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18 July, 2024
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Struggle for disabled children from Ukraine continues in host countries

The language barrier and scarce resources create obstacles for refugee families from Ukraine with disabled children

A recent survey conducted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has revealed that approximately 12% of families who fled Ukraine due to the conflict have at least one member with a disability. The European Disability Forum further reports that many disabled children in Ukraine were relocated from institutions at the start of the war. Health workers emphasize that forced displacement can worsen existing disabilities and pose additional challenges in adapting to new environments.

Irina Brik, a 31-year-old teacher from Cherkasy, Ukraine, left her country over a year ago with her autistic son, Roman, seeking a better future in Hungary. However, she continues to face difficulties finding suitable treatment for the 9-year-old. Irina explains to AFP that public institutions in Hungary primarily use the Hungarian language, and available spots for treatment are limited. Irina's situation is not unique, as other refugee families encounter similar challenges.

Roman, diagnosed with autism at age four, communicates only through gestures and facial expressions. Irina remains hopeful that with the right therapy, he will eventually learn to speak. However, time is of the essence for children like Roman with autism and other disorders. Irina watches Roman play with his toys at the kitchen table in their Budapest apartment, fully aware of the importance of timely intervention.

Irina now takes on the responsibility of engaging Roman in developmental activities at home since he can no longer attend the program he participated in back in Ukraine, which focused on social interaction. During the day, Roman accompanies Irina to her work at a charity organization where she teaches preschool refugee children from Ukraine.

Irina's decision to leave Ukraine was primarily driven by her desire to protect Roman from traumatic experiences. She shares her most significant fear with AFP, explaining that she couldn't bear the thought of Romans witnessing Russian tanks firing during the invasion. Speech therapist Olena Andrichuk reveals that hundreds of children with developmental disabilities from Ukraine were resettled in Hungary following the conflict.

Andriychuk, a refugee herself and former headmistress of a secondary school in Kyiv catering to children with special needs, plans to launch a self-help therapy program for refugee children in Hungary. Recognizing the difficulties these children face in adapting to local schools due to their disorders and language barriers, Andriychuk's program, called BPEEA (Help for Children with Special Educational Needs), has attracted the interest of around 40 refugee families in Hungary. The program is currently seeking charitable donations to hire specialists and provide timely and quality care for the children.

Poland, hosting a larger number of Ukrainian refugees compared to Hungary, also faces challenges related to language barriers and access to treatment for individuals with disabilities. The Patchwork Association, led by Ukrainian mothers of children with disabilities and based in Krakow, collaborates with Polish organizations to support over 180 Ukrainian refugee families in accessing healthcare and integrating into society.

Christina Rudenko, a co-founder of the association, left Ukraine in 2014 and settled in Poland after a brief stay in Germany. With the assistance of Polish specialists, her daughter Sonia, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, achieved the ability to eat independently within months. Christina advocates for Ukrainian refugee families to have equal opportunities, highlighting the demand for program placements in state and community facilities.

Some families choose to return to Ukraine due to the insufficient available assistance and the longing for home, friends, and family, despite the ongoing turmoil in Kyiv, concludes Christina.

[With information sourced from Euronews]

Cyprus  |  Ukraine  |  children

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