Psychological challenges of people with disabilities today: how the helpline "Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime" came to the rescue

Confusion, fear for themselves and their loved ones, despair, anger — these and many other emotions have all been felt by millions of Ukrainians since the beginning of the full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine.
Many of our fellow citizens needed professional support and help, to care for their psychological state and mental health. Among them are people with disabilities who, among other issues, often felt social isolation and lack of opportunity for full communication and resolution in crisis situations in their lives. It may be impossible to hear or read about the beginning/end of an air alert; it may be difficult or impossible to physically get to shelters; during evacuation, there could be damage or loss of means of mobility (crutches, canes, wheelchairs); a lack of communication with loved ones; longing for home in Ukraine and difficulty with social adaptation abroad — these are daily challenges of people with disabilities that affect their emotional state and consequentially their general state of health.
Alongside the negative impact and emotions, this period became a time of intense unity of the whole nation, with support, sympathy for each other's feelings and emotions, strength, and humanity.
In Ukraine and abroad, dozens of people with disabilities were able to receive effective and accessible psychological and legal assistance within the framework of the project "Hotline for People with Disabilities During Wartime", which is implemented by Human Rights Vector NGO in collaboration with Fight For Right NGO, with support from the project “Human Rights For Ukraine” implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (2019-2023).
The online help line «Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime» was organized by a team of psychologists, lawyers, and operators. People with disabilities (both adults and children), close relatives, guardians who are in Ukraine or abroad can receive assistance.
People who turned to specialists for psychological help on the «Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime» helpline had the opportunity both to receive individual psychological online consultations and join psychotherapeutic online support groups, where people with similar problems share their experiences and find ways to overcome them guided by specialists. To do this, they only need to choose a convenient method of communication (either fill out the online form:, call +38050 224-72-36 or write to Viber, Telegram, WhatsApp: +38050 224-72 -36). Every day from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (excluding Sundays), the helpline operators receive requests and connect specialists to help with these requests. 
Olena Vvedenska, head of the board of the NGO «Social Inclusion», and employee of the Vinnytsia Regional Universal Scientific Library, shared the experience of cooperation within the project.
— Before the beginning of the full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation, I, together with other members of the NGO «Social Inclusion», organized various meetings, started new projects, communicated, and supported each other in our everyday problems. However, since the end of February, in fact, each of us has found ourselves alone with uncertainty, most of us have gone abroad, and our circle of communication has drastically decreased. In fact, the only thing left for us is to watch the news, — says Olena Yuriivna.
According to her, this significantly increased the level of anxiety and, as a result, reflected in the general state of health and the exacerbation of underlying diseases.
— People with disabilities have many problems in everyday life — it is very difficult for us to do the most natural things. Sometimes you have to choose between accuracy and speed. I choose speed because I want to be mobile, but my parents don't understand me. Other members of our newly-created organization had similar problems, Olena Vvedenska explains.
In this new reality, she was seeking an opportunity to start psychological consultations, professional support, and assistance with psychological problems specific for people with disabilities. Olena Yuriivna came across an ad for the helpline «Psychological and legal assistance for people with disabilities under martial law» on the «Public Space» portal — and it became a solution to many of her and many others’ psychological problems. Members of the NGO «Social Inclusion» chose online psychological consultations and support groups for themselves. According to them, these meetings became not only a new and useful experience for them, but also a real source of help for the psychological states of the participants. 
Once a week, a group from the NGO «Social Inclusion» gathered and received professional psychological help. According to them, the group members shared similar problems, learned to pay attention not to limitations, but to their strengths, and to perceive themselves and appreciate their uniqueness. There were cases when participants gave each other effective advice on solving certain problems.
The public organization «Social Inclusion» is sincerely grateful to all helpline organizers for the opportunity to participate in group psychological consultations. The case is very useful and important, and worth continuing — Olena Vvedenska emphasized.
Inna Chukhriy, doctor of psychological sciences, professor of the Department of Psychology and Social Work of Mykhailo Kotsiubynskyi Vinnytsia State Pedagogical University, practical psychologist, 2nd level candidate in group analysis, and child and adolescent psychotherapist (Association of Psychologists and Psychotherapists of Ukraine), shared her experience of working within the project and her observations:
— In the conditions of war, psychological help is needed by everyone — participants in military operations and members of their families, people with disabilities, internally displaced persons… We are experiencing events that are not normal for the human psyche. If we do not provide psychological help to people today, then soon we will have an outbreak of post-traumatic stress disorders in Ukraine. Activities within the help line «Psychological and legal assistance for people with disabilities under martial law» helps people with disabilities here and now. There is a common perception that people with disabilities only need help and support, but this is not the case. A vivid example is the members of the NGO «Social Inclusion», who have a desire not only to receive help, but also to help, actively look for opportunities to support members of the public organization, volunteer, unite young people, empathize, and feel the social mood of the day.
Valeriia Rybak, director of the Human Rights Vector NGO, summarizes:
— Like many public organizations, our Human Rights Vector NGO responds to the new challenges that have appeared before our society with the full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine. Our task was to help where it was most needed and where we would be most useful. We have worked for many years to ensure human rights in Ukraine, working with the judiciary and the field of education. Countering discrimination was also an important factor in our work, so we know what difficulties people with disabilities face due to legislative gaps, lack of proper provision to a barrier-free environment, and society's perceptions. Organizing an online helpline is a first experience for us, and I am very glad that it is successful, that we can help those who need it. I am extremely grateful to the team of psychologists, lawyers, operators, and experts of the Human Rights Vector NGO, thanks to whom all this is possible.
Author: Natalya Mishchuk
Translation: Ben Murdoch

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