“Contemporary View” in Peace and at War

“Contemporary View” in Peace and at War
10 Серпня 2022
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The National Assembly of People with Disabilities within the framework of the project “Crisis in Ukraine: response and recovery taking into account disability” tells about the experience gained by representatives of public organizations of people with disabilities during the first days of a large-scale invasion of Russia on the territory of Ukraine. Leaders of the non-governmental association All-Ukrainian League of Organizations of People with Visual Impairments “Contemporary View” (member of NAPD) share their stories about these terrible moments.

Non-governmental association All-Ukrainian League of Organizations of People with Visual Impairments “Contemporary View” was founded in 2013, but in this fairly short period of time it acquired the status of an all-Ukrainian public association, attracting to its ranks activists from most regions of Ukraine. It became a powerful player among public sector organizations, implementing dozens of different projects.

During this time, we held more than 20 recreational and sports events for people with profound visual impairments, with its participants improving their physical condition and health, acquiring knowledge on legal topics, working with psychologists and finding new friends. More than 30 books were published in Braille and later given free of charge to specialized libraries, There were three competitions for the best Braille readers among schoolchildren from Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa. We held a number of “round tables” developing dozens of draft laws. There were two projects implemented with the support of the Social Welfare Foundation for People with Disabilities, and one project with the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation regarding the accessibility of historical and cultural reserves website from the Rivne region.

From the beginning of 2022, before the full-scale invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine, the members of our Association (visual impairment specialists, lawyers, psychologists, as well as physical therapists) were involved in organizing rehabilitation and sports camps for people with visual impairments. The first of such events took place at the beginning of February just before the war, enrolling people aged 36 to 55. The team of trainers, who are also members of the “Contemporary View”, included representatives of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and Sumy. When the event was over, some coaches returned to their homes while others started preparing for the next rehabilitation camp for people with disabilities aged 18 to 36. This gathering was supposed to take place from February 19th to March 2nd

                            Few Hours before the War

As usual, the coaches and members of the event lost no time and started working: the gym hosted its first classes, the boys and girls tested the ski track. But the situation had been worsening with every day – one could definitely feel the disgusting stench of war in the air. In the evening of February 23rd the participants and trainers were told about the unscheduled termination of the event and the upcoming departure. However, this turned out to be impossible to manage before the war started. The bus with the camp participants would leave for Lviv twice but subsequently they had to come back. The situation was absolutely unclear, the chaos of the first hours of war spread to the most remote corners of Ukrainian Carpathians. Having learnt new information from the fronts, some participants from safer regions offered temporary shelter for their friends. This way, representatives of Western regions hosted blind and visually impaired participants from regions where battles were already taking place.

                              Evacuation Hub Starts Working

Our colleagues from multiple-children family of Senenko – Taras and Anya – living in Lviv region, offered four trainers from Kyiv, Kharkiv and Sumy to stay in their house. As Anya put it: “Where five people live, nine can be lodged as well.” Two-bedroom apartment hosted six adults and three children. It was here where a temporary hub for evacuating people with disabilities was organized and led by the head of “Contemporary View”, chief coach of rehabilitation camp Olesia Perepechenko. She was assisted by the representative of “Kharkiv Association for Blind Lawyers”, our colleague and legal coach Ihor Shramko.

                                     Presidential Trip

It was just Autumn when the president of  “Contemporary View”, Odesite Ilona Seitasanova tied the knot. In December they learnt she was expecting a baby. The first series of explosions caused a lot of Odesa residents to leave their city. Closed pharmacies and medical clinics, emerging issues with food and cash. In a few days the situation changed but considering the necessity of constant medical monitoring of pregnancy as well as the stress situation for the baby, the Seitasanov family left for Lviv as well. Looking ahead, it should be said that Lviv plays a significant role in the life of the Association. However, the aggressor did not stop at shelling only the northern, eastern and southern regions of Ukraine – the rockets also hit the Lviv region. After consulting with colleagues and at their persistent request, the president of the organization left for Poland. However, this does not prevent Ilona from taking an active part (with certain limitations, of course) in the activities of the Organization, conducting negotiations with our foreign colleagues and performing a number of other important and useful functions.

                             Kharkiv Advantures

Mykola Dubov and Tetiana Chuikova, members of the “Contemporary View” returned to their hometown after taking part in the camp held from February 1st  to 12th, 2022. Family matters, work, leisure time (tickets for a concert at the Kharkiv Philharmonic had already been purchased) – the usual life of an ordinary family.

On February 24th, they woke up to powerful explosions: the occupiers were shelling military and industrial facilities in Kharkiv and its region. From the very morning, huge queues lined up at ATMs, the cash disappeared in a matter of hours; a similar situation could be observed with food, especially products of long-term storage. The most common medicines also disappeared instantly. In addition, both grocery stores and pharmacies gradually began to close. In the evening, it turned out that the basement of the house where Tetiana and Mykola live, was not just unprepared to be a bomb shelter – it was simply locked, and nobody had the key. At the same time, the shelling intensified, the enemy captured several communities around Kharkiv, there were panicky rumors about enemy tanks already in the city. With regret and anxiety in their hearts, the family left their cat Silver in the apartment and moved to the basement of another house, which was opened and had better conditions arranged by its residents. Mykola and Tetiana spent the first night of the war sitting on chairs in the basement, and in the morning, when the cannonade subsided a little, they ran to the lonely cat, who was patiently waiting for the owners to return. It may come as a surprise, but the biggest problem (after the lack of cash, because cashless payments were, in fact, blocked) was the problem of animal food: certain products still remained on the shelves of a few stores, others were brought by volunteers and distributed to the city residents for free, but the animal food disappeared completely. There were neither expensive, nor cheap ones. After more than a week in the city, being under fire both day and night, Mykola and Tetiana made the difficult decision to evacuate: the transport did not function, the subway turned into a bomb shelter, food, medicine and the cat food became, in fact, out of reach.

As Mykola puts it: “It is incredibly hard to survive in such conditions for two people with grave visual impairments.”

Colleagues called almost every day and persistently invited them to Lviv. However, the desire to evacuate was hindered by the remote location of their city district, because the public transport did not function, and it was impossible to order a taxi even for a very large sum of money (some trips through the city to the station cost passengers up to $200!). The drivers simply refused to go to this dangerous area: they live near the village of Mala Rohan, captured in the first days of the war, and the distance to it is only a few kilometers.

On March 4th, Mykola and Tetiana received a phone call from Valentyna Butenko, the head of the “Right to Choose” organization, who informed them that there was a bus, but no driver, and asked them to help solve this issue. The issue was resolved. The family decided to take advantage of this opportunity and evacuate, but the bus was supposed to pick up a group of disabled people near a hostel for the blind in the central part of the city, and it was extremely difficult to get there. Through colleagues and friends, they obtained the telephone number of representatives of the local territorial defense, the boys warned: “We will arrive in ten minutes, take only the most necessary things, we will not be able to wait for long.” Grabbing two backpacks with a small supply of food and water, documents and a cat carrier, Mykola and Tetiana jumped into the car, which flew them through the shelled streets of the city and arrived at the hostel. Here, it turned out that the bus had only 30 seats, and there were almost twice as many people willing to evacuate. Children and people with disabilities were the first to board, while almost twenty people stayed in the hostel waiting for the next bus. In the morning, they found out there would be a special evacuation train with a separate carriage for people with disabilities. People from the hostel were transported to the Kharkiv railway station by cars, it was crowded, but everyone got there.

Tetiana recalls: “In social media and among friends there were rumors that pets are not allowed in the carriages. They would say: “There are not enough seats for people, let alone your dogs and cats”!”

Despite all this, Tetiana and Mykola decided that they would not go without their cat. At the station, a group of adults and children with disabilities with their parents consisted of about 80 people. With the assistance of public activist Daniel Solodchyk and accompanied by law enforcement officers, they were brought to the “Intercity” class carriage. Here, it turned out that the carriage had only 79 seats while the total number of passengers exceeded 100 people. Mykola Dubov, as the head of Kharkiv Regional Organization of “Ukrainian Organization of the Blind” was voluntarily appointed to be the head of this company. A little later it turned out that many of the passengers did not have food and water. It was also necessary to solve the issue of seating order. In addition, they found out there was a partially sighted woman with an underage child stuck at the train station in Poltava. The situation was complex since evacuation trains did not take additional passengers at intermediate stations. It was agreed that the door of their carriage would be opened for these two people in Poltava and the two girls would be escorted to the carriage by law enforcement officers. We should also thank the volunteers from Poltava who, during the short stop, were able to deliver food and drinking water to the carriage, which the passengers desperately needed. The trip lasted almost 20 hours, light and sound masking was mandatory. And this was another challenge: in the carriage there were children of different ages, some with complex health disorders. It was very difficult to explain to them that it was not possible to scream, cry and talk. However, everything ended well. The only issue they had was a broken window in the vestibule of the carriage.

At the beginning of March, the Lviv train station was in total chaos: people were trying to leave the country alone and in groups, evacuation trains were arriving, volunteers were meeting passengers and putting them on buses to the border crossings. Having barely gathered everyone and directing the group to boarding school for blind children #100, Mykola and Tetiana went to their colleagues in the suburbs of Lviv.

The Team is Growing

The two-bedroom apartment of the Senenko family had to temporarily host two more residents and one cat. It was the first more or less calm night for the residents of Kharkiv and quite a stressful one for Olesia Perepechenko: there was a problem with the bus that was transporting a group of visually impaired people to the border crossing, Mykola Dubov later joined in, being in contact with the group, negotiating with the drivers and representatives of the border guard. Finally, at half past one in the morning, the group crossed the border to Poland, and the “Contemporary View” team was able to finally fall asleep.

The next day, activists of the Association from Kharkiv left hospitable Mykolaiv and moved to Lviv, where they settled down.

It was the time of fierce battles in Kyiv suburbs, where Olesia’s mother and brother were staying. This in no way could contribute to good mental health of the executive director of the “Contemporary View”.

“I was updating the news feed every hour, looking for information about the situation around Kyiv”, recalls Olesia Perepechenko. “In addition, I had to console my mother, who stayed alone in the house, while simultaneously looking for a way to take her to a safe place.”

But after a few days, thanks to some friends, it was finally possible to evacuate the elderly woman to a safer region.

Working in Lviv

The work of the “Contemporary View” had been gradually restored. The activists of the Association made lists of people going abroad, negotiated with carriers and representatives of other countries about the number and accommodation conditions for people with disabilities. This was largely possible due to the assistance of the head of the Lviv Regional Organization of the Blind Liubov Kukuruza and public activist Myroslav Nikolayev. It should be noted that there was no competition of who evacuated more people, although for some reason certain representatives of the public sector viewed the activity at that time as such. It was a race against time and death because every extra hour that people spent in dangerous regions could lead to injury or more negative consequences. People who went abroad were not left on their own – a Viber group was created to discuss burning issues and provide useful and up-to-date information.

Starting from mid-March, the number of people willing to evacuate has gradually dropped, with one of the last evacuation flights from Kharkiv being half-empty. Those who wanted to leave had already moved to the western regions of Ukraine or abroad, while the ones deciding to stay had adjusted to live in the conditions of war.

The chaos at Lviv railway station calmed down. Flights to border checkpoints became less frequent. The number of requests for evacuation decreased significantly. Leaders and activists of the “Contemporary View” were able to catch their breath and think about their future activities. There is an increasingly acute problem of providing internally displaced people with food, hygiene products, household items, clothes and shoes. People left their homes in winter while the spring gradually and imperceptibly took power into its own hands. We have received first appeals from the defenders of Ukraine who lost their sight during the war, urgently needing multifaceted assistance and rehabilitation. The Association members themselves needed psychological help as they would often work around the clock. The public sector of Ukraine suffered certain losses, with many activists leaving the country. In May-June, all these problems forced the members of the “Contemporary View” to review the field of their activities, to start attracting new members to their ranks, to work on uniting public organizations of people with disabilities and their activists. The war raised new questions and offered new challenges. However, it only mobilized the efforts of the Association and its specialists who already plan the post-war development of European Ukraine.


The article was created in the framework of the project “Civic Organizations of People with Disabilities in Crisis Situations Caused by the War”, implemented in cooperation with Non-Governmental Association “The National Assembly of People with Disabilities” as part of the project “Crisis in Ukraine: Response and Recovery Taking into Account Disability” implemented by NAPD and European Disability Forum (EDF).