What would you do if you had to go to a foreign country with a child with health disabilities?

Mishko needs medication to strengthen his heart, which is not available in Slovakia. Dashka needs crucial rehabilitation to help her with the after-effects of cerebral palsy.Tikhon is troubled by diabetes, and Nastya suffers from stress-induced tics due to her experience fleeing from Ukraine. These are children in Slovakia seeking a safe home, because the war in Ukraine took theirs away. Their mothers face daily challenges familiar to all parents of differently-gifted children. But they must also cope with finding themselves in a foreign country, without home, family, or acquaintances. Who and how helps them manage such demanding situations?

We’re meeting with Halina, the mother of little Tikhon,who has diabetes. Upon arriving in Slovakia, she struggled for over a year to obtain a sensor for her son’s insulin pump, without which his life would be at risk. It was difficult because sensors are only given to those who work and have insurance. And I didn’t work anywhere, so I didn’t know what to do, Halina confides in us.

SPD Komunitné centrum SUSP Michalovce
Halina, mother of 6-year-old Tikhon, who suffers from diabetes.

In Ukraine, she was a respected lawyer in the local province. I wanted to work, to help, but I couldn’t because my legal education and years of practice weren’t recognized in Slovakia, Halina explains.. So she could only get low-skilled work for minimum wage with flexible hours to care for Tikhon.. But she couldn’t find even that kind of job:“In Ukraine, I could work 8 hours a day because my mother and family helped me with my son. Here, I have no one.

Halina has been helping her compatriots since her arrival. She spends a lot of time taking care of the children at the center.

Eventually, Halina sought help at the Community Center of the Hearing Impaired Union (HIU) in Michalovce, an important first contact point for people fleeing war in Ukraine. They helped her find a specialist doctor for Tikhon , provided information on how to obtain health insurance, and assisted in securing the sensor. The center also helped with funding for this equipment, which Halina had to pay for herself until a change in the law recognized Ukrainian citizens’ entitlement to healthcare.

Zuzana Michalkova s detmi v centre
HIU Community Center organized many activities not only for children who fled the war in Ukraine.
Zuzana Michalkova s detmi v centre
Zuzana Michalková, professional guarantor of the Community Center at one of the meetings with children.

“Our colleague, who was with Halina in Ukraine, said everyone knew her there, and she held an important position… Her life completely changed, turned upside down“, says Zuzana Michalková from the Community Center, who is still looking for solutions to help Halina find employment corresponding to her education and experience. This way, she could pay for health insurance and provide the necessary healthcare for her son. I don’t like that we’re degrading a woman who was so highly recognized in Ukraine and now we’re bringing her down to the level of uneducated citizens. Let’s say, even in England, many immigrants who are engineers are working on machines, but it was their decision; no one drove them out by bombing their homes and endangering their children…

SPD Komunitné centrum SUSP Michalovce
From the left: Halina, Zuzana, and Svetlana with their children – Mishko and Nastya.

They need medication to strengthen the heart

Recently, Svetlana and her children, who live in Snina, also came to the center to ask for help. Mishko suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His muscles are slowly weakening, but Svetlana doesn’t give up. She regularly exercises with him and seeks medication to strengthen his heart, which is not available here. Mishko has great patience and good fine motor skills. He makes beautiful beaded bracelets. One of which he brought as a gift to Zuzana.

SPD Komunitné centrum SUSP Michalovce
A gift from Mishko, who likes to make people around him happy.

Svetlana faces several problems. The apartment they live in is not wheelchair accessible, and Mishko often has to be carried by her. She also needs to find a job, but since Mishko requires constant care, so it’s not possible.

Her daughter Nastya suffers from stress-induced tics. If she hears a loud noise, it reminds her of situations when they were fleeing the war. “She would need the help of a psychologist, but we couldn’t find one in Snina. We were told that all programmes for Ukrainians had ended,“ explains Svetlana.

For Svetlana and her family, as for many others, a safe home is now here in Slovakia. They can’t return home because the war destroyed it. The war hasn’t ended, and the need for help persists.

Despite the difficult situation, Svetlana does not lose hope for a better life.

Why do they travel to Ukraine every two weeks?

In addition to Halina, the Center helps many other women and children from Ukraine. Zuzana Michalková also tells us about Eugenia, the mother of twins, one of whom has health disabilities. Helping this mother and her children required a comprehensive approach. They helped her medically by connecting her with a speech therapist, and a rehabilitation nurse, and by finding ways to integrate her daughter Dashka into the educational process as much as possible despite her health issues. They also assisted Eugenia’s other daughter, Polina, with starting primary school, which she still attends.

Unfortunately, Eugenia couldn’t find a suitable rehabilitation center in Michalovce and its surroundings. Therefore, every two weeks, she travels to Ukraine with her disabled daughter to a specialized center for therapy. Polina meanwhile goes to school and stays with her aunt in Michalovce. According to Ukrainian mothers, healthcare in Ukraine is set up differently they don’t have to wait 2 to 3 months for examinations as they do in Slovakia. If they need rehabilitation, they receive calls from centers themselves to inform them where and when there are free dates. But she can’t return home with their children. They come from Kharkiv, which was destroyed, and they simply have nowhere to go…

Zuzana Michalkova
People from the community know that they can always turn to Zuzana for help.

“Meeting Eugenia made me think about what I would do if I had a child with a health disability. Do we even have such specialized centers nearby where intensive therapy could take place?asks Zuzana, thinking of all the parents with children with health disabilities who must travel to distant centers, seek finances for treatment, and devote uninterrupted care to their children.

Community Center of the Hearing Impaired Union (HIU) in Michalovce helps refugees acquire new skills or competencies and also creates an important space where children can be educated, overcome language barriers, and be part of the community. Many of these activities were supported within our Together for Children programme. HIU served as a project partner for the Education and Counseling Center in Modrý Kameň, which received a grant in the Together for Children programme.

Overall, over 5,300 children from Ukraine and over 2,500 children with disabilities participated in the activities of the Together for Children programme. .. More than 14,000 children and almost 12,500 adults participated in various educational activities.

You can find more information, interesting facts, and the results of the Together for Children programme in this article.

We thank Dávid Hanko for the photographs.