Running for your life in a time of war is horrific – but what if you couldn’t run?
Ukrainian Tanya Herasymova, project coordinator for the Ukrainian disability rights organization Fight For Our Right, reminds us that at least 2.7 million Ukrainians live with disabilities, some of whom still lack access to shelter, escape routes and evacuation transportation.
Herasymova, who uses a wheelchair, speaks from personal experience and shares, “I have Ollier disease, a skeletal disorder. I escaped the war in a city with limited accessibility that made me more likely to die.”
Now living in Denmark after escaping the invasion from her hometown of Kamianske in February with help, she recalls, “I was with friends when the alarm suddenly started. Someone picked me up and carried me down the stairs.”
Herasymova believes thousands more Ukrainians with disabilities haven’t been able to leave safely. She points out that people with disabilities are two to four times more likely to die in natural disasters or conflicts than the general population.
Even before the escalation of hostilities, through her work with the nonprofit organization Fight For Our Right, Herasymova pushed to coordinate local authorities to develop evacuation plans, including accessible transportation and continuous access to life-sustaining medications. They set up a hotline for psychological support and emergency assistance. Through their GoFundMe efforts they raised half a million euros in donations.
“We need inclusive, accessible infrastructure before we are faced with life-or-death situations,” she says.
Once the war began, a team of 40 volunteers from Fight For Our Right, some disabled themselves, helped 3,155 people escape the war with 1613 more being helped “in progress,” according to its website. However, the situation continues to be perilous. Many find continued challenges in their host countries because they are excluded from general evacuation protocols and have difficulty finding accessible housing.
Herasymova was recently featured by international organizations Doha Debates and World Enabled in a new media campaign called Disability Justice: My World, for her work with Fight For Our Right, which continues to push Ukrainian authorities to act according to international standards to ensure that humanitarian aid and resources are inclusive for people with disabilities.
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