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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

Uncertainty in Ukraine: “What will happen next?”

Providing food for poor families is crucial as prices rise
Providing food for poor families is crucial as prices rise

“What will happen next?” asks Lyudmila Hartchenko, director of the SOS Children’s Village in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk. It is the question on everyone’s lips. “It is also the question that the children ask us every day.”

The months of uncertainty are taking their toll. “People are tired,” Lyudmila explains. “The situation is changing every day. The world seems unstable, and that’s how the children feel.”

The most mundane situation is charged with fear. Twelve-year-old Alina from our Village in Lugansk took part in a stage performance to celebrate the life and work of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Part-way through the performance, a demonstration started and all the children were evacuated. “She came home crying,” says Alina's SOS mother Olga. “We had to explain what was going on. Smaller children don’t fully understand.”

“Now we don't know what will happen tomorrow”

Ukrainians are particularly sensitive to uncertainty because of the hardship wrought by the last economic crisis. “We still remember the 1990s when the economy hit rock bottom,” says Olga. “That’s something we don’t want to repeat and we don’t wish it for our children.” As prices rise, she and her husband Aleksandr are stocking up on food so her SOS family can get by: “The funds set aside for the holidays we are spending on food reserves now.”

Lugansk has only seen one day of unrest so far. But with tensions running high against an unstable national backdrop, violence is never far away. Olgar and Aleksandr are taking extra care. Aleksandr has started meeting the children after group training so they don’t have to walk home alone. The family no longer go out in in the evening. “We are close to Crimea. We don’t know what will happen,” says Olga. Lugansk is also Ukraine’s most easterly provincial centre, located close to the border in a region where many Russian speakers favour unification with their old Soviet homeland.

SOS mother with boy head in lap Brovary Ukraine
SOS families remain are resilient. One SOS mother puts it best: “Hope dies last.”

With loyalties pulling in both ways, the future of Ukraine is unsure. It is this that scares Olga the most: “At the moment it’s relatively stable here, but we are insecure. We wanted the children to grow up, get an education, and find their place in life. Now we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

“We don't want war”

Another Children’s Village is located in Brovary near Kiev, on the other side of the country. Here, we are shifting the emphasis of our community work in response to the political situation. Our first work in the region took place during the recession of the 1990s, when we provided food packages for hungry families.

Things have come on a lot since then, but as in Lugansk, the most basic of commodities is becoming increasingly expensive. “Today we have to go back a little bit,” says VIllage Director Olena Bilyk. “Food is becoming very important.” Education too is affected during times of crisis, as Olena explains: “As a result of the instability, many children have skipped school and it’s difficult to get back on track.” That’s why education is another key focus as the situation escalates.

Whatever the outcome of the political crisis, the threat of war feels very real today. Lyudmila Hartchenko is the director of our Children’s Village in Lugansk: “We don’t want war,” she says. “What makes me angry is that we cannot do anything. We are hostages of the situation.” Despite the anger and the fear, SOS families are undoubtedly resilient. They are hopeful too, but increasingly, their hope is tinged with resignation. “We hope that everything will be fine,” says Olga. “Hope dies last.”

We provide care for Ukraine's most vulnerable children in two key locations in east and west. At this time of crisis, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can help.