Imagine – you are laying on the bed in your room, and your parents walk in “Get ready, we going for a drive!”
How we love sudden plans, right? With utter excitement, the next thing that flows out from you is “YAY! LET’S GO!”
The three-hour drive ends into entering a huge gate, which looks pretty dull and dry, the height of the gate makes it impossible for you to read the board inside. As your Dad moves past the gate, you read the dusty hoarding, in bold and block letters embedded in blackish-grey color it says “Kharsyzk’s Shelter for Children” At first you are confused, your mum is now out of the car talking to someone who looks like an in-charge of the place. Minutes later your parents wave you goodbye and kisses your forehead saying “Honey, always remember we love you, okay?”
Did you cringe? Because I did, while I wrote this.
This is the story of every 6 in 10 children of Ukraine.
Khartsyzk is an industrial city in Donetsk Oblast (province) of Ukraine. The war that broke in the year of April 2015, told a horrible story. It tore families apart, killed people with starvation and diseases, caused mental disabilities. But what followed to the children of Ukraine could not be forgotten.
Families in ‘concern’ of their children’s life took them to shelter houses and orphanages, claiming they do not have the money to feed and raise them.
‘We scream out loud to get the food for the children from wherever we can,’ says Elena Nikulenko, director of an orphanage. ‘It is sad to see that most of the children end up here even though their parents are alive. Some are in jail and some have been judged unfit parents. The worst is when a mother or father says, “I have no money to feed my child, please take care of him or her” – as published in the Daily Mail.
Though a ceasefire was negotiated in February, the fear and tensions still remain very high in Ukraine, not knowing what they wake up to tomorrow.
Nurse Ludmila Chekh described the terror: “You know how scary it is when a four-year-old-child looks at you with a serious look and asks if we are going to be bombed? Of course, we say no but we don’t know either. We still hear fighting from here every night. We still have the basement ready for staying in with the children if anything goes wrong. If the war stops now these kids still have the chance of a happy childhood – not shivering every time it thunders because they think it is more shelling.”
In Petrovsk, a suburb of Donetsk, ceasefires are often violated and the bomb shelter is now a home to sixteen families, among which five of them are under three years of age. As told in Catholic Online, On June 3rd, a missile landed close to the shelter. The kids know all the weapons by the sound of the explosion. They tell them, ‘It’s a Grad (rocket launcher)’ or ‘It’s a howitzer.’ They can tell the distance. The four-year-old says, ‘It’s still far away’ and keeps on playing.
The children often ask about their family, they wait for them at the rusty and broken doors of the orphanage, they look outside the gates with a hope. The hope for the war to end, the noises to end. Not because they fear them, but hoping that their parents would come back to take them home.
Albina, a four-year-old who sleeps in a corner with another girl in the orphanage of Kharsyzk, ‘This is my corner and this is my pillow,’ she says, describing her little world.
Albina’s mother left her here because she could not afford to feed her and she has visited her only once. Albina keeps saying that this not true – her mama – loves her and that she has been here many times to visit. ‘I have a brother and a sister and they are older than me,’ she says. ‘They live at home with my mama.’
And then, with hope rising in her voice: ‘My mama will come very soon and take me away from here.’
Maybe. Certainty is a commodity in short supply in the orphanage, just like beds and food and parental love.
The orphanage at Kharsizk relies on the paramilitaries for food and medicine. The Donetsk republic and the neighboring Luhansk People’s Republic, of Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation, cut off from the rest of Ukraine and are unable to care for their people. The sinking ship makes it difficult for the orphanages to fund themselves with basic necessities.
United Nations member states signed a list of 17 locations to produce a “radically better planet” by 2030, according to Daily Mail. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are meant to fight disease, child mortality rates, gender inequality, environmental degradation, climate change and ethnic conflicts.
UNICEF has been working as hard as it can to help Ukraine’s children. UNICEF Ukraine representative Giovanna Barberis said, “The most vulnerable children in eastern Ukraine, including orphans, displaced children and children with disabilities, have been the hardest hit. Thousands of conflict-affected children in eastern Ukraine do not have access to education, health, protection and family care. The UN Sustainable Development Goals will include robust targets to end violence against children and provide quality education and healthcare. Every child deserves an equal chance in life.”
The problem of orphans in the Ukraine is nothing new. Some 95,000 of the country’s eight million children have been cast adrift through the death of parents, alcoholism and drug use. Some homes have been implicated in sexual abuse and trafficking but those problems have now been magnified by a war that has split families and disrupted services.
The United Nations promises to come up with effective plans, but will have to work hard. Countries like Ukraine and other conflict zones are very sensitive and require severe detailed execution plans.
‘My mummy died,’ explains Angelina, clutching her one certain friend, a soft toy.
‘This is my friend and it’s a lion,’ she says. ‘I don’t have brothers and sisters but I’ve got a lion.’
Visit: UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal to do your bit.