Right now, there are about 70,000-110,000 orphans in Ukraine (depending on which statistics you use). These orphans are housed in over 650 institutions across the country. The majority of these children are “social orphans”, meaning they were put in the care of the state due to abuse, abandonment or extreme poverty. Every three days an orphan with a disability dies, usually because they don’t get the necessary medical attention. In Ukraine, the orphanage, known as an Internat, is a mixed boarding school for orphans and children from families living in poverty and is a catch-all for children of every background and need.
Unemployment – Many factories and industries from Soviet times have closed, leaving people without any means of earning an income.
Poverty – With no work or government welfare to fall back on, people struggle to find money to buy food, clothing and medicine. Many lose their homes.
Collapse of Social Programs – The old Soviet day-care programs are gone and there are no established private industries to care for children.
Alcoholism – Many children in Ukraine become orphans, abandoned in the hospital by their alcoholic parents or are taken away by the state to adequately provide for the child.
Illness & poor medical care – Resulting in early death of their parents, many children in Ukraine become orphans due to lack of access to healthcare
Other social problems – Abuse and neglect leads to children living in Ukrainian orphanages, where some are taken by Social Services to provide them with a safe environment.
Crime – Given the desperate state of the economy, many people turn to crime to survive. Many are caught and end up in prison, leaving their children with either a single parent who struggles to provide for their family or no parent at all.
War in the East - Since 2014, Ukraine has been in conflict with Russia. Thousands have been killed in this conflict, leaving orphans and widows behind
Living conditions at Ukrainian orphanages are very difficult for the children who end up there. Since they come from backgrounds that are usually complex and lacking in love and parental care, their situation often goes from bad to worse.
For example, Olga, one of numerous Ukrainian orphans, shares a large room with eight other orphans and uses the communal girl’s bathroom down the hall, where she may have a shower once a week. (During the day hours, the children use outhouses.) In Ukraine, orphans are given bunks to sleep on and donated clothing to wear. Orphanages also provide schooling, but the lessons are often outdated, leaving orphans far behind the education of other children. Meals are high in carbohydrates and low in protein with virtually no fresh fruits or vegetables served. After school, the caregivers keep the children occupied with chores, homework tasks and busywork.
Around the age of 16, orphans in Ukraine must leave the orphanage. There is no funding for them to remain, and most leave without the basic skills to protect or provide for themselves. These orphan graduates face a grim future, as they are left to fend for themselves in a world that is not welcoming to them and for which they are vastly unprepared.
Because many orphans have nowhere else to turn, 60-70% of Ukrainian orphans become involved in prostitution and 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.
The biggest problem with the system is that it’s not designed to look after the children’s best interests. It is simply a government program that has limited resources to address the long term needs of the orphan and simply provides a band-aid.
In fact, the Ukrainian government has recently admitted that institutionalized care is not the best option for these children. Starting in 2016, the government has started closing down Internats across the country, working instead to house orphans in family-based foster care. While we see this as a positive transition, the road ahead is difficult and slow, and it will take many years for this new initiative to make a real change. There are still tens of thousands of children living in these underfunded orphanages and graduating into a bleak world each year. How can we care for these children now?
We believe the real solution is long-term, lifetime care with support from the whole community to care for the children holistically. As communities - individuals, families, churches, businesses, schools, etc - work together to support these children as viable citizens, the future of these orphans begins to look less bleak. There is hope for future education, employment, stable living, and acceptance.
Of course, such care is not easy to provide in a relatively newly independent country like Ukraine. It requires a hands-on commitment from both local and international organizations, as well as a recognition that the plight of Ukrainian orphans is the responsibility of the Ukrainian people.
Hope Now partners with local organizations and churches, along with international donors, in order to care for orphans while they are in the orphanage and after graduation. Our Orphan Sponsorship and Orphan Graduate Programs are designed to love these children, provide basic necessities, and give them supportive communities. Our mission is to bring hope to these children in the bleakest of circumstances.