Lately I have been on the phone a lot, talking to our project partners in Ukraine.
As Childhood’s country manager for Ukraine, I travel there at least six times a year to visit our projects. Only one of our projects is based in Kyiv. The project has suffered with the capital in turmoil. The other projects are in parts of Ukraine where there have been few or no protests.
I have gotten to know many people in Ukraine; adults working relentlessly to help others, to give children a better future; children who lived in sewers and overcame horrific abuse, who are now studying and use every free moment to dance or play football. I worry about them, and so I call. These people I admire and care about, their voices are filled with more sadness than hope. They are afraid, more than usual, of what the future will bring. Our partners working with young people tell me that they are talking to the youngsters, making sure none of them skip school to join protests or go to Kyiv. Staff try to calm the children, even though the staff themselves are frightened. I am told that our projects are doing well in Odessa, in Mikolyaiv, in Transcarpathia. I tell them that that is not why I am calling. I tell them that we admire and care about them, and that we worry about them. I tell them how all over the world people are following the news, worried, hopeful, distraught, inspired. And they tell me that it matters to hear this, to know that in some way their fate is shared. And for a moment, however fleeting, I hear more hope than sadness in the voices on the other line.
Transcarpatia. The name sounds exotic, like the long-lost land of a fairytale. Transcarpatia refers to a province in southwestern Ukraine as well as a historic region which stretches into the neighbouring countries. Spending time in Transcarpatia you will hear Ukrainian, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian and Romanian spoken. Childhood is funding three projects in Transcarpatia. One of them – Centre for children’s rights – is run by the organisation Dolia, founded by orphanage graduates. Dolia is a small organisation in Uzhgorod with a unique experience and great motivation. It is inspiring to see how they grow and are helping improve children’s lives.
Oleksandr “Sasha” Shelevyi, Director of Dolia (with sandbox therapy being prepared in the background).
Two children playing games and having fun in the baby home’s day care centre.
A few years ago, Childhood funded a project with the goal of decreasing the number of children abandoned in the regional baby home in Bila Tsirkva, Ukraine. Earlier this year I visited Bila Tsirkva and found that the number of abandoned children has dropped significantly in all of Kyiv region. The baby home has been transformed into a medical rehabilitation centre focused on children with disabilities.
A boy playing with water therapy toys next to the sand therapy box.
Instead of housing up to 60 abandoned babies, it now houses ca 25 orphans 0-7 years old who all have various disabilities. The remaining 25 children with disabilities attend the centre’s day care services while living with their parents. It was amazing to see the staff working so closely with parents and understanding the importance of children growing up in families.