Fall 2022 – Day Four: Ukraine Mission – Meeting our Ukrainian Friends

The next morning our team met with the larger task force including:
1. Sergii Tatusiak – head of the Euroregion «Dniester»;
2. Svitlana Konovalova – Deputy director of the Vinnytsia Regional Children’s and Youth School «Kolos»;
3. Vitaly Merezhko – Deputy Director of the International Agricultural Cluster «Dniester»;
4. Valery Shvets – director of the Vinnytsia Specialized Children’s and Youth School of the Olympic Athletics Reserve.
5. Andriy Sirak – volunteer;
6. Larisa Poulyakh – head of the NGO «Fighting Bees»;
7. Oleg Lukyanov – volunteer;
8. Roma Veselskyi – head of the Charity Fund «Ukraine 4 5 0»;
9. Andriy Kudlayenko – deputy chairman Charity Fund «Ukraine 4 5 0»;
10. Serhiy Kudlayenko – People’s Deputy of Ukraine of the 8th convocation.
11. Svitlana Pustovit – deputy director of the Euroregion “Dniester”, Creative director I-VIN.INFO
12. Tetiana Shcherbatiuk – editor-in-chief I-VIN.INFO
13. Ruslana Syvak – journalist.

Each of theses NGOs has pivoted from their pre-war mission to serving Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). So, for example, the Specialized Children’s and Youth School of the Olympic Athletics, has for years worked on developing talent for Ukraine’s Olympic teams. Now, recognizing that sport can help bring a sense of normalcy to children’s lives, they have pivoted to serving IDP children with sporting activities and competitions.

Fighting Bees is an NGO that fights for immigrants’ rights. They are now servings the IDP community with legal advice and counseling.

Much is needed on the medical front. Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the World Health Organization has recorded more than 500 attacks on health care, affecting facilities, personnel, and transport vehicles leading to hundreds of deaths. The widespread and systematic nature of attacks on healthcare infrastructure is a pattern of Russian warfare in Ukraine and follows Russian tactics in Syria.

During our visit to Vinnytsia, on September 28, 2022, PASS’ Task Force: For the Sake of Ukrainian Mothers and Children, met with the owners of the Center for Modern Diagnostics,
Dr. Rusian Sivachenko and Dr. G. N. Mamur in front of the Center for Modern Diagnostics Neuromed in Vinnysta.
Dr. Oleksandr in what is left of the Center for Modern Diagnostics Neuromed in Vinnysta.
Neuromed that was destroyed by a missile attack. Dr. Oleksandr Kapitan and Ruslan Sivachenko described how their healthcare center was destroyed and a total of 28 people died, including two children and two doctors. Their two colleagues that died were Neurologist Natalia Felshtynska and Pediatric Neurologist Pavlo Kovalchuk.
Conflict refugees and IDPs are a cross section of society; young, old, tall, short, rich poor. In contrast, economic refugees are predominately young men. Young men are decidedly under represented in the flow of Ukrainian refugees. The needs of society in general are reflected in the population forced to leave their homes. Diabetes, heart disease, mental health problems and physical handicaps are all present in the same dimensions as in the pre-war population.

Overcoming the challenges to provide services to those with special needs in conflict environments is a moral imperative. In these difficult environments those with special needs sadly can be the most forgotten and the most severely impacted. Impacts can include loss of mobility, anxiety due to increased dependency on strangers/others when families are torn apart, higher levels of psychological impact, alarming levels of suicide, and higher rates of abuse.

In a 2015 survey conducted for the World Humanitarian Summit, 85% of humanitarian actors responding to the survey recognized that persons with disabilities are more vulnerable in times of crisis and 92% estimate that these persons are not properly taken into account in humanitarian responses.

Open Hearts, a Ukrainian nonprofit, is one organization making a difference in Vinnytsia. Pre-war, Open Hearts served the special needs community with training, occupational therapy and respite care. Their facility is on the outskirts of town. Families with special needs children or adults would bring their loved ones daily for classes, social activities and therapy. The facility has several dorm rooms, a full cafeteria, green houses, medical facilities, gardens and several cottages.

The special needs community are given every opportunity to participate in normal life. Families can, with confidence, leave their loved ones in Open Hearts respite care while taking a vacation or the family can stay on the grounds in one of the cottages.
Please meet Svitlana, the beating heart of Open Hearts. A couple hours with Svitlana and you regain your confidence in the essential goodness of our world. Open Hearts under Svitlana’s boundless loving energy has, like most NGOs, pivoted to address the needs of IDPs. In this case IDPs with special needs. The dorm rooms and housing that were once devoted to respite care are now housing people from the war zone.
Kate (far left), who is autistic, lives at Open Hearts and loves the craft classes where she makes candles. The gentleman in the middle picture is living there and caring for his mother who has dementia. Note, he is flashing the “V” for victory sign! A universal sentiment in Ukraine. And on the right a young couple from the war zone. She lost her legs and her husband brought her here to recover.

Open Hearts has always been an advocate for the special needs community and they have stepped up their activities in this time of crisis. For example, they have been instrumental in coordinating with similar organization in neighboring countries, like Poland, to find homes for hundreds of special needs Ukrainians.

The bigger the heart the bigger the dreams. And, Svitlana has some big dreams! She explains that when this war is over there will be thousands of young men who have lost limbs. She is determined that they will not also lose hope.

She is well into an expansion of their main building with a focus on rehabilitation services like physical and occupational therapy. She has gotten various grants and is well into the construction phase but has fallen short of the amount needed to bring the project to completion. So things are on hold while she and her organization search for more funding. Their immediate need is about $30,000 to complete the stairwell and elevator to the renovated second floor.
Svitlana mentioned that because of the influx of full time residences they needed an additional refrigerator. Each team member opened their wallets and we left Svitlana with $500 and a big smile.

We got word that night from connections in the U.S, that we should leave Ukraine. And so, we worked until late in the evening and left in the wee hours of the morning. It came to pass that nothing happened that night but a week later Vinnytsia was repeatedly hit by Russian missiles and drones targeting their power grid.