Turning Silent Tears into Sunny Smiles

May 16, 2013

When Veronika came to Father´s House last September, the disheveled little girl was malnourished and barely uttered a word. Her developmental skills were on the level of a two-year-old. She didn´t even know how to dress herself.

Veronika in September 2012 and January 2013

“She was afraid of all that surrounded her,” said Roman Korniyko, who serves as director of this ministry to orphans and street children in Ukraine. “She was afraid to walk on stairs. She did not want to play with other children and took away all the toys. When adults tried to talk to her, she hid from them, especially men.”

Every night the 4-year-old woke up crying. She was plagued by nightmares and wet herself while sleeping.

Workers at Father´s House have seen many traumatized girls and boys like Veronika walk through the doors of their centers. The poor mental and physical health results from extended periods of neglect. Often the children are products of homes where there is alcohol and drug abuse.

But Veronika is one of the fortunate youngsters who have blossomed since coming to the Christian Aid-assisted ministry. After several months of comprehensive care, she has gained weight and her face lights up with a beautiful smile.

“Now she talks a lot, is happy, and has started laughing and running around,” Korniyko said. “She loves to play with children and engage with them in a group, and she loves to sing! She does not cry at night and doesn´t wet herself anymore.”

A silent epidemic

You will find them inside manholes, underneath bridges, or crouched in abandoned basements. The long winter nights are the hardest, when children who have no real home to go to seek shelter in a system of tunnels that run under city streets. The passageways are dark and cramped, but the steam rising from the hot water pipes inside keeps them warm enough when the outside temperatures dip below zero.

During the day they resort to pan handling and petty crimes to eat. Going to school is not an option. When their work is done, they return to their hideaways to sort through rubbish and sniff fumes from bags of glue because it helps curb their hunger pains.

It´s a miserable, lonesome existence for a child. Their only sense of community comes from the other somber faces of youngsters curled up beside them in their dingy oasis.

Street children eagerly accepted bread and shelter on this cold winter day.

UNICEF estimates there are some 100,000 children living on and under the streets of Ukraine´s cities. In Kiev alone, there are about 20,000 homeless children between the ages of 6 and 16.

Only 20 percent of these desperate boys and girls are true orphans. In some cases the father or mother remarry or move in with an abusive partner, and the children are pushed out or run away. Like Veronika, most of these kids have neglectful parents who are alcoholics or drug addicts. To support their habit, some parents go so far as to force their own children into thievery or prostitution so they can obtain money for drugs.

Other broken families are simply victims of the stress brought on by high unemployment and grinding poverty after the fall of the Soviet Union. With limited options, parents seeking work abroad may leave their children in the care of state-run orphanages.

The result is an overburdened system that lacks resources to handle this burgeoning crisis.

Healing broken hearts, restoring lives

Dr. Roman Korniyko felt a great burden too. In 1996 he left his career as a gynecologist to pursue ways he could bring hope to hurting children in his native Ukraine.

The following year the first Father´s House was opened as an emergency shelter in a rented apartment for 20 to 30 boys. Korniyko and volunteer missionary workers combed the streets at night, handing out sandwiches and other nutritious food to destitute youngsters. It took time to build their trust.

“The children began to invite us to the places where they lived. We went to those basements and our hearts stopped beating because of what we saw,” said Korniyko.

“It is an underground children´s world. They have their laws, even their Mafia,” he said. “Children die in basements and no one looks for them.”

Father´s House offers a loving oasis.

When the children were brought to the shelter, they received hot meals, a bath, and clean clothes. They also heard the gospel story and many of the children eventually gave their lives to Christ.

From those humble beginnings the organization now provides loving Christian care for 1200 boys and girls through a variety of ministries. Thanks to the generosity of Christian Aid donors, more than 20 Father´s House children´s centers are currently operating in Ukraine–and lives are being saved.

Two years ago four siblings came to Father´s House from a town outside of Kiev. Yaroslav, 15, Vlad, 14, Dima, 12, and Yana, 11, lived with their alcohol-addicted mother in deplorable conditions. Their house made of clay had no heat, no lights, no bathroom or outside toilet. The children didn´t have enough clothing or shoes, and more often than not, there was no food.

The boys had no dad to turn to, and when their mom ended up in prison, it was Father´s House who came to their rescue.

Adjusting to life off the streets has its own share of challenges. “The first months of work with them were difficult,” recalled Korniyko. “They did not obey, didn´t follow any rules, were stealing, smoking, and fighting with others. But we waited and knew that the changes would come gradually.”

Yaroslav, who at 15 could not read or write, is becoming literate in his native language and is also learning to speak English. Vlad gave up smoking. Yana and Dima enjoy attending Sunday school and church services.

Christian Aid helps sponsor rehabilitation camps that make the transition process a little easier for children who are accustomed to living without rules or adult supervision. The camps enable Father´s House staff to evaluate which children are ready and willing to live in a structured environment. Called “Island of Treasures,” these summer events are for boys and girls ages 2 to 16. The camps are intended to make the children feel more secure, enjoy fun and laughter, and discover their greatest treasure, Jesus Christ.

When youngsters first come to Father´s House, they live in a traditional children´s center. From there they have the opportunity to be placed in apartments in the ministry´s Center of Family Care. Christian couples provide interim foster care for a group of six to ten children, treating them as their own sons and daughters.

As part of the rehabilitation process, children attend the “Island of Treasures” summer camps in Crimea.

Living in such an environment gives them a positive model of the family and prepares them for possible adoption and an independent life. Some of those who receive Christ become involved in children´s evangelistic ministries, sharing their own personal stories of redemption as they visit orphanages and juvenile detention centers throughout the country.

“No one is without hope or help. Many of these kids are not only finding health, they are having their lives changed forever,” said Korniyko. “I believe they are future missionaries. These kids are coming out of cardboard boxes for Christ!”