Social Issues in Ukraine
Text and Photographs by Mark Flowers ©
Ukraine ( Україна ) is a country with an area of 603,700 sq.km with a decreasing population that has been falling from about 52 million in 1993 compared to 50 million in 1999. Ukraine is mostly flat steppe land that is highly fertile, causing it to be known as the “Breadbasket of the Soviet Union.” Major crops are wheat and corn, but other crops include sunflowers and sugar beet, and hemp is also grown to the east of Kyiv. Ukraine is also rich in coal and iron deposits in the far east and south central regions.
Kyiv ( Київ ) on the River Dnipro is the capital city, having a population of 2.6 million and is divided into three districts: Podil or Lower Town, which is historically the merchants’ quarter and river port, Pechersk, which is the historic ecclesiastical centre containing the Caves Monastery, and The Old Town or Upper Town near St. Sophia Cathedral. Communist planning has resulted in an urban sprawl of modern tower block buildings across the river.
Although the fall of Communism has brought about considerable personal freedom, the Ukrainian economy has suffered hugely. In Ukraine the average monthly wage is $401 and that’s if one is lucky enough to find work. High levels of poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, inability to cope and other problems contribute to the parents being unable to care for their own children leaving thousands to be abandoned. According to official 2003 statistics provided by the Ukrainian government, approximately 50,000 street children live in Ukraine, 12,000 of which are in Kiev.2 Once on the streets many become victims of drug and solvent abuse. Many are also becoming infected by HIV and developing AIDS.
Ukraine now has the fastest growing rate of HIV infection in the world.3As of 1999 an estimated 200,000-240,000 people in Ukraine had been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, according to the U.N.-sponsored UNAIDS organization that is working on the AIDS epidemic in Ukraine, along with an additional 7,500 children age 15 and younger - a number that is increasing at an alarming rate due to illegal drug use, sexual activity among children as young as 10 years old, as well as insufficient education regarding safe sex and drug use.4
Large numbers of street children turn to prostitution as a means of survival. Kiev together with Moscow is one of the two major centres in the former Soviet Union trafficking in the sale of young women (mainly between the ages of 15 and 20) into prostitution.5
In 1986 a huge explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power station 100km north of Kyiv blew radioactive fallout over 23% of Belarus and 7% of Ukraine.6 Although the wind was blowing north and west of Kyiv at the time, some 10–20 million people were affected with 28 workers at the station dying within two months from acute radiation sickness.7 135,000 were evacuated from a 30km radius to Kyiv. Because it took two days before the authorities informed the people, many were happily sunbathing and swimming in the Prypyat River and so were exposed to significant amounts of radiation and have developed cancers. The Dnipro basin from which 30 million Ukrainians take their water immediately showed traces of radioactivity.
Since Chornobyl, Thyroid cancer among children has exploded to a level 10 times higher than normal in Ukraine7, and in some areas, more than 80 times higher than normal.8 The accident has caused significant chromosomal damage in foetuses and birth defects have doubled in Ukraine since 1986.
Mortality rates in Ukraine (14.8%) now exceed birth rates (8.8%)9. The population in 1995 was 52 million. In 2000 it was 50.4 million, in 2001 it was 48 million. Chornobyl is a major factor as is industrial pollution; in the former Soviet countries, emissions of toxins from industrial plants tended to be about 10x greater than in Europe.
“Today’s Family” Social Action Charity
Today’s Family was established by Reverend Albert Kitcher of the World Transformation Church in Kyiv in response to many of these issues. Today's Family is registered in Ukraine as a non-governmental non-profit making Social charitable organization whose aim is to help the homeless and less privileged, particularly orphans. In trying to address the problem of street children Today’s Family is in close collaboration with several state-run and private orphanages in Kyiv including “Kyiv Kids – Sunshine” orphanage, Vorzel orphanage, as well as the Aspern Crisis Centre for children and Vulcan Stephania homeless feeding station. One orphanage in particular is devoted to helping children who have been sexually abused and contains about 150 children. A couple of the orphanages e.g. Ostrov Sockrovitshch (Treasure Island) are run as summer camps on islands in the Dnipro River, where the children can have a fun time living in tents and have the freedom to play adventure games in peaceful woodland surroundings.
Support for the charity’s activities comes from voluntary contributions of individuals and collective organizations amongst which is a popcorn factory established by the World Transformation Church called Ukrtech Kompleks which as well as providing employment for about 70 people, also helps the orphanages. Their products are starting to be exported to Germany and Canada
During my stays with the group, I was able to visit several of these orphanages and witness at first hand the ongoing work of the charity. One of them is the Aspern Centre. This is a permanent home to around ten former street children, but also provides food and clothing to many more who still live on the streets due to the huge demand for accommodation.
To see the smiling faces of the children as they greeted the rest of the team and I made it hard to imagine the hardship they must have come through. The children seemed very street-wise and had learnt how to survive but paradoxically some were too young to dress or wash themselves. Many had also been weaned off glue sniffing, a sadly too-common addiction.
Today’s Family has helped to take in lots of children often from the streets, and have given them a more stable environment where they can become properly adjusted and educated. Besides basic education, the charity has set up programs for computer training and a Print Production School to provide teenagers with necessary skills for working in the outside world.
The poor state of the economy has left the state run orphanages quite run down due to lack of money and Today’s Family is trying to attract funding and provide medical supplies. One particularly harrowing area in one of the state orphanages that I visited was the Baby Ward. Many of these babies have been given up because their parents could not afford to raise them and no longer want any contact with them. Typical of them is Christine (19days) brought in by her mother and left after 2 days after signing a form saying she no longer wanted her and leaving no address or contact details. Like all the babies, she was kept in a tightly bound state in swaddling clothes.
The state discourages staff from physically holding the babies in case they become too attached and does not allow time for individual attention. Inside the ward, they have little stimulus and one child I visited and photographed did nothing but stare blankly and forlornly into space. Today’s Family through developing links with state run institutions such as this is trying to release them from this wretched existence by providing these babies with caring families.
At the state-run Vorzel orphanage a number of children exhibited various birth defects, a legacy no doubt of Chornobyl. During my first visit, I met one child suffering from Treacher - Collins Syndrome with no inner ear bones or outer ear trumpet and he had a badly deformed face. The staff wanted to send him away for surgery, but they had no money. Some were also affected by muscle-wasting diseases.
“Sunny Wave” Cancer Charity
I was also able to see the work of Sunny Wave, a small independant charity set up by Svetlana Tsybizova, Natalia Gubar, and Daniel Galetkin that has developed close links with the Paediatrics Department of the Institute of Oncology of the Academy of Medical Sciences in Ukraine (Cancer Centre).10Sunny Wave has its roots in a project started by Svetlana Tsybizova in 1998 while working for the Centre for Leadership Development in Kyiv, a subsidiary of the Global Corporation in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. Its original aims were to help with the rehabilitation, education and re-integration into mainstream society of former street children.It assisted the children in improving their educational status, paving the way for additional opportunities; and helped them fight a variety of addictions they suffered from through different activities, along with care and attention. Most of these children live in the Father’s House Orphanage and Ms. Tsybizova’s involvement with these children continues today.
Sunny Wave was formed and registered in April of 2003 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Its mission is “to assist in the spiritual growth of the Ukrainian nation through helping those in need and engaging as many people in volunteer work as possible.” Sunny Wave is a registered non-profit charity organization in Kyiv, and also in the Province of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Former Soviet hospitals lack the finances for many of the fundamental things we in the west take for granted and so conditions inside the hospital were quite basic and the surroundings quite dingy and depressing, but Sunny Wave is trying to make a difference through the provision of medication and medical equipment, and is working towards establishing a link with cancer clinics in Canada to provide essential diagnostic training for oncologists in Ukraine. Eventually, they hope to establish an exchange program for personnel from both Canada and Ukraine to share experience, techniques and technology in the area of Oncology.
Sunny Wave uses art, music and game activities as a therapy for the children. These forms of palliative care help both children and parents emotionally and psychologically, and counselling is another important role that the charity is providing.
Through the dedication of volunteers and paid staff from Sunny Wave, the charity has been responsible for saving the lives of many children in Ukraine.
Much has been achieved by both Today’s Family and Sunny Wave to make big differences in the lives of many. The orphanages and the cancer centre struggle to find funding even with the charity’s help and although the staff try extremely hard, the houses are often quite dingy and depressing, and surgical operations are often too expensive to be carried out. There is consequently a great need for more funding.
Today’s Family Social Action Charity:
Albert Kitcher, Leader of World Transformation Church, Kyiv and Today’s Family:
World Transformation, P.O. Box 83, Kyiv 03037, Ukraine.
< Семья Сегодня ,> a / я 83, r.Киев, 03037, Україна.
Donations for Today’s Family may be sent to the above address or via Aid International, Bourne Chapel, Waters Road, Kingswood, Bristol, BS15 8BE
Tel: 0117 947 6547 E-mail address: email@example.com or to
New Horizons Church, PO Box 206, Coventry, CV5 8WH, UK. Tel: 024 7667 8282 E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations for Today’s Family may be sent to the above address or via Aid International, Bourne Chapel, Waters Road, Kingswood, Bristol, BS15 8BE Tel: 0117 947 6547 E-mail address: email@example.com or to New Horizons Church, PO Box 206, Coventry, CV5 8WH, UK. Tel: 024 7667 8282 E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunny Wave Cancer Charity:
Apartment 66, 16v Perova Blvd, Kyiv 02125, Ukraine.
Квартира 66, 16в перова, Киев, 02125, Україна.
Tel: (00380-44) 510-0356
E-mail address: email@example.com
2078 Argyle Street, Regina, Saskatchewan S4T 357, Canada.
Tel: (001306) 533-7395
Donations for Sunny Wave may be sent to Alfred Zumpano at his above address or to Aid International , Bourne Chapel, Waters Road, Kingswood, Bristol, BS15 8BE Tel: 0117 947 6547 E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org or via a direct money transfer to the Sunny Wave account ( Account # 10478386) at the Conexus Credit Union
* The correct spelling is the Ukrainian Kyiv, not the Russian Kiev. Since independence, the original place names have begun to make a comeback. All names used in text are Ukrainian.