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Ukraine requires inclusive humanitarian response

For many in Ukraine, their greatest fears were realised when the Russian military invaded their country. Narratives are continually emerging on the cost to human lives and whilst the UN has committed humanitarian support, the ICC are investigating probable Russian war crimes. Many citizens and governments commit necessary life-saving support as the conflict unfolds. While it is essential that all those suffering receive support, these measures may not reach all citizens and groups equitably. These include frail aged persons, children traveling without parents and those who live with an intellectual and developmental disability (IDD).

When analysing humanitarian strategies, intervention typically provides ‘common-denominator’ responses to the mainstream community. These fail to sufficiently and adequately mitigate the known barriers faced by persons with an IDD. This failure further marginalises people within their own community, leaving them without a voice to express their own unique needs.

A review of the literature on humanitarian relief also reveals shortfalls. There are no formal methods, tools or program guidelines for support initiatives in armed conflict situations. This presents significant risks to personal safety and well-being such as currently being experienced in Ukraine. Disability, Equality and Human Rights authors Harris and Enfield note that persons with disabilities are ‘made invisible by society, and invisibility can be lethal in situations of armed conflict’.

Russia made an assertion in 1980, there were no persons living with disabilities in their country; an assertion that was patently false. There appears to have been persons living with all forms of disability living in Russia and all the territories it occupied, both then and now. The number of persons living with a disability in Ukraine in 2020 was estimated as 6.7 per cent (2.7m people) of the population. The UN believes this number is underestimated and is more likely to be 15 per cent, consistent with the international prevalence rate of disability.

In 2010, Ukraine signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) and in 2022 developed Strategy for a Barrier Free Environment; a framework for enabling persons with disabilities to participate in society and claim their citizenship rights. Ukraine is trying to overcome its negative disability history with Russia whilst demonstrating their commitment to CPRD.

From L'Arche Ukraine, Bogdan Senyk’s narrative details concerns that may be even greater post-conflict, under a non-elected government. Bogdan, born in 1983, ‘wants peace’, and he does not want ‘to carry a stone [negativity] in his soul’. 


'How might global citizens and institutions, contribute to remediating typical humanitarian programs and meet the support needs of 2.7m Ukrainians living with a disability?' 


How might global citizens and institutions, contribute to remediating typical humanitarian programs and meet the support needs of 2.7m Ukrainians living with a disability? Maybe through personal, professional and political advocacy. In 2021, 182 State Parties had signed the CRPD including Australia. The question is, how can we use our professional associations, institutions, local representatives and even political leadership to advance the needs of persons with disabilities when war-related humanitarian relief programs are implemented? 

The immediate issue for us as professionals/carers, interested persons, humanitarian organisations and political networks is: can we find ways to be courageous and advocate for inclusive humanitarian strategies to mitigate critical issues for people with an IDD?

In the provision of humanitarian support to persons with an IDD, there are five critical issues of which we should be aware: persons with an IDD can find it difficult to communicate with those that they don’t not know; they might well face inordinate risks; they are often less economically, politically and socially connected in the local society; they will have increased needs over other citizens and fewer choices to meet these needs; and they have a special need to access to appropriate aids/equipment.

Individuals, professional associations and nation states can act courageously through advocacy of inclusive humanitarian strategies and demonstrate their commitment to honouring the principles in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.



Dr. David Treanor is an University Associate in the School of Humanities, University of Tasmania.

Main image: Ukrainians fleeing war arrive in Krakow. (Omar Marques / Getty Images)

Topic tags: David Treanor, Humanitarian Response, Disability, Refugees, Ukraine



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Existing comments

The current situation in the Ukraine beggars belief. I doubt very much whether Vladimir Putin will ever front the ICC for Crimes Against Humanity. What amazes me is how effectively the Ukrainian Forces have resisted the Russians and how wonderfully the Ukrainian people have cooperated in evacuating the disabled; the elderly; women and children. I saw no evidence of abuse or discrimination here. Ukraine will survive. The Cossack heritage is strong. No one has ever destroyed the Ukrainian spirit. Relief seems to be coming through. Neighbouring countries, especially Poland, have been extraordinarily generous. It is easy for us to talk the language of human rights and antidicrimination here. It is a lot harder with someone like Putin who thinks he is chanelling Peter the Great with the official blessing of the Patriarch.

Edward Fido | 29 March 2022  

Thanks for alerting us to this issue David. You have thrown us a challenge to engage with the urgent need of persons with disabilities when war-related humanitarian relief programs are implemented. May we find creative and effective models of advocacy to promote an inclusive humanitarian response in Ukraine.

Tony Robertson | 29 March 2022  

Thanks for alerting us to a hidden aspect of war, David. Your reference to l'Arche and Bogdan's account reminds us of the cry of the poorest of the poor! They must surely come first, as Tony says - in sharp contrast to taking sides and reducing this terrible humanitarian crisis to a simple blame-attributing matter of condemning Putin, a hand-washing exercise reminiscent of Pilate!

Michael Furtado | 01 April 2022  
Show Responses

We must take sides. It is written: "If you faint in the day of distress, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death, and restrain those stumbling toward the slaughter. If you say, 'Behold, we did not know about this,' does not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds?" Proverbs 24:11. In other words, don't hesitate to rescue someone who is about to be executed unjustly.

Francis Armstrong | 06 April 2022  

This is an article about intersectionality, the notion that individuals have ‘uniquenesses’ which make their experience of a contingency different from those of others affected by the same contingency, eg., a COVID lockdown or, in this case, a disruption of civil society. It’s not a new idea. Intersectionality can exist even within a nuclear family. Officials who design and administer any program of assistance should expect that there is no ‘one size fits all’ and that there are cohorts within the population of eligible recipients, and even individuals outside the expected population who should have been included.

roy chen yee | 01 April 2022  

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