Building a brighter future for orphans in Ukraine

By Kyra Gurney | April 18, 2022 | Europe & Eurasia | Youth Empowerment

In the western city of Ternopil, GFC partner Orphans’ Future is supporting orphans, orphanage graduates, and foster families whose lives have been impacted by the Russian invasion.

For orphans and orphanage graduates in Ukraine, who already faced many challenges before the war, the Russian invasion has brought more uncertainty.

In Ternopil, some orphanage graduates have lost their jobs because the companies they work for have temporarily closed or cut staff. Others have left Ukraine, as have orphans living with foster families that have decided to move abroad.

“They want to escape because they’re not sure about tomorrow,” said Andriy Nazarenko, the Founder and Executive Director of Orphans’ Future.

Meanwhile, some foster families from eastern Ukraine, where much of the fighting has taken place, have evacuated to Ternopil. Since the war began in late February, Orphans’ Future has been providing internally displaced foster families and newly unemployed orphanage graduates with food, hygiene items, and other assistance.

Andriy and his staff worry about the orphans from eastern Ukraine who have been evacuated to other countries. News articles have reported that traffickers are targeting orphans and other children in vulnerable circumstances on the Ukraine-Poland border.

Children sitting around a camp fire

Children on an outdoor trip organized by Orphans' Future. © Orphans' Future

“This is a big concern for us that so many orphans left Ukraine and who knows what could happen,” Andriy said. He has contacted government officials to ask how they are protecting the orphans leaving the country, and he’s been assured that the children are being escorted by adults who are looking out for their safety, but he still worries.

In the meantime, Andriy and his staff are doing everything they can to bring joy to the children who are still living in state-run orphanages in the Ternopil area. Although they are safe, they are dealing with the emotional toll of the war and the loss of some of the volunteers and activities that previously helped enrich their lives.

“Not so many people right now are working with these children,” Andriy said, explaining that many volunteers have turned their attention to helping refugees and soldiers. “They are just on their own and really feeling loneliness and sadness and bored and all those negative emotions.”

Orphans’ Future is organizing weekly activities so that the children have a safe space to talk about how they’re feeling. Andriy knows firsthand the importance of this type of support. As a child, he lived in an orphanage near Ternopil and experienced some of the same challenges.

Andriy and his staff at Orphans' Future

Andriy (center) with members of the Orphans' Future team. © Orphans' Future

After graduating from college and living in the United States for several months, Andriy decided to return to Ukraine in 2004 to empower orphans to build a better future for themselves. He recruited other orphanage graduates to help raise money to provide local orphans with sweets and basic necessities. Then the organization expanded its work to include other types of support.

Today, Orphans’ Future runs an information center and conducts life skills workshops and summer camps for orphans and orphanage graduates. It also encourages foster care and adoption in the local community to help orphans find loving homes. The organization’s goal is to prepare orphans to lead successful, independent adult lives.

Through life skills workshops, Orphans’ Future helps adolescents aged 13 to 17 learn about financial management, domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning, and relationship and communication skills. Staff and volunteers mentor the young people with whom they work, helping them build self-confidence, and arrange field trips and activities. Orphans’ Future also helps orphans find volunteer opportunities so they can get involved in the local community, and it assists them in applying to universities and jobs.

One important aspect of the organization’s work is helping orphans apply for the government paperwork all Ukrainians need to obtain a job. This critical bureaucratic procedure is difficult for orphans to complete because they need a permanent address and the permission of the property owner at that address to register with the government. For most young people in Ukraine, this permission is granted by family members, but orphans often do not have family support.

Andriy at a press conference

Andriy (second from right) participating in a press conference in 2021. © Orphans' Future

“It’s a difficult procedure to get registration,” Andriy explained. “It takes time, it takes lots of connections, networking with the government.”

Orphans’ Future first became a GFC partner in 2012, and Andriy said he and his team have taken full advantage of the workshops and other capacity development opportunities GFC offers. “Global Fund for Children played a really important role in improving our capacity,” he said.

In March, Orphans’ Future received an emergency grant from GFC to support the organization’s work assisting orphans and orphanage graduates, including those who have fled eastern Ukraine.

Andriy and his staff hope for a peaceful future in which all Ukrainian children can thrive. In the meantime, they are doing what they can to spark some joy for the children living in local orphanages.

“They are asking us to come often just to talk,” Andriy said. “They need this connection.” On a recent Wednesday in mid-April, while Andriy spoke with GFC, Orphans’ Future staff and volunteers had gone to one of the local orphanages “to bring some joy and presents and sweets and take some children for pizza.”

Header photo: Young people on an outdoor trip organized by Orphans’ Future. © Orphans’ Future

For their safety, GFC is naming its partner organizations in Ukraine only when they have asked to be publicly identified.

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