Discovering the Father’s Love in Ukraine
March 13, 2014
It’s a battle for survival for tens of thousands of homeless and heartbroken children living on the streets of Ukraine’s cities.
There’s a hidden segment of Ukrainian society that is receiving little attention in the midst of the nation’s political and economic clamor—its tens of thousands of street children.
You won’t see them because they find sanctuary in the basements of abandoned buildings or crouch next to hot water pipes in a system of tunnels running underneath city streets.
To stave off feelings of cold and hunger, they sniff glue. The resulting “high” may offer temporary escape from the misery of their existence, but it can’t give them what they need most—the joy of a loving family.
Most of these kids are “social orphans” who have at least one parent at home. Tired of living in an environment of neglect or physical abuse, they prefer to take their chances surviving as best they can on the streets where at least they enjoy freedom.
Other children are too young to venture out on their own. In the silent confines of their homes, they may endure mistreatment and deprivation. The abuse sometimes continues undetected for years.
“We have seen children who have experienced difficult life situations, but the history of one little girl was shocking,” said the director of Father’s House, a Kiev-based ministry that rescues orphaned and emotionally-abandoned children in Ukraine.
“From birth Valya lived in a room with animals, with more than 20 cats, several rabbits, and mice. That was where she was eating, sleeping, and playing,” he said. “She was growling like a puppy and springing up like a rabbit.”
Valya’s mother was unemployed and only seemed to care about her boyfriend. When ministry workers became aware of the child’s living conditions, they tried to help the mother find work and restore order to the apartment. However, their efforts failed and Valya was placed in the care of Father’s House.
It was a difficult adjustment, but Valya learned to eat with a fork and spoon and to sleep in a bed. She also learned how to communicate with other children and adults, and she eventually began attending school and is a good student.
Father to the fatherless
Valya’s story has a happy ending, but there are many more neglected and abused Ukrainian children who feel trapped by their circumstances and see no way out. Not surprisingly, those who have the opportunity flee to the streets, where they face pressures to turn to theft or prostitution in order to survive.
According to UNICEF, in Kiev alone there are some 20,000 homeless children. While the true figure is difficult to determine, more than 100,000 boys and girls are estimated to live on the streets in cities throughout Ukraine.
The societal crisis is not new. After 50 years of communist rule, Ukraine struggled to transition away from the Soviet-style economy in the 1990s. Economic collapse led to loss of jobs, and many parents were not able to support their families.
Sadly, instead of turning to God for help, some of these parents sought solace in alcohol and drugs. Addiction led to broken homes, domestic abuse, and heartbreak for the growing number of neglected and abandoned children left to fend for themselves.
Father’s House provides for the emotional, material, and spiritual needs of children in a family setting.
In February 1997 Father’s House opened as an emergency shelter for 20 to 30 boys. While most of the kids were youth, some were only 7 or 8 years old. The children received hot meals, baths, fresh clothes, and a place to sleep. House workers shared the good news of God’s everlasting love for them, and many of them accepted Christ as Savior.
Now the fruitful ministry provides holistic care for more than 100 children through its Center of Social Care and family housing program. To help youngsters adjust to life off the streets, Father’s House runs an “Island of Treasures” rehabilitation camp in the summer. Here children participate in group activities, and they learn about the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
The Center of Social Care serves as a traditional children’s home and currently accommodates 50 children from the ages of 4 to 17. The ministry takes care of all costs, including meals, clothing, and medical care. Residents receive their education at the local public schools.
Once children are considered ready for more intimate family-style settings, they are placed in special apartment buildings owned by Father’s House. The Center of Family Care program has five five-room apartment units. A Christian couple oversees six to ten children in each unit, providing a positive family model, and in some cases paving the way for adoption.
Rising tensions with Russia and the recent ouster of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, have heightened concerns about the nation’s political future and its already faltering economy.
The economic and political crisis has left the ministry financially-strapped. Funds are needed for food and other supplies.
The situation has left Father’s House financially strapped, too. The director has asked Christian Aid Mission for additional support, as operating costs for the Center of Social Care alone total about $5,500 per month for food, electricity, natural gas, medical supplies, and staff support.
“It is obvious that we do not intend to send children elsewhere, and we will do our best to find food or the money to buy food. Yesterday, two mini-vans full of food were gifted to us,” he said.
“We address you with an appeal to pray for Ukraine and the situation at Father’s House. We believe that God will not forsake us.”