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Boy from SOS SC Kiev
Ukraine is one of Europe's poorest countries, with a low life expectancy, high unemployment and Europe's highest HIV/AIDS rate. Life can be tough for Ukraine's poorest children, and unrest in 2013-14 has added to this instability. We support vulnerable families near Kiev and in Lugansk, and provide a home to children who cannot live with their parents. … more about our charity work in Ukraine

Tough times for families in Ukraine

SOS mothers in Ukraine are helping children understand the crisis
SOS mothers in Ukraine are helping children understand the crisis

Beyond politics and international diplomacy, ordinary families in Ukraine are suffering. Food prices are increasing by the day, with more and more people are falling into poverty. Unrest and the threat of war can have a profound psychological impact on young and old alike, and children are among the most vulnerable. Sadly, SOS families are not immune.

SOS mother Valya lives with her SOS family at our SOS Children’s Village in Brovary, just a few miles from Kiev’s Independence Square, where Ukraine's unrest began. She believes that children who have endured traumatic experiences in the past can be deeply affected by the violence. “In a stressful situation, old memories come back to them,” Valya says. “All my children - no matter what age - are stressed out. They have problems sleeping, and when we ask them to draw, they draw themselves as tiny children. It’s like they’re trying to hide.”

“They ask why people are being killed”

Olena, our Village Director in Brovary, explains that it would be senseless to seek to shield the children from events which are so ubiquitous: “Children notice such events. How can they avoid that? To go to school, they have to pass the centre of Brovary, where there were also meetings and violence.” Instead, says Valya, they need honesty: “Children do not live in a vacuum. They go to school and they watch TV. They hear about the situation in Kiev. They asked why people are being killed. We explained as well as we could.

“Our main aim is to keep the youngsters in the Village,” explains Valya. As well as ensuring their physical safety, the children need psychological protection. Valya recalls how her children were disturbed by the escalating violence: “Every day I had to talk about what’s going on and calm them down, lift their spirits. The topic still arises, even when we are doing homework together. I talked to each child in a way they would understand. It wasn’t easy because the children saw my eyes.”

Life at a standstill

Girl drawing Brovary Ukraine
Children's fears for the future are coming through in their drawings

Life has come to a standstill for many families, not just those from the Children’s Village. At the height of the violence, roads in at out of Kiev were blocked, people stayed indoors, and parents stopped sending their children to after-school groups and clubs. Today, stability is yet to return. Some people say that the police force is compromised. “You could say that there is a feeling of impunity in Ukraine right now,” says Olena, Village Director.

The cost of living is rising rapidly, and the political situation has only exacerbated the crisis. Money is losing value by the hour as people panic buy. Since the political crisis began, Petrol prices have risen by 30%, and the cost of certain foods has doubled. “It’s very difficult to buy bread - people buy spare, because they see the prices are going up. Many still remember the war and the hunger.”

“We hope for the best”

The squeeze is more than most can bear. In a country where 8% of the population is jobless, unemployment benefit stands at less than £85 per month. Even for the employed, times are hard. The average monthly salary is less than £210. More than a third of people live below the poverty line, and this figure looks set to rise. In February, pensions and child benefit payments were delayed by over a week. Today, rumour has it that handouts will be cancelled.

The crisis has engulfed the nation. With the recent stand-off in Crimea, eastern Ukraine has become the focus of the unrest. As the situation develops, our thoughts will be with our Children’s Village in the eastern city of Lugansk. As for Brovary, SOS families look to the positives. “We were friends before all this happened, but now we are much closer,” says Valya. “The children have become more mature in the last month. We hope for the best. We are alive and we continue raising the children.”

In two key locations, we provide a loving home for many of Ukraine’s most vulnerable children. In Brovary, near the capital Kiev, our SOS mothers care for 78 children who cannot live with their own families. Our new and growing Children's Village in Lugansk currently offers a home to 16 children. In Kiev, Brovary and Lugansk, we support over 300 families in the community. As the crisis develops, we will continue to ensure the safety and welfare of our children. Find out more about our work in Ukraine.