‘The Way Home’ works to protect the rights and lives of street children in Odessa

‘The Way Home’ works to protect the rights and lives of street children in Odessa

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ05-1826/Pirozzi
Artem, 14, sits on a wall outside ‘The Way Home’, a UNICEF-supported shelter in the port city of Odessa, Ukraine that helps ensure the fundamental rights of street children.

By Guy Degen

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified 18 years ago, on 20 November 1989. For  this landmark anniversary, UNICEF has launched the ‘CRC@18’ campaign to raise awareness about child rights and the impact of the Convention. Here is one in a series of related stories. 

ODESSA, Ukraine, 19 November 2007 – For thousands of street children in Ukraine, daily life is a fight for survival. Their rights are often violated and normal childhood has often been replaced by drug addiction and violence.

Miroslav, 17, for example, lives in squalor, with clothes and garbage strewn everywhere in the corner of an unused garage. He shares his makeshift home with two other youths – Vova and Taras. These are just a few of the estimated 4,000 homeless children on the streets of Odessa who lack the fundamental right to protection.

A step forward

Inhaling glue or injecting a cocktail of cold and flu medicines are common ways of taking drugs among homeless young people. Sharing needles and engaging in unsafe sex make them one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV in Ukraine.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ05-1828/Pirozzi
Two homeless youths sit on a mattress, while a third boy sleeps, in a burnt-out and abandoned house strewn with garbage in Odessa.

Meanwhile, violence, sexual abuse and drug addiction often lead to crime. Many homeless children in Odessa say they expect to die on the streets.

For street children looking to change their lives, a non-governmental organization called ‘The Way Home’ is a step forward. In partnership with UNICEF, the organization is providing protection as well as legal and educational services for street children in central Odessa.

“UNICEF is trying to provide access for street children to basic services like education, health, first aid and counselling on HIV, to help them stay healthy and get some basic education,” says UNICEF Ukraine’s Assistant Project Officer for HIV and Young People’s Health and Development, Olena Sakovych.

Ms. Sakovych adds that street children in Ukraine are among the most vulnerable in society and often lack the implementation of their basic rights.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ukraine/2007/ Degen
Ukrainian street children have a chance to realize their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child through a UNICEF-supported summer camp programme operated by ‘The Way Home’.

Active outreach teams

Throughout each week, ‘The Way Home’ sends an outreach team to visit areas where street children are known to congregate. Social workers provide youths with clean water and food, as well as some basic first aid.

Establishing contact with street children is the first step toward showing them that protection, care and support are available – and that there are alternatives to the street.

Over the summer, ‘The Way Home’ also sets up an outdoor camp by the pebble beaches of the Black Sea, giving youths a chance to play, swim and enjoy the season. Activities such as cleaning the beach also encourage them to gain a sense of personal responsibility, help others and look after their local environment. 

“Here, you find friends that will support you and you can do what you enjoy the most,” says Lena, 15, who lived on the streets before finding the programme. “This is your second home. This is a second chance.” 

UNICEF: Working to protect lives of Odessa street children

UNICEF: Working to protect lives of Odessa street children
From: unicef

ODESSA, Ukraine, 19 November 2007 — For thousands of street children in Ukraine, daily life is a fight for survival. Their rights are often violated and normal childhood has often been replaced by drug addiction and violence.

Miroslav, 17, for example, lives in squalor, with clothes and garbage strewn everywhere in the corner of an unused garage. He shares his makeshift home with two other youths — Vova and Taras. These are just a few of the estimated 4,000 homeless children on the streets of Odessa who lack the fundamental right to protection.

“UNICEF is trying to provide access for street children to basic services like education, health, first aid and counselling on HIV, to help them stay healthy and get some basic education,” says UNICEF Ukraine’s Assistant Project Officer for HIV and Young People’s Health and Development, Olena Sakovych.

To read the full story, visit: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/ukraine_41818.html

Ukraine Street Kids Hit by AIDS

Ukraine Street Kids Hit by AIDS

Kiev, Aug 31 (Prensa Latina) About 100,000 indigent Ukrainian children are the most exposed to HIV-AIDS, according to a report from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s office in this capital..

One in five children living on the streets without parents was infected with the so-called disease of the 20th century, Jaremy Hartley, representative of that organization in Ukraine, stated.

The percentage of children in those conditions is much higher than the 1.5 registered in the 15 to 49 year old group, the worst rate in Europe.

The violation of human rights in children working on the streets takes place despite this country ratifying a UN convention in that sense and Parliamentary approval of a plan of action to defend children’s rights, the official denounced.

In Ukraine, almost 11,000 babies have been born of sero-positive mothers, and 186 of them have already died.

Eighty percent of AIDS patients are below 30 years old.

New shelter, clinic open to fill needs of Ukraine’s street children

New shelter, clinic open to fill needs of Ukraine’s street children

by Elisabeth Sewall, Assistant Editor
Apr 25 2007, 21:36

Run by two unrelated private organizations, the centers in Chernihiv and Kyiv aim to fill the gap left by state-run institutions

© KP Media, photo by Konstantin Klimenko

Stefan-Arpad Madyar, director in Ukraine of the international humanitarian association “Triumph of Heart,” discusses the barriers facing private charities in Ukraine working with orphans and street children.

Two new foreign-run centers aimed at helping street children have opened their doors, offering non-conventional alternatives to Ukraine’s largely state-run and ineffective child services institutions.

Run by two unrelated private organizations, the centers in Chernihiv and Kyiv aim to fill the gap left by state-run institutions that are not equipped to handle the unique problems posed by the country’s population of street children.

A report published in November 2006 by UNICEF, “Children and Young People Living and Working on the Streets: The Missing Face of the HIV Epidemic in Ukraine,” said that “many health and social services … often fail to provide even the minimum standard of care and support that the Ukrainian State guarantees to its citizens.”

It also says that many children’s homes are “destitute” and that funds for these homes are “not even sufficient to provide adequate food and clothing.”

The opening of the centers follow in the wake of the “2006 State Program on Homeless and Neglected Children” initiated by the Ministry of Family, Youth and Sport. The program is geared toward tackling the country’s largely unaddressed problem with street children through more cooperation with NGOs.

Although recent initiatives taken by Ukraine’s government may help street children find more outlets for assistance and care, NGOs still face some legal and economic hurdles to offering their services.

According to state estimates, Ukraine has an estimated 130,000 children living on its streets. However, experts say that street children move frequently and often do not have identification documents. That makes them nearly impossible to track.

Ukraine’s under-funded social programs have been struggling on their own due to the legacies of the Soviet system of childcare, wherein the state held full responsibility for providing social services for children.

 

New drop-in center

On April 20, Doctor’s of the World (DOW), a US-based NGO that provides underprivileged and vulnerable populations in different countries with quality healthcare resources, recently held the grand opening of a new drop-in center for street children in Chernihiv.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the World Childhood Foundation, the center is based on an innovative outreach model, offering a multi-dimensional approach to healthcare for street children, combining medical, psychological, pedagogical, social and legal services.

The center is modeled after one in St. Petersburg, Russia, which DOW has run for several years.

According to DOW, the number of orphaned and street children in Chernihiv Region is estimated to be around 2,600, with 300 in Chernihiv city. Of the orphans in Chernihiv, 75 percent are believed to be “social orphans,” meaning they have living parents who have abandoned or neglected them.

Unlike at state medical centers, a child isn’t required to produce identification or documentation to receive treatment at the new center.

“The kids face a lot of discrimination and stigmatization if they want to receive healthcare services in the regular healthcare system,” said program manager Allison Lynch.

“[Maybe] they haven’t taken a shower in a couple of days, or don’t have their identification documents. They’re considered a problem. The people who pay the most attention to them are probably the police.”

DOW’s approach includes outreach programs geared toward building lasting relationships with street children and their estranged families. 

“If we have a child at the center, and we see that there is a [family] crisis, someone from the case management team will be sent directly to the family to find out what’s going on,” said Oleksiy Kurka, the project’s coordinator.

“Not all of the kids spend their entire life on the street. Some of them spend a couple of weeks once in a while. Some are living in families where parents are alcoholics, or where there is domestic violence, or both, and the kids have to get away for a couple of days… So, it’s always better to work with a family when there is one, to preserve family ties when possible, and avoid youth becoming homeless in the first place,” said program manager Lynch.

“When the connection with the family starts breaking down, the child starts getting used to a totally different lifestyle,” Lynch said.

Anna Shapoval, DOW’s country director in Ukraine, foresees the center annually working with 100 children and their families, who will make about 1,000 combined visits in the first year.

Shapoval said they anticipate the center’s costs will amount to $180 per child per year.

She said the initial period of work was “quite difficult,” including problems, like the absence of telephone lines in the region and the state of the facility provided to them. DOW initially spent $40,000 on renovations.

The center will spend a substantial amount on communal utilities. Kurka said that utility tariffs during the winter amounted to Hr 2,000, or $400 per month. Since heating accounts for nearly half of that expense, tariffs during the warmer seasons will cost much less, around Hr 1,000 per month.

Under the initial agreement with local partners, the facility was subject to rental payments of Hr 845, or $173 per month. But through determined lobbying at the local city council, DOW had the rent decreased to a “symbolic” amount, project organizers said.

The center will be run by DOW for a two to two-and-a-half-year period, after which it will be handed over to the State Children’s Service, which will take over responsibility. If the project is successful, DOW hopes to duplicate the drop-in center in other regions of Ukraine.

Shapoval mentioned that the state still doesn’t have a system for social contracting with NGOs.

“That would be the biggest success, if we could effectively transfer the program and get state funding,” said Shapoval.

“Organizations working with street children are really rare in Ukraine. It’s something new,” Kurka said.

“The general understandi
ng has been that street children should not exist. In fact, street children were not recognized as a separate category until just a year ago when the national government recognized them,” said Kurka.

“Our state system works the following way: Children’s Services together with police go out and pick up the kids from the streets. They put them into short-term shelters for up to three months. In this period, Children’s Services either returns them to their homes or puts them in orphanages,” explained Shapoval.

The Christian charitable organization “Triumph of Heart” built a new, modern facility in September 2006, called “Beth Miriam,” which currently offers after-school activities and meals to children from impoverished families.

Stefan Arpad Madyar, director of Triumph of Heart in Ukraine, would like to make the shelter’s facilities, which include lodging, available to street and orphaned children, but he is waiting for Ukraine to adopt additional legislative measures that would help facilitate non-governmental organizations to work with these groups.

“We insist that the children attend school, because this is one of the biggest problems. When there is no guidance, problems naturally arise. The children start gathering on the streets and forming gangs … and start getting into trouble,” said Madyar.

Located in a picturesque wooded residential area of Kyiv’s Svyatoshin district, the three-floor residential-style building has a large, grassy backyard, a basketball court, large kitchen and dining rooms, a computer room, playrooms, a plant solarium and several bedrooms.

The exterior of the house is painted in alternating colors of pale cream, tan and green, which Madyar, a psychologist, chose according to the principles of color therapy. The walls of the center are also decorated with complex graphic designs created by Madyar.

As a mark of its link to Christian organizations, the center also has a small chapel, employs an Orthodox priest and Catholic nuns, and has a large cross in the backyard that is illuminated at night.

“Many of our children come from large families, five to seven children in one family and only a one-room apartment for everyone. A lot of children don’t have a father or mother, they only have a grandfather or grandmother … a parent has left or someone is in prison,” said Elena Kovalevskaya, the center’s on-site director.

Triumph of Heart has been working with underprivileged, street and orphaned children in Ukraine for more than 10 years. Before opening Beth Miriam, organizers had been renting accommodations through local state authorities to provide shelter for the street children with whom they work.

They were required to pay communal utility tariffs, and the regional authorities introduced rental payments of Hr 900, or nearly $200 per month, which the organization couldn’t afford.

“They took us to court and tried to get money from us that way. Even the court was baffled that this was being done to us while we were trying to help children,” Kovalevskaya said.

“These were children from the neighborhood we were helping,” said Kovalevskaya. “We gathered, fed and cared for these children and they think we should have to pay rent.”

“We realized then that we need to be independent,” said Kovalevskaya.

As a result, Madyar appealed to European donors to help them build the Beth Miriam center.

“A lot of charitable organizations have had to close because of state taxes. It turned out that many charitable organizations were paying 3,000 or even 8,000 hryvnias per month,” said Madyar.

“They like the fact that there is help [from charitable organizations], but they aren’t ready to adopt the laws which would support us,” Kovalevskaya said.

Swiss extend help to Ukrainian street children

18. April 2007, Swissinfo

Swiss extend help to Ukrainian street children

Ukraine has experienced strong economic growth since independence in 1991, but still faces a mountain of social problems inherited from the Soviet era.

Switzerland has been supporting the training of Ukrainian social workers who are on the frontline in the battle against poverty, Aids and other social issues.

Ukraine’s best side is reflected in the magnificent 19th century buildings lining the Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa, proudly overlooking the Black Sea.

The freshly painted edifices stand in stark contrast to the desolate Pioneer Park situated close by, right next to the famed Potemkin Stairs. It is in the empty park that Oleg, Igor and Sergey live : in a building that formerly housed an electricity transformer.

They are three of around 120,000 children who, according to Unicef, live on the streets in Ukraine. Many are orphans. Their families are among those that lost out following the break:up of the Soviet Union.

"Many parents were and still are forced to work in other countries. The children remain, in the best of cases, with a relative, but often they are left with a neighbour," said Tatyana Bassyuk.

Bassyuk instructs social workers for the Child Well:being Fund Ukraine. The fund offers advanced training and operates seven resource centres in the country.

It is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Critical period

There is a great demand for social workers and social pedagogues, as these professions are only as old as the country’s independence.

The social and economic changes brought about by the end of the Soviet Union resulted in huge social problems that the country struggled to deal with.

With Swiss help, the Child Well:being Fund brought over instructors to teach their Ukrainian counterparts. Universities did offer study courses in social work. "But even the lecturers were not familiar enough with the subject," Bassyuk remarked.

The programme has now overcome the initial difficulties. The fund has 52 trainers who teach and give seminars around the country. "We are now trying to make this new knowledge as systematic and accessible as possible," Bassyuk said. Seminar programmes are making the work of local social workers easier.

The SDC has earmarked SFr180,000 ($148,000) for this phase of the project. Ueli Müller, the agency’s representative in Kiev, is satisfied: "The project is coming to an end, and yet it is clear it will go on."

In fact, the foundation is expected to operate without any support from the SDC in future.

Problems remain

Today, Ukrainian towns including Kiev, Lviv and Odessa are as European as Prague or Budapest. The strong economic performance has led to an increase in the number of the middle class. But many problems remain.

Natalya Trozenko, who runs the Child Well:being Fund resource centre on the outskirts of Kiev, sees around 400 to 500 social workers every month.

Trozenko has managed to cram more than 4,000 books on social issues into the centre, probably the biggest collection on the subject in Kiev.

She is also involved in the Way Back Home project in Odessa that looks after street children and offers them shelter.

Oleg, Igor and Sergey come here frequently during the day. Many of the children are drug dependent, injecting themselves with stimulants, which they can obtain easily from pharmacies. This is how Oleg became HIV positive.

swissinfo, adapted from an article in German by Erik Albrecht in Kiev and Odessa

Street Children in Kiev, Ukraine – CrossRoads

Street Children in Kiev, Ukraine – CrossRoads

This video explores the lives of streetkids in Kiev and describes the work of the Crossroads Foundation project that works with them. Find out more about these children and the CrossRoads Foundation on their website: http://www.crossrdsfoundation.org/ I also recommend their blog, called “Scenes from the Sidewalk” – http://ukrainestreetchildren.blogspot.com/

http://www.youtube.com/cp/vjVQa1PpcFMKg-Y7DV-B_8Kr45MCSZjEXtLHzkn1UWg=

How Do Street Children Survive?

(Blog entry from an excellent blog on Street Children in Kiev, Ukraine, called Scenes from the Sidewalk)

How Do Street Children Survive?

Street children survive by their wits. They become very adept at assessing the world and situations around them. The children who have voluntarily left a home or orphanage, tend to be bright kids. They like to be challenged and are good at solving problems. After a long time living on the streets, chemical addictions and health issues tend to slow them down and they become less interested in life.

These children spend their days in a variety of ways, they avoid authority figures, forage for food, use glue or alcohol, get involved in criminal activity or hang out with other street kids. Some may work odd jobs or they may get involved in pick pocketing, begging or petty theft. Some get involved in more heavier criminal activity or in prostitution.

The longer a child lives on the streets, the more difficult it is for them to leave it. Living on the street becomes their way of life and they loose the ability to reason that they have any other choice in life. If they are picked up by the police and placed into an orphanage or rehabilitation home, they still choose to run away again because they have learned to love this "freedom."

(The boy in this photo grew up on the streets and cannot read or write.)

Mission to Vinogradov, Ukraine

Mission to Vinogradov, Ukraine [Nov. 17th, 2006|12:30 am]

 (blog entry)

This summer four of us visited our Mission for Street Children going now into its sixth year.  Volunteer Katherine Rowland was one of the travelers and shares some thoughts and photos.

LifeNets Orphans and Street Children Program
in Vinogradov, Ukraine

LifeNets provides major funding for a soup kitchen to feed about 40 street children and orphans in Vinogradov, Ukraine. The children are either orphans or from negligent parents, negligent or otherwise dysfunctional. Some children are from families so poor that there is simply not enough money for basic nutrition. I had never seen anything like this first-hand and that’s why we are doing something about it. They are cared for by pastor Vasyl Polichko and his wife Irina who have completely given themselves over to caring for these children. Below are updates about our program. 

November 17, 2006

In June 2006 a party of four of us from Indianapolis, Indiana visited the LifeNets sponsored Light of Love Mission for Street Children in Vinogradov, Ukraine.  Katherine Rowland (pictured on the right with four of the children) was one of those people. Katherine has exceptional sensitivity and compassion for the vulnerable. Visiting this LifeNets project was a highlight of the entire trip to Ukraine. Please see Katherine’s story and photos.  We want to thank all those who support this project that LifeNets is sponsoring and now going into its sixth year.

Street Kids in Odessa

by Michal Novotny

September 2006

"Is anyone down there alive?" shouts Andrey, social worker of The Way Home NGO, into darkness before he opens a door leading to the cellar of an old and desolate house in the center of Odessa, Ukraine. No one answers but a little while later a weak bulb illuminates the stairs. Down some more steps and we are hit by an unbearable odor – a mixture of human feces and a strong smell of glue. Under the stairs, seven or eight half-naked and fleshless boy bodies are lying about in the garbage sharing just few square meters. "Come up, we’ve brought you some food," shouts Andrey and the scramble of bodies begins. Together we return to the van of The Way Home NGO that regularly distributes food and medical stuff to the children of Odessa.

Sergey Kushnir, 14, holding a plastic bag filled with glue for sniffing, screams in the sewer where he lives on the outskirts of Odessa, Ukraine, on Tues., June 6, 2006. According to the Ukrainian NGO "The Way Home," there are more than 3,000 homeless children living on the streets of Odessa. Almost all street children use drugs.

Michal Novotny/WpN

A couple of days prior to this scene, I arrived in Odessa with my girlfriend-journalist Jarmila to prepare an article for the daily Lidove Noviny‘s weekly supplement. A few years before, when photographing street children in Kiev, I had met one of the local photographers. "Here the kids just sniff some glue but, if you have time, go and see Odessa by the seaside. There the kids go for real, hard drugs." I had been wondering about it, waiting for the right time. Then this spring I was awarded one of World Press Photo prizes and, therefore, I did not have to persuade the editor-in-chief to pay for the tickets and some accommodation.

We rented a small studio in the center of town. It was so small that when we stretched the couch out to get some sleep, there was no space left in the room. Immediately we went to meet Sergey Kostin, the director and one of the founders of The Way Home NGO that had been taking care of Odessa’s street children, the homeless and people with HIV. Honestly, at the beginning I was a bit worried about meeting him. I had worked many times in the ex-Soviet Union countries and such meetings usually included an infinite number of bottom-up shots of vodka. But as it became clear, as a former drug addict and alcoholic, Sergey, who did not drink anymore, had become a vegetarian and, more importantly, he had a clear understanding of the problems.

"Initially, we focused on the adult homeless only to discover that many of them were drug addicts, children and HIV positive. Gradually we have started working on additional programs. The street children program is one of them. According to our estimation, there are 3,000-4,000 children hanging around here and the number keeps growing. Several times per week we deliver food and medical stores and distribute condoms and needles." Kostin explained to us that in the headquarters of The Way Home there were a couple of rooms ready to accommodate children who Sergey manages to convince to leave the street. Such children are not held in the center, though. Anyone can leave whenever they feel like it. "Who stays and shows some interest can be set for a foster family or a children’s home. In The Way Home center children can live in clean rooms, attend a school and spend some quality time in hobby groups, as well as, have holidays at camps by the seaside. Yet, unfortunately, a child of the street seldom wants to leave the world of drugs and life with no duties."

Taras, 17, cries after Denis "Moldavanchik," 12, was not able to find a vein for a self-made drug based on ephedrine known as "baltushka," in an abandoned house where they live in Odessa, Ukraine, on Fri., June 16, 2006. Almost all of Odessa’s street children use drugs. The last research carried out by a Ukrainian NGO, "The Way Home," shows that practically all street children have sexually-transmitted diseases and many of them are HIV-positive.

Michal Novotny/WpN

The next day we start for the first inspection round. Ina, a one-armed ex-drug addict who started to believe in God, has been abstaining from drugs for several years. In the center she takes care of the children and occasionally she drives around the city – all the children love her as their stepmother. Other members of the team are Andrey, a lawyer, and Yuri, an aid man endlessly cracking jokes.

We carry a hot box with mash and a bag full of dressings and basic medications. We cruise around the spots known as meeting points of various gangs of the street children – desolate houses, sewers, markets where the children usually beg or work. The scenario is always the same – the children are given some mash and dressings or medicines, if necessary. Vitaliy, another member of the team, fills out short questionnaires and photographs the children. Most of them keep burying their heads into their sleeves or t’shirts where they hide a plastic bag filled with glue.

"The world changes before your eyes," laughs an 11-year-old blond boy, Vladik. "You look at a picture of an elephant and suddenly you see that it smiles at you and splashes water all over you with its trunk. You can actually feel your wet clothes." The little sniffer consumes up to eight bottles of glue a day. Sixteen-year-old Seryozha is shouting that he needs 30 bottles but other boys giggle; he is just trying to show off. They earn money for their glue various ways, starting with begging, from little odd jobs at markets or in the bars, to prostitution. "Mostly we beg," claims Vitaliy. He found himself in the street when his younger brother had barely turned 7. "Our mum died. She was using drugs and drank a lot. She suffered from many diseases: cirrhosis of the liver, TB, AIDS, and so on." The children of the street are also hunted by such diseases. According to research done by the Way Home center, 23 out of 38 monitored children the ages of 14 to 18 years were HIV positive, 18 of them suffered from fatal jaundice, Hepatitis C-type, and six of them had TB. According to experts’ judgment, one sick child represents a threat in a radius of about 600 kilometers. Deprived children travel to different Ukrainian cities where they meet other children. Lack of responsibility, ignorance, or sheer lethargy leads them to slowly destroy themselves, especially those who use drugs intravenously.

The children sniffing glue in the street were u
sually cheerful and communicative. How different it was when we entered the ghostly cellar crowded with the young bodies. When the boys came out to eat the delivered mash none of them uttered a word, as if they were in another world. Their hands were covered with sore wounds from using dirty hypodermic needles. We took two of the boys in the worst shape, Taras and Konstantin, to our van and brought them to the center. In The Way Home the boys were shaved and bathed. When Taras and Konstantin took off their clothes, it was obvious that all their veins were heavily pierced. They were dressed in clean clothes and fed. Nevertheless, two days later we met Konstantin in the street again, stuffing himself with a stolen hamburger and heading for the filthy cellar that became his home.

Konstantin Golubenko, 17, cries because he cannot find a vein in which to inject a self-made drug based on ephedrine known as "baltushka," in an abandoned house where he lives in Odessa, Ukraine, on Sat., June 17, 2006.

Michal Novotny/WpN

The next week of our stay in Odessa, Jarmila and I started visiting selected gangs of children alone. Now we would stay much longer than the short visits with the NGO social workers. With several gangs of the sniffers we would stay for long hours, but somehow we could not get in touch with the children using hard drugs. Once when we came to see them, we brought some bread, sausages and milk. We managed to wake them up; they took the food, mumbled something incomprehensible and turned back to their stinky den. This happened several times. During one of our visits at least some of them noticed us and moved. Miroslav started crushing some influenza painkillers on a sheet of newspaper with a beer bottle. The pills are available in every drugstore and one dose of baltushka, as the boys call their drug with affection, costs less than 30 cents.

Initially, Miroslav, who was most likely the leader of the whole gang, refused any photography. "We’ve brought you some food again," I said. He noticed the loaded plastic bags in Jarmila’s hands and he changed his mind. When he had prepared the drug, everyone tottered from the cellar up to the first floor. There was more light coming through the broken windows and they could better find their veins to shoot up. One helped another and often it was a long time before they succeeded finding a vein that was still possible to pierce. The most talented one to jab friends’ veins was a 12-year-old boy nicknamed "Moldavanchik" (he is from Modavia). When this session was over, I left the house through some window covered with a rusty metal sheet. I felt sick and my head was buzzing. First I thought that this was the result of what I had just seen, but later I realized that when Miroslav had been preparing the baltushka at the airless cellar, the other boys kept sniffing glue. I remembered Ina’s words: When she visited the boys for longer periods of time, she would come up high with the glue fumes. Now I went through the same thing.

Miroslav Tolpiza, 16, holds an injection filled with a self-made drug based on ephedrine known as "baltushka," in an abandoned house where he lives in Odessa, Ukraine.

Michal Novotny/WpN

When we entered the cellar of this house of horrors a few times after this episode we sometimes caught the boys preparing new doses. The situation became worse and worse: either Taras would shake with fever, 15-year-old Ivan would be hit with a spell of coughing and spit blood, or Konstantin would rend the air with inhuman screams for what seemed an eternity before Moldavanchik could find his vein. These were scenes from hell.

For a long time I could not help thinking about what Ina once told me: "Those boys from the cellar have gone so far that we can hardly help. Once in a while we can shave them, change them, bring them some food, but they will always go back to the street. For them there is no way back."

(To see more of Novotny’s photographs from this assignment, go to: http://www.worldpicturenews.com/web/IndexPageLightbox.aspx?lightbox=MichalNovotnyStreetKids)

© Michal Novotny

Kyiv and back….

Monday, June 26, 2006

Kyiv and back….

The spiritual and physical needs of many in our world are staggering. Very often in the ‘West’ we are sheltered from what are the harsh realities of every day life for so many people on this planet.

On Thursday and Friday last week, I was in Kyiv (or Kiev) in Ukraine. Myself and Brian Jose, another UK pastor, were visiting a man named Pavel who works among street children in the city. These children have no parents and have no homes either. Many break into the basements of buildings and live in there until such time as they are discovered and forced to move on. It can be very difficult for some of them to access help because they have nothing to identify them. They cannot prove who they are. Certain ones can successfully be placed in orphanages, but for others that is too much to cope with and they run away again.

We visited an orphanage/rehab centre called ‘the Ark’ and met Maks and Ivana, two of the children Pavel has been helping. They have settled happily into the Ark and are getting on well. Their father is in prison and their mother, who was a prostitute, committed suicide some time ago. Maks was addicted to glue before he was ten years old. And yet, as Pavel has shown the selfless love of Christ in reaching out to those who noone else cared for, these children now have a hope and a future. Barbara and the others at the Ark feed them, clothe them, love them and educate them, until they are able to stand on their own two feet as adults in their society. We met others, now older teenagers, who have had contact with Pavel over many years, and are now Christians themselves. These boys now help Pavel in running his summer camps – camps which have had such a positive effect over the years in the lives of these children.

Brian and I were visiting on behalf of Radstock in order to understand more of what Pavel is doing, support him in his work, and encourage interest and support among churches out there. We met a Presbyterian Minister from Kyiv whose church also has an interest in reaching street children. They have a family in the church that has fostered some children already, and they would like to expand this further. They want to place children into the secure nurturing context of loving Christian homes. It was good to be able to introduce Ivan and Pavel to one other and we pray their ministries will complement one another.

The need is huge. The people of God must work together. We want to encourage churches to link together to support this work. That means churches in Ukraine itself, but it also means churches in other places getting involved too. It would be great to have a few churches in the UK or the US who would make this work something they were specifically committed to – in terms of prayer, finance, and where possible, going!

‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: To look after orphans and widows in their distress…’