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UN: Ukraine Must Give Disabled People ‘Family Life’

September 12, 2022

Ukraine must urgently release the thousands of disabled people living in its network of orphanages, a UN committee has warned.

The human rights body is calling for rapid de-institutionalisation, and investment in community services.

The recommendations come after a BBC News investigation exposed widespread abuse of disabled people.

We found severely malnourished children neglected and in pain, teenagers tied to benches and adults existing in cots.

The BBC has been given an early sighting of some of the recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, because it gave evidence at one of the hearings into the experiences of disabled people at a time of war in Ukraine last month.

Olena Zelenska, the First Lady of Ukraine, admitted there should be an “overhaul of the entire system”.

She was pressed on the BBC’s findings earlier in the week during an interview with Laura Kuenssberg on her new politics show.

“We will have to rebuild the infrastructure. We want kids to stay in foster families and adopted families, in family-type setting. There should be no more orphanages around.”

https://emp.bbc.co.uk/emp/SMPj/2.45.0/iframe.htmlMedia caption,

BBC footage reveals abuse of disabled Ukrainians

Soviet-era system

Before the Russian invasion, 100,000 children and young people were housed in these kind of facilities, with around half having a disability. It was estimated 250 children a day were entering the system, a network of 700 orphanages.

When war broke out in February, many institutions were evacuated, with thousands fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Mrs Zelenska said she wanted those children to come back to Ukraine and a different way of life, but admitted the whole process of de-institutionalisation would be a “challenging thing”.

And major reform will be difficult, as her country has the largest number of children living in institutions in Europe. They are casualties of a Soviet-era system which encouraged parents to give their disabled child up to the state.

There is still a belief in parts of Ukrainian society, that an institution is the best place for a person with a disability. The majority of children and young people in orphanages have families, but due to a lack of community support, many end up spending their lives in an institution.

The committee also highlighted concerns about the way funding – from the European Union and other international agencies – is being used to support disabled people during the war. It stressed that money should not be spent on expanding or renovating institutions, but should be used on ensuring people could live independently in their own communities rather than in residential care.

The committee’s report will be released in full later.

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