They gave us the children no one else wanted. No one wants something hard and difficult like this. They unloaded them from the train like dead bodies. – Director, Institution #1
Children who come here stay their whole life. This is their fate. There is no place else to go. This is a degradation of humanity. – Director, Institution #1
In late April 2022, Disability Rights International (DRI) brought a team of people with disabilities and family activists, including medical and disability service experts, to visit Ukraine’s institutions for children with disabilities. DRI visited three facilities for children aged six to adult, and one “baby” home for children from birth to age six. DRI finds that Ukraine’s children with disabilities with the greatest support needs are living in atrocious conditions – entirely overlooked by major international relief agencies and receiving little support from abroad.
Many children from institutions in Ukraine’s eastern war-torn areas have been evacuated.
In two of four facilities DRI visited. However, we found that children and adults with greater support needs were left behind in the institutions of western Ukraine while less impaired or non-disabled children from the same institution were moved to Poland, Italy, and Germany. Directors we interviewed report that children with greater impairments are being left behind in institutions in the east.
Children with greater impairments face the largest brunt of increased dangers. DRI investigators observed children tied down, left in beds in near total inactivity, and held in dark, poorly ventilated rooms that are so understaffed that they are enveloped in smells of urine and feces. Children rock back and forth or self-abuse as a result of years of emotional neglect. Staff have no resources or knowledge about how to respond to this behavior other than to restrain them for much of the day.
Children in Ukraine’s institutions are cut off from the love and care of families – perhaps the most damaging fact of institutional life that is as true today as it was before the war. Resources and staffing for medical care and support were stretched thin before the war. In some cases, basic care such as the treatment of hydrocephalus was lacking (e.g. observed in institution #2), leaving children to die a slow and painful death.