Hearts for Art


Joint mission aims to meet the needs of children in Ukraine's orphanage system

by Daria Fedoriv

Ukrainian Weekly

DETROIT - An estimated 103,000 children in Ukraine live in the Ukrainian orphanage system, ranging in age from birth to 18 years. While approximately 10% of these children are true orphans, an overwhelming percentage of others have been abandoned due to birth defects or their parents' inability to support them. Some have been placed in orphanages on court order, victims of domestic violence, crime or parental alcohol or drug addiction. While social progress on family issues is slowly underway, the children in these institutions continue to need assistance.

In May of 2005, a humanitarian aid mission coordinated jointly by Ukrainian Children's Aid & Relief Effort, Inc. (UCARE, Inc.) and Blahodiynyi Fond Tovarystvo Pryyaateli Ditey (Help Us Help the Children-Ukraine) launched a new approach to meet the needs of these orphans. Fifteen volunteers, including six from the United States, logged 2,500 kilometers and visited 1,300 children in six orphanages over a 15 day-period with an art and education program, at the same time assessing the needs of these orphanages for future humanitarian aid assistance.

The art project generated over 1,000 pieces of art, which will be sold to raise the necessary funds to meet the identified needs. The orphanages were located in Berdiansk (Zaporizhia Oblast), Tsiurupynsk (Kherson Oblast), Ochakiv (Mykolayiv Oblast) and Pantayivka (Kirovohrad Oblast). Most of the locations were set up as school-orphanage systems for children ages 7-17 called internaty, where there is a classroom building and dormitories for boys and girls in the same compound. In addition, the volunteers visited a Children's Home with 45 orphans ages 3-6 in Ochakiv, and a special needs facility for 200 children with physical disabilities in Tsiurupinsk.

Conditions in the orphanages varied, with some, notably the special needs orphanage, undergoing renovations. For the most part, however, the grounds and physical facilities of these internaty were in poor condition, especially plumbing and sanitary systems. Most orphanages had active handicraft programs, including sewing, woodworking, lacemaking, and embroidery; some had theater and music programs, others sports programs. What they lacked was equipment, materials and supplies. The orphanages consistently identified shoes, clothing (especially winter coats), beds and plumbing system improvements as their most critical needs.

The volunteers were invited to stay at one orphanage for the three days of their visit, a wonderful opportunity that provided close communication and interaction with the children. It also provided first-hand experience with some of the challenges of their physical facility - poor beds and inadequate plumbing.

The art project was coordinated and led by Eileen Jewell, Peggy Lynch, Olga Liskiwsky, Vera Petrusha and Daria Fedoriv of Michigan, with assistance from Marta Kolomayets and Pavlo Tytulenko from Kyiv. The children who participated in the painting project were able to express themselves through the use of watercolor and acrylic paint, on large and small canvases and watercolor paper. Daria Trushkina of Kharkiv coordinated the registration of the art pieces and photographs of the young artists. The art project gave these children a much-needed sense of their own creativity, accomplishment and value as persons. UCARE left behind art supplies, donated by Jolly Art Company of Austria, to enable the children to continue enjoying this special, creative part of childhood.

While some of the children painted, other children hand-stitched two heart-shaped pieces of fabric and stuffed them with fiberfill to create small pillows. Due to the generosity of many volunteers in the United States who cut various types, colors and textures of fabric into heart shapes, each child was able to personalize their own pillow. As they stuffed their pillows, they thought about what the fiberfill represented: their fondest hopes, dreams and wishes. Although the art pieces created by the children were transported back to the United States, each child kept the pillow that they had sewn, and every one, from the youngest to the oldest, handled their pillows with care, and pressed them close to their hearts.

The second component of the humanitarian aid mission included personal safety education programs for older orphans (ages 13-17) coordinated by Alexandra Kosogof and Nellie Jaskewicz of Illinois, with Maryna Krysa from Pryyaateli Ditey in Kyiv. Through the participation of volunteers from La Strada Ukraine, an NGO dedicated to fighting human trafficking, workshops focused on the existence of human trafficking, taught the orphans to critically analyze overseas job opportunities and provided a crisis telephone number to call if they find themselves in danger. Volunteers alternated, including Myroslava Debeliuk, Yulia Zhavoronkova, Tetiana Mytiura.

Another series of workshops focused on information about HIV/AIDS and its prevention, as Ukraine currently has the highest per capita prevalence of HIV infection within Europe at 1.4%. The HIV/AIDS workshops were led by Viktor Hrachov, a social worker from Kyiv.

An important aspect of this mission was the participation of two students, Mykola Hurayevsky and Andriy Drofa, "graduates" of orphanages, who are current recipients of UCARE-sponsored scholarships. Not only did they create strong bonds with the orphans they met, they also were viewed as examples by the older orphans of what the future could hold for them as well.

At the end of the mission, the entire group had the opportunity to meet with 20 other scholarship recipients who lived in the vicinity of Kyiv in a roundtable session. It became clear that UCARE's scholarship program was creating opportunities for these students to become successful, productive, contributing members of society.

The 18-day mission drew to a close with a meeting with Kateryna Yushchenko, First Lady of Ukraine at her office in Kyiv.. The group shared their impressions and described the needs of the orphanages that they observed. Mrs. Yushchenko expressed her support for these efforts and the demonstration of volunteerism, a concept she would like to enhance and extend in Ukraine.

The mission's logistical success was dependent upon the support of Mykhailo Liubchyk, Sashko Fedusenko, Volodymyr Sosliuk, who served as the mission’s drivers and Andriy Kulish Jr., videographer, who helped produce a 25-minute video of the workshops and seminars. The group traveled with two vans and a transport truck.

Although UCARE volunteers have traveled to Ukraine on numerous humanitarian aid missions, this trip was exceptional because of the time that the volunteers were able to spend with the children in each orphanage. What we found was that every child, no matter what their environment, language or country, needs to feel special and needs to feel loved.

The Hearts for Art gallery show featuring the art work created by the children was viewed at the Ukrainian Institute of America by Ukraine’s First Lady and her guests on September 15, 2005 and will open to the general public in New York in December. It has also been on exhibit in Chicago and Phoenix in October, with more cities to host the exhibit in the fall and spring of 2006.

Ukraine's First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko meets with volunteers from UCARE and

Приятелі Дітей / Pryyateli Ditey (Help Us Help the Children–Ukraine)