The road to MalinivkaA breath taking journey to a new home
Chapter 1December 2017Foster care in Ukraine
In the Ukraine, 1300 children in the Kharkiv region alone are continuously monitored by child services. When a child's safety is uncertain, it will be taken out of the family and temporarily housed in a boarding school.
The problems are often as "simple" as being a single mother of many children and living in extreme poverty. Other times it can be as severe as drug and alcohol abuse or even physical violence.
With social workers monitoring a family regularly - often unexpected - child service tries to keep parents on their toes to do their best in order to keep families together.
Olga is the director of child service and is the one guarding the wellbeing of children. She's the spider in a web of boarding schools, group homes, police, foster parents and any other person that plays a role in children's lives.
A medical checkup
The children's hospital in Kharkiv has its own department for foster children with an uncertain background or no medical history.
Each child will be going through a complete medical check, so child-service can build a full medical file.
As they can stay up to two weeks in this special section of the hospital, extra effort is made to make them feel comfortable.
A maximum of eight children is taken in each week and there are enough beds available for 25 children at the time.
A temporarily home
If a child is found healthy, but it can't return to its family, a boarding school will become a temporarily home. A safe haven for as long as it takes to find a safe way for the child to grow up.
An average boarding school houses somewhere between 50 and 60 children, but it can go up as high as 100 or more.
Depending on the status of the child, it will return to its family, be adopted, become a foster child or become a member in a small group home.
Tania is born in Malinivka and has her family still living there. With her experience running a small group home, she and her kids are most likely to be selected by the Breath Foundation to live in their new house in Malinivka.
She is a single mother and at the moment she lives in a forest at the edge of Kharkiv. The family consists of her two biological children, seven foster children and a pack of dachshunds.
Pasha is one of her first two foster children. Being 20 years old, he is the oldest and he will soon be leaving the house; creating space for a new child that can use the love of Tania and her family.
The Breath foundation bought a plot of land in Malinivka. A new house is being build here, which will be used as a new group home. If all goes according to plan the house will be ready at the end of summer 2018.
For now, work is done when the weather allows it. As soon as the roof is finished, work will continue six days a week.
Tania is now sharing her bedroom with one of her children and the other 8 children share just two rooms. In the new house there will be five bedrooms for the kids and a separate room for Tania.
The land is big enough to build another house on the other end of the plot, so another family can be housed. The idea is to start that project at the end of 2018. Between the two houses a playground and vegetable garden will be created.
Just like building these houses, this story will be a continuous project as well. In April we will see again how things are here in Kharkiv and Malinivka and create chapter #2
To be continued....
Chapter 2April 2018Getting to know the family
Whenever one of her children gets old enough, or has found a home they'd rather live, it's time for Tania to say goodbye.
Aliona has the opportunity to live with her older sister. But - as she is only 16 - a special committee has to decide if she can leave the house of Tania.
As Aliona and Tania have already been in front of the committee twice, it was a great relief that this time, they decided she is old and responsible enough to leave.
As Tania has said goodbye now to the eldest three children in the house, she has told Child Service in Kharkiv she has room for three new children that need a home.
Therefore she sometimes is allowed to accompany Child Service during visiting problem families, where there is a good chance if the children need to leave their original home.
Of course this doesn't happen overnight. Great care is taken and a big effort is made to have children stay with their family.
Seeing these young children growing up in a house with lots of love but no chance for future development is heartbreaking.
Visiting problem families is never easy. The regional head of Child Service is accompanied by the local spokesperson and a social worker.
As two of her siblings were already taken by Child Service, this girl ran away seeing so many adults stop at her house. Tania tries to comfort her.
Refugee in their own country
And then there's another group of children that potentially need a new house. A group of Internally Displaced People - refugees - from the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
This year nearly 230.000 children were a refugee in their own country. Often they live with multiple families in only one or two room houses.
With the things these children have seen and traumas they often have endured, it's essential they will get the care they need to secure some sort of hopeful future.
Help from the family
One of the reasons Tania is moving to Malinivka is so her mother, step-father and her sister can help her with the children she's raising.
As Tania doesn't know where her half-brothers are and her biological father has passed away, the bond between Tania, her sister and her mother, is a strong one.
Tania's complicated family history and her 10 year old niece Camila - who is also an adopted child - were the inspiration for Tania to start a foster home in 2011.
Update of the house
The development of the house is moving on as planned. By now it has a roof, windows and all electricity is being laid out. Soon the walls will be plastered and ceilings will be in.
At the end of every each workday, progress is reported and plans are discussed for the next day in order to work as efficiently possible.
At the moment, Tania's children have to walk 3 kilometers through the forest to get to the bus. In the new house Tania can stand in front of the window of her private bedroom, to see the children go to school.
Hopefully only a few months left before Tania and her family will move to the new house. Then her own mirror will be hanging on the wall and a new kind of life can start.
to be continued....