Ukrainian teen with Down syndrome meets his idol John Cena, who inspired him as he fled from Russia invasion

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A Ukrainian teenager with Down syndrome has met his hero John Cena, the pro-wrestler turned actor who motivated him as he escaped the besieged city of Mariupol.

In an article published by the Wall Street Journal, Misha Rohozhyn met the Peacemaker star in Huizen, Netherlands, where Misha is seeking refuge with his family. According to his mother Liana, the two created a “motivational fantasy” with the promise that John Cena would be waiting at the end of their dangerous journey out of Ukraine.

Back in Mariupol, posters of Cena had covered Misha’s walls in the family apartment, which is now destroyed by bombing. Upon arriving in the Netherlands last month, the 19-year-old felt angry and disappointed that the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star was nowhere to be found. That is, until Cena travelled to the Netherlands himself last weekend.

John Cena had learned about Misha’s story in May, when the 19-year-old was the subject of a previous WSJ article. Before escaping Mariupol in early March, Misha and his family were seeking refuge at a day center, along with many other people with disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism.

On Saturday, Cena visited Misha at the family’s temporary accommodation outside of Amsterdam. When the pro-wrestler stepped out of the car, he hugged Misha and gave him a WWE belt and other memorabilia. The two ate traditional Ukrainian honey cake and played building blocks with the other children at the refugee center.

As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, millions of people with disabilities are facing multiple barriers to accessing safe evacuation and humanitarian aid. In April, the United Nations warned that the 2.7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine “have limited or no access to emergency information, shelters and safe havens, and many have been separated from their support networks.”

This comes after reports that adults and children with learning disabilities may have been “abandoned” within residential homes and hospitals across the country as staff at the facilities flee the conflict. Aid workers also told The Independent that there is a “lack of transportation” for those with disabilities, as many refugee centres and buses are “not wheelchair accessible”.