Conflicts & War

The hearing impaired Ukrainians fighting to survive war

By Maria Traspaderne

Odesa, Ukraine, Mar 27 (EFE).- Most Ukrainians knew that Russia had started its invasion when they heard the first explosions, but it was an entirely different experience for Alina, who knew something was off when she felt everything shaking around her.

Using sign language, hearing and speech impaired Alina and her husband Sergei recount the first moments of the Russian onslaught and how distressing it is to be in a conflict zone.

Alina, Sergei and their daughter Laura, managed to flee the northern city of Chernihiv after spending a desperate week with no water, electricity or means of communication before settling down temporarily at a refugee center in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.

Through a sign-language interpreter, Sergei tells Efe that Alina was at work cooking at a supermarket when the Russians started their full-scale attack on February 24.

She saw everything trembling around her after the first bombings, according to Sergei, who explains that the explosions were so loud that even he could almost hear them.

The family of three first took refuge in a shelter at the supermarket, and then they moved to another shelter under a factory where other people with similar disabilities had gathered after communicating on Telegram.

Alina recounts how they had to endure that week without basic services such as water and electricity, while people used only bonfires to cook on the street.

The couple explains how difficult it was to move around the city, let alone to ask people who are not hard of hearing where to go without running into Russian forces.

They resorted to communicating with people by writing on the phones to avoid using sign language, for fear that nervous Russian soldiers could misinterpret the gestures as a threat.

But that option was not available to many of them, Alina says, as “half of the deaf in Chernihiv cannot write.”

She adds that a woman named Svetlana came to their rescue, helping the family to leave their hometown by taking advantage of an open humanitarian corridor for civilians.

These instructions helped Alina’s family to leave the shelter on March 17, alongside Nastia, her husband Bagdan, their daughter and another relative.

They kept running until they managed to get on a minibus, except this time Ukrainian soldiers allowed men to leave with their wives. Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving their country because they might be called up to fight.

In Chernihiv, which has now taken over by Russian forces, there are still six deaf people living in a shelter.

“They can’t go out alone and nobody helps them,” explains Nastia, recalling how a deaf friend of hers was shot in the leg when she was trying to get to a taxi.EFE


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