How “White Cane” Turned Into a Life-Saving Straw

How “White Cane” Turned Into a Life-Saving Straw
19 Серпня 2022
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Public organizations of people with disabilities (disability NGOs) have been actively involved in helping victims since the very first days of the full-scale war. The women leaders of the disability NGO often do the impossible to help those in need. Such women, genuine heroines, are described in the project Enhancing the Leadership of Women with Disabilities in Gender-Oriented Humanitarian Responses, which is being implemented by the National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine (NAPD) and funded by the United Nations Womens Fund for Peace and Humanitarian Aid (WPHF).

Today our story is about one more female mobilizer of the project, Maria Hohilchyn, leader of the public organization “White Cane” (hereinafter – “White Cane” NGO). This organization operates in Ivano-Frankivsk city and region and helps people who have visual disabilities.

Maria became engaged with public activities when she acquired a visual disability. She lost her eyesight back in her young age. Her health problems had started in the childhood, but the road accident that Maria got into seriously worsened her state of vision. The discontent with the then attitudes of the society towards people with disabilities motivated Maria Hohilchyn to create a public organization.

I was a sound and lively girl, and after I lost my eyesight, I couldnt get used to situations when, for instance, people would talk to the accompanying person, and not directly to the person with a disability, Maria Hohilchyn recalls the start of her activities. “I had finished three years of studies in a technical college, and then I obtained legal education in the Ukraine University. I am informed about the legislation and I know the law On Public Associations of Citizens, which allows for establishing a public organization. I could not tolerate the fact that we were not treated like normal people, because I remained just the same person, only without eyesight.

That is how the public organization “White Cane” was founded, thanks to Maria and other like-minded people. At first, the organization positioned itself as a women’s organization. The choice of the organization’s name – a white cane – symbolizes people with visual impairments. They were working with a huge enthusiasm. As one of the founders, Maria was elected the head of the NGO. The “White Cane” NGO arranged summer tent camps for children and meetings with invited representatives from governmental and business structures and other public organizations. During those meetings, the participants with disabilities told their own stories emphasizing that blind people are the same people like anybody else. They also conducted psychological trainings for women with visual impairments. They would help in solving specific financial, social, and legal issues.

Since 2008, when the program “Barrier-free Ukraine” was started, Maria Hohilchyn, jointly with her colleagues, have also been involved in creating accessible environment in Ivano-Frankivsk. A supporting (accompanying) service was launched in the city, and later – social taxi. The services of such taxi are available to persons having disability group 1, after prior booking and sending an application to use it.

The experience of cooperation with the NAPD has enabled the “White Cane” NGO to intensify its activities. The organization launched a variety of projects including Nordic walking seminars and voice guiding in municipal transport of Ivano-Frankivsk. Voice guidance support was installed in the first 18 buses, which worked as outdoor notifications at bus stops. The voice support operated till the quarantine started, but then the project was suspended. Maria hopes to renew this project as it is very important. The most recent successful projects include the repairing of a public transportation stop where tactile tiles were installed.

The full-scale invasion of russian troops in Ukraine ruined many plans and hopes that had been nourished by Maria and “White Cane” NGO.

Before I fully woke up, I heard the sound of a jet plane, but I didnt pay attention. Our dormitory, where my family and I live, is located near the airport, so we can often hear planes. At 7 oclock in the morning, I heard the sound of the first blast. Then I heard a blast again  that is what February 24, 2022, was for Maria. I ask my husband: A thunderstorm? He looked out of the window: Its drizzling a bit. I got quiet. But when it burst for the third time, we realized that something had happened. Moreover, mobile phone connection was disrupted. And TV signal was off, either. It was very scary at the beginning, because nearby are a bread-baking factory, a meat factory, and a fuel station, and a military commissariat not far away. Nobody knew what to do on the first day. We dont have a bomb shelter in our building, and the basement is not prepared. And the bomb shelter of the bread factory is very small to host up everyone. Then, through Telegram, our city mayor called on us to move to safer places if possible. Those who could listened to his advice, and we also moved at first, but, as it tuned out, near the village we went to there is an oilprocessing plant which also could become a target for attacks. We could only pray. At that time I remembered how Valerii Sushkevych was always talking about the importance of bomb shelters. But I would think back then: Peaceful time, what bomb shelters? Why should this topic be raised? And now the answer to why has come.

After a few days, explosion sounds came again, and air alarm siren became an unchanging everyday companion in both the dormitory, and the city. Mobile connection was restored on the same day, as well as TV channels, and the people did not feel like cut off from the world any longer. So, phone calls to support one another started, and the activities of the “White Cane” NGO were gradually renewing. And starting from April, the work of the organization has fully renewed. Phone and Internet communication intensified. New challenges arose, so Mari Hohilchyn and “White Cane” NGO provided whatever information they could, helped with medical drugs, or settled other issues.

Later the organization got involved in helping internally displaced persons, especially those who have visual impairments and live in the territory of the region. The NGO provided humanitarian aid in the form of food packages, drugs, hygiene products, etc. They are also busy with solving issues of medical aid delivery to persons with disabilities and providing social and legal support.

Lately, Maria conducted a meeting with the internally displaced women with disabilities, women with disabilities who have children, and families of people with disabilities who found a temporary shelter in “Sonechko” kindergarten in Zahvizdia village of Ivano-Frankivsk region. They had a warm and friendly talk with Valentyna and Sviatoslav’s family from Donetsk region. Sviatoslav has severe visual impairments, and walking is very hard for him using crutches after he broke his leg. At those meetings, the people would, first of all, share stories of horrible barbarism that was committed by russists [“russian fascists”] in their home towns, so that those people had to run away virtually barefoot, having just grasped their children with shaking hands. Some of them were lucky to flee the areas of hostilities to more or less quite places, and some of the people survived shooting by the enemies. “Wounds are healed, but scars remain” – this phrase will forever stay with these women and children.

The internally displaced people including women with disabilities and with children are very worried about their further life since they need to search for temporary accommodation, and some of them already have to look for permanent housing. This issue was discussed with Mykola Makar, a representative of the Governmental Commissioner for the Rights of People with Disabilities: he took this problem under his control and promised to resolve it in the nearest time.

All the residents of the shelter were given informational and consultative support. They shared their contact phone numbers and have already started to communicate on an individual basis. Also, they received books printed in Braille and in large-print flat font type and relief paintings. The children were gifted sweets.

Maria Hohilchyn and “White Cane” NGO continue providing comprehensive support to internally-displaced women with disabilities and their children, and she willingly shares her secret of overcoming despair when things go wrong and your hands are about to fall: When I started to lose eyesight, we traveled half a world to find a cure for myself. I realized that medicine is not all-mighty. I set out on a search for a rescue in spiritual life. I would be asking: Why has it happened to me? Why? And one priest responded to me: Maybe, you must do something for such people. Something that only you can. And if, for some reasons, I begin feeling a despair, I recall these words. And keep working. Together with similar-minded colleagues from the National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine and representatives of other organizations. It is much easier together because together we are strong. The world is changing, and we are also changing the attitudes towards people with disabilities.




The project “Enhancing the Leadership of Women with Disabilities in Gender-Oriented Humanitarian Responses in Ukraine” aims at strengthening the leadership and participation of women’s NGOs and networks of women with disability and women raising children with disabilities in gender-oriented humanitarian responses.


The United Nations Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) is a unified global financial mechanism designed exclusively to support the participation of women in peacebuilding and humanitarian responses. WPHF is a flexible and rapid financing tool supporting quality interventions to enhance the capacity of local women to prevent conflict, respond to crises and emergencies, and seize key peacebuilding opportunities. WPHF is an innovative partnership among its member states, the UN, and the civil society, with all the stakeholders represented in its global Financial Council.


Additional information on the UN Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund and its activities across the globe can be obtained on the Fund’s webpage: and


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