Child from Mogilev, Belarus, eating a melonMogilev is situated close enough to the eastern Russian border to have caught the full impact of the radiation cloud after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Mogilev’s medical infrastructure still struggles to meet the needs of those suffering the physical and emotional consequences of the disaster.

Mogilev is one of Belarus’s six administrative regions as well as being its main city. The region as a whole is home to around one million people, of whom around 75% live in one of its 13 towns. The city is the third largest in Belarus and one of its main economic centres. It has a population of approximately 361,000 souls (2011 figures).

The region is rich in natural resources and minerals, in particular cement chalk and marl, clay, sand and peat. Most of the agricultural land is arable, but there is also a significant cattle farming industry, which serves the meat, dairy and leather markets. Major industries include engineering, machine building and metal works; the chemical and petrochemical industries are also important.

An economy in transition

The nuclear catastrophe has had long-lasting effects on the economy of the region, as well as the physical and emotional scars it left on the population. Many of those living in the areas with the highest density of contamination had to leave and find new ways of earning their living. Only five years later, Belarus’s economy suffered a further blow as the Soviet Union collapsed. Today, although things have improved, the area around Mogilev has one of the highest levels of poverty in the country.

Mogilev SOS Mother and sonChildren face violence and institutionalisation

Recent social and economic changes, which include significant rises in the price of food and other essential commodities, have resulted in more children living without certainty and stability. The number of children who are unable to live with their families has increased and most are still placed in institutions.

Domestic violence is commonplace for many women and children in Belarus. According to a United Nations survey, about one in four Belarusian women are subject to either physical or emotional abuse – or both. The government has started to take action, but domestic violence is still a taboo subject and women are reluctant to speak out or seek help even when it is available.

SOS Children's Villages in Mogilev

Our most recent Children’s Village in Belarus was established in 2009, and provides 11 homes for children whose parents can no longer care for them. However, this vital work is only a part of what we do in Mogilev. We actively influence the social care standards at both the national and the local level. Working with local authorities and other service providers, we offer vulnerable and struggling families a comprehensive package of services to enable them to stay together and take good care of their children. Our support is practical – we provide food, clothing and educational support and access to health care. We also offer vocational training, career counselling and advice on job seeking.

Mogilev Children's VillageA refuge at times of crisis

We opened Belarus’s first crisis centre for women in 2010. Alongside our 11 homes, we have two houses specifically for vulnerable women. One is for women in crisis and the other provides shelter for women and child victims of domestic violence.

The first, with accommodation for six women and their children, provides support for women who are in crisis and finding it hard to look after their children. Our residents are largely young, single mothers who do not have family support. These young women are dealing with financial and social problems but their main challenge is that they are not well equipped for parenthood. It is the first facility of this kind to provide accommodation alongside support, legal and financial advice, and counselling. Parenting skills are also taught.

Our second house, which has room for five women and their children, provides shelter for women and children who have left their homes because of emotional or physical domestic violence. They can live in the house for up to three months – the time it takes to find a permanent housing solution for them and their children.

Although our accommodation is very limited, our hotline provides support and counselling to many other women in similar circumstances. In its early days, we were supporting around 80 families and 150 children each month; once the centre is in full swing, we expect to be able to support 250 children and their mothers.

Our SOS Crisis Centre provides vital services, but what we can do is only a drop in the ocean in terms of need. We hope that now we have taken the step of opening the first of such facilities, more will follow.

We are breaking new ground in Mogilev, providing services that Belarus has never seen before. Our presence here is bringing support to more families in Belarus's most vulnerable communities.



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