The mission of Wide Awake International is to bring dignity, love, and hope to boys and men with disabilities in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy operates at least 323 institutions (“psycho-neurological” institutions) for adults with disabilities in Ukraine and it seems that no one knows exactly how many beautiful souls reside in those buildings/prisons1. UNICEF reports that before the war at least 90,000 children resided in orphanages and institutions in Ukraine, with half of those having a disability2. Those children will all grow into adults, but it seems once those children turn 18, the world stops counting. To have a disability in a Ukrainian orphanage or institution is truly a life-sentence.

At Wide Awake International, we believe that every single person, regardless of their ability or disability, deserves to know the love of a family here on earth. Family is a fundamental human right. People were made for families–not institutions. Deinstitutionalization is the only answer to the human rights crisis that is insititutionalization in Ukraine3

“Institutions are custodial places where children have no rights, family and love, there is only regimented existence, rules and restrictions, and – often – humiliation. There can be no compromises here. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ institution.” Disability Rights International Ukraine

Remnants of the USSR

The Soviet Union fell in 1991–more than 30 years ago, but unfortunately, some signs of its existence still remain in Ukraine. The hundreds of government-run orphanages and institutions all over the country are Soviet leftovers that Ukraine is having a really difficult time shutting down. Although a 10-year plan for deinstitutionalization was put in place by the government in 2017, people with disabilities were excluded from that plan. There is currently no government plan at all for the deinstitutionalization of adults with disabilities in Ukraine.

Another leftover from the USSR is the general cultural view and perspective of people with disabilities. Most institutions for people with disabilities are hidden away in rural villages, out of sight, out of mind. Many average Ukrainians have no idea that people with severe disabilities truly exist in their country, so hidden away and removed are they from society. It is truly important for Ukrainians to see people with disabilities out and about in public: at the store, at cafes, in churches. As long as the physically weak are hidden away, there will be no lasting change in society.

A Spark of Change

The work of Wide Awake International is a marathon, not a sprint. We brought several of our friends out of the institution and into family life, and the bulk of our time and effort goes toward providing them with lives absolutely full of dignity, love, and hope; all things they were sorely lacking in the institution. But we will not stop there. We do not exist to help just a few, but to be an inspiration, a spark of change in a country where radical societal change is necessary. We believe that if Ukrainians can see life with people with disabilities lived in a more dignified and loving way, they will replicate that work and carry it on. In fact, it is necessary that they carry it on if Ukraine is to grow into the truly modern, European country that she desires to be.

To learn more about the need for deinstitutionalization in Ukraine, check out the resources below. Some of the information is painful to take in, and as you will see, there is much to be done, but together we can help these most vulnerable. We can be a voice for the voiceless and bring them the dignity, love, and hope they deserve. 

1No Way Home


3Disability Rights International Ukraine

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