When you think of the country of Ukraine, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of the Russian conflict, delicious chocolate, or harsh winters and fur hats. For one moment, we’d like to draw your attention to the lives of seven siblings who live in Ukraine - the Pikuyev children. Although each of these seven kids is unique and gifted in their own way, their story is unfortunately very similar to many other orphans in Ukraine. For many years, the Pikuyev children lived in a home with both parents, a surprising fact for many people who first hear their story. The seven children lived in a dilapidated house, not nearly strong enough to withstand the harsh Ukrainian winters, with their alcoholic father and mentally ill mother. At one point in the children’s lives, their father kicked them and their mother out of the house because he wanted to be with another woman. During this time, Russia invaded Crimea, a peninsula in Ukraine, and so began the war in Eastern Ukraine. Father Pikuyev went to the east to join the fighting, and he was killed in the line of duty.
After her husband passed away, the widowed Mama Pikuyev was able to claim her right to the family’s house, and eventually she moved the children back into the derelict home. However, Mama Pikuyev struggled to provide basic necessities for her children. Because of the lack of care she provided, she lost her parental rights and the state took the children from her and brought them to Shpola Orphanage.
The Pikuyev children still live at the orphanage, except the oldest, Roma. In Ukraine, when orphans “graduate” from 9th grade (around the age of 15-16) they are forced to leave the orphanage because there is not enough state funding to keep them through grades 10 & 11. Roma aged out of the orphanage, and because of health struggles and lack of opportunities, his only choice was to return to his home village where he lives with his mentally ill mother and no hope of future education or employment. The rest of the Pikuyev children, along with thousands of other orphans in Ukraine, will soon age out of the orphanage as well - where will they go then? Maybe the Pikuyev children will decide to pursue training at a local trade school, a common but bleak option for orphan children as they learn trades that are becoming increasingly less relevant. Unfortunately, even if these children are accepted into trade school, they will have a difficult time finding housing. Most Ukrainians have a strong prejudice against orphans, especially those from scandola families - disgraced families. Orphans are not trusted, are seen as lesser, so very few landlords open their doors to them. The Pikuyevs will be cast out into society without the basic skills to protect or provide for themselves.
Because most orphans have not been taught how to make basic life decisions on their own, compounded by the emotional and social scars many have from abandonment or abuse, a staggering amount of orphan graduates fall into crime, prostitution or alcoholism after they leave the orphanage. Sadly, 60-70% of Ukrainian orphan graduates become involved in prostitution or organized crime. Twenty percent of children graduating from internats at age 16 end up in prison. Ten percent go on to commit or attempt suicide. Others embrace alcoholism and produce a new generation for the orphanage. Less than one percent make it to a university or higher education. How many of the Pikuyev children will fall into these statistics?
Thankfully, because of the relationships our teams have built with orphan graduates and the work God is doing through Hope Now, there is hope for the Pikuyev children. Hope Now has developed an Orphan Graduate Program which focuses on housing, education, and Christian community. Right now, we are raising funds to complete a Pre-Independence Home designated for orphan graduates from Shpola Orphanage. This home will be a safe haven for 10-12 teenagers as they learn and develop necessary skills to lead an independent life while continuing their education at a local trade school or college. As orphan graduates live in this home, surrounded by Christian mentors and house parents, they will have access to the many opportunities and supportive communities of the city of Cherkasy, including our weekly Youth Group and many strong, Christ-centered churches.
Hope Now also has an apartment dedicated to older boys who have graduated from the orphanage and are now approaching their early 20’s. This home, supervised by a Christian couple, is designed for orphan graduates who have finished their education and are now employed in the city of Cherkasy. The young men who live in this flat are mentored by local Christians, invited into the homes of Christian families, and encouraged to be involved in local churches as they navigate early adulthood in the growing city of Cherkasy.
Lastly, Hope Now awards the Elevate Scholarship to two orphan graduates every year. This scholarship provides children the opportunity to finish their high school education at a private, Christian school in Cherkasy. This scholarship truly lifts these students up and gives them hope for the future as they not only receive a top of the line Christian education, but they will graduate from a highly esteemed school which could lead them to acceptance into university. While these students attend school in Cherkasy, they are hosted by Christian families from Sophia School who mentor them, tutor them and model Christian living.
We believe God is doing wonderful things through our Orphan Graduate Program, but there is still more work to be done. We need funding to continue the construction of the Pre-Independence Home and ensure the success of the Elevate Scholarship in years to come. If you are interested in donating to our Orphan Graduate Program, please follow this link to our donation page. We would love to partner with you as we provide a new future and hope for orphans in Ukraine. We hope that now when you think of Ukraine, the Pikuyev children and their dreams for the future will come to your mind.