What’s Up WID: Supporting People with Disabilities in Ukraine Transcripts

Tanya Herasymova. Beside text is an image of Tanya Herasymova, a white woman with red hair looking to her left while wearing a yellow and orange flower crown and gray turtleneck.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Hello everyone and welcome back to What’s Up WID, the World Institute on Disability, podcast where we discuss what’s up in the disability community across the globe. Now one of top current events that has been at the forefront of global affairs is the ongoing war in Ukraine. But as the waves of daily media reports regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine continue to pour in, one group has largely been left out of the narrative… people with disabilities. Since the start of the war, WID’s international coalition with the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, and ONG Inclusiva known as the Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration, or simply GADRA, has partnered up with Fight for Right, a Ukrainian disabled woman-led organization that fights for the rights of people with disabilities. I was pleased to be joined by Tanya Herasymova, who serves as the project manager for Fight for Right to discuss the current situation for Ukrainians with disabilities and how GADRA is working with Fight for Right to provide support.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Thank you so much, Tanya, for joining me for today’s episode of our podcast to discuss the situation in Ukraine for people of disabilities. There’s just a lot of really tragic things that are going on right now, but I hope that our conversation will help to inform people and to empower people to join us in all the work that we’re doing to help people with disabilities in Ukraine.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in Fight for Right?

Tanya Herasymova:

Just yesterday was two years since I started work in Fight for Right organization, and in 2019, I was a participant of one of the projects of Fight for Right. It’s a school of political participation for girls and women with disabilities named LIDERKA school. I was alumna of the school and received this possibility to be an intern of Central Election Commission. After my internship, the team invited me to join the team as SMM manager, and then I became communication manager, and now I’m working as project manager and also as coordinator of the LIDERKA school.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Now what made you want to get involved with Fight for Right to begin with? I would love to hear about that.

Tanya Herasymova:

I was surprised that in Ukraine is such organization who protected rights, who not providing charity or something like that. That was an organization not similar to anyone else in Ukraine, and I was happy to join them and to do this work. I was amazed by the work of Yuliia Sachuk, head of the organization, because I know that she and team and a lot of activists prepare it to UN Committee of [CRPD 00:03:45], alternative report about human rights, about rights of people with disabilities in Ukraine. And I was shocked then that some people in Ukraine doing such work and that was like unbelievable for me.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yeah. I’ve been so enamored with the work that Yuliia has been doing, and she’s such a powerful voice and a leader, and it’s so great that we get this opportunity to collaborate with her to help support Ukrainians with disabilities and get to work with Fight for Right as a whole. So you really have an incredible team over at Fight for Right.

Ashley Inkumsah:

What’s the current situation for Ukrainians with disabilities, especially those that have been placed in institutions, if you can provide us with an update on what that current situation is for them?

Tanya Herasymova:

Day by day, the situation becoming worse and worse in Ukraine, especially for people with disability. People stay prisoners on their apartment without any help with humanitarian blockade. And they are prisoners twice when they are in closed institution. Institution for people with disability already have been the targets of Russian aggression. Therefore, it’s critical that state actors and humanitarian organization prioritize the safe evacuation of these people. And people have no choice. They can’t ask volunteers for evacuation like people who live in their own home, and they just need to wait if someone will save them. And it’s a really horrible situation. I know also people who live not in closed institution, but they anyway hopeless because they even don’t know which they could ask for help.

Ashley Inkumsah:

It really is just so tragic that it just seems to be getting exponentially worse every single day for Ukrainians with disabilities. If you can tell us about the work that Fight for Right is doing in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration to help Ukrainians with disabilities.

Tanya Herasymova:

Yes. Since the beginning of the war, Fight for Right has managed to create an international initiative to help Ukrainians with disabilities, including now about 40 volunteers and experts from around the world. Our main activity now is emergency response, and we so appreciate that Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration and World Institute of Disability helping us and are involved in this process.

Tanya Herasymova:

Our main activity now is to save people, to help with evacuation by regular specialized transportation in ambulances, providing housing in Ukraine and abroad, legal advice in crossing the border, documentation in the European Union, also with trying to provide to people medicine, medical supplies, food, rehabilitation services, assistive technologies, psychological support, financial support. And also now we supporting people who were evacuated because for many people, we are the only contacts which they have in whole world where they could ask for help. So we trying to be in touch with all people which we saved, and our work not indeed after the evacuation.

Ashley Inkumsah:

I think it’s so important to highlight the work that we’re doing together because, of course, constantly when we turn on the news here in the United States and I’m sure abroad, we’re hearing about the situation that’s going on in Ukraine, but they’re not talking about people with disabilities. So it’s very important for us to have this conversation to discuss the needs that people with disabilities have because I do feel like they have been neglected, which often happens with any disaster or crisis situation. Usually people with disabilities don’t get the publicity that they deserve. So it’s very important, and I’m so happy that you’re joining me as a guest to talk about this really important topic.

Tanya Herasymova:

Thank you to raising this topic. I also think that it’s very important, and even from my side, what I see about us talking about international level, not so often like we want, but in Ukraine, it’s even worse because it’s really seldom messages from our states, from our journalists about people with disabilities. So we trying to do our work and to raise this topic on all levels.

Ashley Inkumsah:

And if you can share what are some ways that you’ve successfully been able to provide support to people with disabilities so far in Ukraine? What are some ways that our initiative with WID and GADRA and Fight for Right… How has that been able to help some of the people with disabilities in Ukraine so far?

Tanya Herasymova:

I think it’s because the biggest part of all our partners, all our volunteers, it’s people with disability too. And it’s first in a history, I think, that community doing something for community and this strange power because we know that any of us could be on that side, and we doing it not only for Ukrainians people, but people do it for themselves because war is closer than we can imagine. And I think that people who are doing this work understand clearly that it could happen anything.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Why do you think it’s so important to prioritize the lives of people with disabilities during times of war? We talked about not getting enough coverage by journalists in the media. Why is it important that that changes? Why is it so important that we need to prioritize people with disabilities in these times of war?

Tanya Herasymova:

Because people with disability are at significant risk due to limited access to suitable supplies, safe evacuation pathways, inaccessible warning system, bomb shelters, inaccessible evacuation center, and even inaccessible border crossing and any other things. People with disabilities and older person do not appear to be at the forefront of humanitarian efforts despite international convention, international humanitarian law standards and guidelines of best practice of inclusion, which are to be [inaudible 00:12:44] even in times of conflict.

Tanya Herasymova:

And now we need to do anything to change in this situation. And yes, months ago we were not expert of evacuation, but now we need to become this expert. And also all people need to change this way for people with disabilities and need to prioritize them because we need support and we can’t do it ourselves. And we were discriminated. It was not accessible to leave for us. And now in the situation of war, we really need support of other people because our lives also matter.

Ashley Inkumsah:

What would you say to the government officials in Ukraine about how they need to prioritize people with disabilities right now?

Tanya Herasymova:

I know that it’s hard time also for our state authorities, and they trying to do a lot of things that they were not ready to do. But yes, they really need to prioritize us. We need just to be evacuated like all other people who need help, like women, like children with disabilities. We just need even not a lot. We need accessible transportation. We need a possibility to be evacuated because not all people can leave country by regular car because they need medical transportation. And I think that it should be one of the priority of our government to provide such transportation and to provide accessible evacuation.

Ashley Inkumsah:

And why do you think that it’s important to also prioritize people with disabilities who are multiply marginalized? So black, brown, LGBTQIA+ women, children, like you mentioned, why is it important that they are also prioritized during this war?

Tanya Herasymova:

Because it’s even harder to exercise your rights when you have more than one identity which you could be discriminated. You have no chance when you black lesbian on a wheelchair. So it’s also about that we have no chance without help. We need to be visible. People just need to see that we need their help, and we don’t need to left behind because we also have the same rights like all other people

Ashley Inkumsah:

And I know things are just very gloom and it seems like there’s no end in sight for this war, but what advice would you offer to Ukrainians with disabilities right now during this time to get them through this terrible period? What advice would you offer to them to stay strong?

Tanya Herasymova:

One of my advice is not to be scared to evacuate because a lot of people have no experience of travel and they really scared that they will not have help abroad. But the whole world supporting us very much and a lot of countries ready to help us with housing, just to help us to be in safety. And I want to say to all people with disabilities in Ukraine that we will back home, but now we need to be in a safe place because we have no supplies to be there, to stay there.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Those of us who are abroad and internationally, why is it important that people donate to help us to support these people with disabilities in Ukraine? Why should people donate?

Tanya Herasymova:

Because only people could save the people. Because now our states, our international partners, international institution have a lot of tasks and just all what we do now, it’s thanks for the people. A lot of people with disability already donated to us. And this is amazing because we couldn’t imagine… We started collecting the money a couple of weeks before the war because we wanted to provide psychological support for people with disabilities in Ukraine. And now it’s incredible that a lot of people supported us, not just provide psychological support, but we able to save lives. And this is really, really important. And without all of you, all of these people, we couldn’t able to do this.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. Your support will help us to save lives, and stay tuned for our next segment where I will explain how those of you at home can donate. But thank you so much to you, Tanya, for sitting down with me and having this very important conversation. I hope that it’s a step in the right direction and it empowers people at home to want to help us in this fight that we’re currently in. So thank you, Tanya.

Tanya Herasymova:

Thank you, Ashley. Thank you so much to supporting people with disabilities in Ukraine. Thank you.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Your financial support is crucial to helping us evacuate Ukrainians with disabilities to safety and assisting others who are trapped with complex shelter in place needs such as food, water, medication, disability assistance, and family care. You can donate to the GADRA Ukraine effort by a direct PayPal contribution, which you can find a link to on our Ukraine webpage, which is located at www.wid.org/ukraine-response. Or you can simply make a text message donation, and I’ll tell you how simple it actually is. Simply text WID, that’s W-I-D, to 20222 to make a $10 donation or text WORLD, that’s W-O-R-L-D, to 20222 to make a $25 donation. All one-time donations will be added to your monthly phone bill and a hundred percent of the funds that we raise will go to support Ukrainians with disabilities. No standard text messaging fees are incurred by mobile users to initiate and complete a text message donation, and no portion of any amount donated is held by participating wireless providers. A hundred percent of all donations are passed through at a hundred percent to this effort.

Ashley Inkumsah:

All mobile users can obtain a tax receipt for their donations made via text message by visiting www.mobilegiving.org/tax-receipt. Mobile users can donate up to $100 dollars per 30 consecutive days.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Please visit our Ukraine response webpage to learn more about the latest developments in our efforts to support Ukrainians with disabilities, and you can find transcripts and American sign language interpretations for today’s episode with all of our past episodes of What’s Up WID on our website at www.wid.org/whats-up-wid.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Thank you so much for tuning into today’s episode and for helping to support people with disabilities in Ukraine.

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