Keeping an autistic child at ease amid the din of war was difficult enough, but it was an explosion in early March 2022 which made their house shake, that finally convinced Galina Mitrofanova to take her 6-year-old son Makar out of Ukraine. Food in the shops was gone and Mitrofanova, 33, worried that the extended disruption of her son’s routine would send him into a frenzy. She gathered a few belongings and set off toward the Polish border with her son.

According to the European Disability Forum, there are 2.7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine, some of whom have fled to neighboring Poland, where a network of organizations on the ground is helping them adjust. Among these organizations are Stowarzyszenie Patchwork (Patchwork Association). Since the war began, Patchwork has offered ground support for new arrivals from Ukraine, providing everything from housing and food to documentation advice and emotional support. 

Caring for new arrivals from Ukraine has turned into a full-time job for the six women of Patchwork. They are all immigrants from Russia and Ukraine and five of them are mothers of disabled children. Over the past four months, they’ve opened their homes to people who didn’t have a place to stay and organized transport to ferry people from the Ukraine-Poland border – all while taking care of special needs children of their own.

Photos and text for HIAS 

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