stay at home where they are cut off from support services and beginning to suffer from food shortages and a lack of medication.
The charity is also warning that people with Down’s syndrome and disabilities living in institutions and hospitals are at risk of being “abandoned and forgotten”, as staff leave the country to flee the conflict.
Disabled people need equal access to safety and protection measures
While people with disabilities are at heightened risk of abandonment, violence, death, and a lack of access to safety, relief, protection, assistance and recovery support, crucial information on safety and evacuation is often inaccessible.
To combat this, one organisation, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, has created a practical information guide specifically for people with disabilities seeking to evacuate Ukraine during the current war. The information pack gives advice on how to get to the border and what to bring with you if you are disabled.
However, accessible information on its own will not go far enough, and DSi is now calling on political leadership and all humanitarian actors dealing with this crisis to ensure that people with Down's syndrome and disabilities have equal access to safety and protection measures.
This includes ensuring disabled people have full access to humanitarian aid and basic services (such as water, sanitary products, food, social support, education, healthcare, transport, and information), are accounted for and not abandoned, and are meaningfully involved in all inclusive humanitarian action, through their representative organisations.
DSi say they will now continue to monitor the situation and will remain in contact with their members in the effected regions.
“We will also work alongside and are grateful to, international and regional partners and DSi members who, like us, are advocating in the strongest possible terms for the protection and safety of persons with Down syndrome and disabilities,” they add.
Protecting Ukrainians who have a learning disability
In response to these calls, Theresa Shearer, Vice President of Inclusion Europe said she is continuing to speak with leaders of NGOs to discuss the human rights implications for people who have a learning disability.
"It is absolutely clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put millions of Ukrainian citizens in danger, and there is grave concern for the welfare of tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have a learning disability.
"In addition to those who live in their communities, more than 80,000 children and thousands of adults who have a learning disability live in institutions across Ukraine, and Inclusion Europe’s Ukrainian member organisation has very serious fears for their wellbeing at this time," she said.
Ms Shearer has since written to the UK's UK’s Foreign Secretary and the Scottish Government’s Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development to urge them to press for measures to protect Ukrainians who have a learning disability through all the humanitarian and diplomatic channels available to them.
She added that Inclusion Europe will continue to offer whatever support they can to their partners in Ukraine to "maintain the welfare and safety of people who have a learning disability across the country."