Improving understanding of children with Down’s syndrome in Ukraine

On Sunday, International Alert helped organised an event in Kyiv to raise awareness of Down’s syndrome in Ukraine, attended by over 200 families.

The conflict in Ukraine has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths and left over 1.6 million people internally displaced. A further 460,000 have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the fighting.

Although fighting has decreased in the east since 2015, mortar and artillery fire continue to cause military and civilian casualties each week.

Local volunteers have reacted to the conflict by providing humanitarian and other psychosocial help to children, families and those displaced by the fighting, often with little government or international support.

As part of our European Union-funded project, ‘Psychosocial seeds for peace’, we have been supporting volunteer groups across Ukraine to increase tolerance and understanding on a range of sensitive issues.

These issues are not solely restricted to the conflict itself, but also seek to address the need for more ‘everyday peace’ in Ukraine – in essence, building a more cohesive and stable society. This includes improving support for and inclusion of children with Down’s syndrome.

The event, organised together with our national partner ‘Svoi’ (‘Our Own’) and other Ukrainian volunteer groups, gave children – many of whom had moved to Kyiv from the east – a rare opportunity to play together, amid the backdrop of the ongoing conflict.

Activities included face-painting and dancing, as well as performances of songs and fairy-tales. There was also an exhibition of positive photos of children with Down’s syndrome and talks on how children with the condition can and do interact with society.

Our work in Ukraine is based on the understanding that long-term recovery from conflict is extremely difficult without first addressing the societal trauma that war creates.

One symptom of this trauma is often apathy, or the feeling that as an ‘ordinary person’ you have no power or ability to change the situation, particularly among marginalised populations such as disabled children.

We aim to combat this by establishing partnerships and mechanisms between mental health and psychosocial support professionals and key governmental bodies, with the hope of institutionalising standards and procedures for preventing and overcoming the traumatic impact that war has on communities.

As part of these efforts, we have helped set up three psychosocial centres in Dnipro, Kyiv and Lviv, as well as six mobile psychosocial teams working close to the ‘line of confrontation’, which provide psychological and legal support, among other things, to those affected by the conflict.

We have also supported over 30 volunteer groups across Ukraine working to increase tolerance and understanding in their communities, much of this involving children and young people.

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Preview image: European Union/ECHO/Oleksandr Ratushniak (Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0)