Cold, Forgotten Kids in Ukraine Are Warmed, Transformed

July 27, 2017

Ukrainian children with painted faces.
Former street children find fun at Father's House in Kiev, Ukraine.

Ministry workers found Svetlana, 5 months old, on the streets of Kiev last year, one of tens of thousands of abandoned or orphaned children in the capital of war-torn, impoverished Ukraine.

The native Ukrainian workers find such children in subways, sewer tunnels and empty basements. They learned that it was Svetlana's mother who left her on the streets, a common phenomenon as war and poverty make Ukraine, for three years subject to Russian aggression, one of the poorest countries in the world, according to recent United Nations figures.

Being found by native ministry workers who have the local contacts necessary to investigate Svetlana's past and put her on the path to recovery was the first miracle in her life.

"Her life is full of miracles, which began with her initial, numerous diagnoses, like Hepatitis C and nerve-movement disorder, yet today she is absolutely healthy," said the Ukrainian woman who eventually adopted her.

Some day Svetlana will understand that the workers who found her belong to an indigenous organization, Father's House, whose holistic approach to caring for street kids is both comprehensive and sophisticated. Based on Christian principles, ministry workers rehabilitate children physically, emotionally and spiritually, beginning with a central tenet – that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Early on, troubled kids learn that they not only need help but are made to give it.

They take part in outreaches to poor, lonely or disabled people in their community. "They hand out presents at holiday times and provide necessary items the people cannot afford," said the ministry director and founder, Roman Korniyko. Children who receive Christ through the ministry visit orphanages and juvenile detention centers throughout Ukraine, putting on plays, singing songs and telling other children of God's love for them.

The first step for rescued children is a rehabilitation camp called "Treasure Island." To help hardened, frightened kids adjust to a new environment, Father's House brings boys and girls of all ages to the two-month camp, exposing them to the love of Christ. Receiving ample food, medical care and play time, they learn communication and social skills, the importance of following rules and how to get free of harmful habits. Adventures, new discoveries and field trips figure prominently.

"We put a stress on their ability to help, that they have something they could share," Korniyko said. "We organize meetings with children with special needs, and our children make presents and prepare concerts for them. Then they realize that there are people with more complicated lives. Step by step their principle changes to, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive,' and it raises a child's self-appraisal."

Ministry workers diagnose each child's illnesses and challenges and create an individual plan according to their development, education, health and psychological needs, along with addressing legal issues and relations with parents and relatives. The goal: prepare children to live with new families or reunite them with their biological families. Teachers, doctors, psychologists, speech therapists and others might be called.

Recently children at a public school the former street children attended began bullying them because of their disadvantaged backgrounds. Teachers and a parents' committee joined in, accusing the Father's House children of being behind their peers academically and blaming them for re-occurring troubles at the school. To protect them, Father's House was forced to start its own homeschooling program for 38 children, and it seeks assistance to purchase classroom equipment, books, teachers' manuals, notebooks and other essentials totaling $4,450.

The ministry also enables several children to be raised in a family setting through a "My Family" program at its adjacent Family Upbringing Center. Some 50 children of varying ages are divided up into six families, each family living in separate, five-room apartments. Couples are invited to become foster parents. Disadvantaged children are given an opportunity to live in a healthy family where they can realize their talents and become ready for adoption or, if their biological parents are still alive, return to their original relatives.

As the volunteer parents are tasked with showing how to be a loving family and helping children toward an independent life of serving God and others, they go through extensive vetting. Father's House personnel interview them, and they receive training from local state services as parents and teachers. Couples agree to terms and move in to the center to take care of six to eight children. Psychologists and tutors are available to help as well.

"Usually a child lives in the family for a few years," Korniyko said. "Children learn to obey and to respect their parents, to live in harmony with all family members. They plan family vacation together with the adults and do house duties. Parents together with children think over future occupations, organize studying at school or other educational institutions and learn their first lessons on business, independence and responsibility."

Homeless Ukrainian children eating.
Homeless kids struggling to survive in abandoned basements, a common phenomenon in the Ukraine.

The children also have opportunity to participate in sports, music, drama, painting, foreign languages, computer sciences, photography and film training.

The "My Family" program also changes parents' lives. A couple began serving as a host family six years ago to a pair of 17-year-olds who asked them, "Can we call you Mom and Dad?" They replied, "Of course," but a small voice began whispering that they should consider becoming their permanent mother and father. Meantime, two boys whose lives were in danger from conditions with their biological family were placed with them. They soon learned that they had a sister – Svetlana, the infant girl who was rescued when she was 5 months old. It turned out Svetlana had a sister, Sophia, who also came into their home.

"Now there are eight of us – my husband and me and our six children," said the mother, whose name is withheld for security reasons. "In October of 2016, one more dream came true: we officially adopted the children. We are grateful to God that He was with us all this time and took care of us through Father's House. We were never alone on this journey. There were people who came alongside us and who offered support and encouragement."

Please consider helping Father's House transform the lives of children and the countless others whose lives that they, in turn, transform.

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