A bird's eye view of Our Kids' centre in Kyiv
All children are entitled to shelter, safety, and protection from social and economic hardship. Yet to this day, millions of deprived children around the globe are still living in abject poverty, unable to protect themselves from the negative effects of conflict, economic hardship and social change. In Ukraine, a country that has undergone an inspiring but traumatic transition to democracy and a market economy since the collapse of the USSR 30 years ago, child deprivation has become a huge and growing challenge. The problem desperately requires support from the public authorities and the engagement of civil society.
That is the reason why the GPUS, a Berlin-based NGO and charity, took action in 2001 and responded to the Ukrainian children’s crisis by launching the “Our Kids” Centre in Kyiv. From the moment it became fully operational in 2007, it was intended as a role model for similar institutions, run by professionals in close cooperation with government offices and aid organizations, and working strictly in accordance with European standards. “Our Kids” offers vulnerable children high quality, effective services aimed at socio-psychological rehabilitation, individual development and reintegration into society.
Back in 2004 the Kyiv Municipal Administration provided us with a ruined former kindergarten which was then rebuilt to include a brand-new living space of 2,000m2 for 73 children and their careers, located in a large 14,000 m2 garden providing children with sports facilities and playgrounds. We organized many training courses that supported more than 100 families caught up in crisis.
We equipped a sports ground capable of being used for many different sports, and pioneered the use of underground heat for the central heating and hot water, thanks to our own geo-thermal system.2014 “Our Kids” responded to the first sign of impending war in Eastern Ukraine. We opened our doors and provided shelter, medical, psychological and social assistance to about 100 displaced children who fled from combat zones.
Today, during the full-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine, the children from “Our Kids” have been evacuated to Poland where they are safe and cared for.
Once our children had managed to settle down safely in Poland, we started immediately to evacuate other orphanages in Ukraine to Poland and eventually Germany. We know there are many thousands more children waiting to be rescued, and we are determined to help.
The other great challenge of the past two years has been the pandemic, Covid-19. It has spread worldwide and deprived many of us from breathing, traveling, and seeing our loved ones. Millions of people suffered, and everyone was locked out of their normal lives. In 2020, when Covid-19 cases were rising in Ukraine, “Our Kids” did catch Covid-19, but gladly, they had an easy recovery without any further health complications. Since then, in 2021, the majority of “Our Kids” found their new family, and the rest of the kids stayed strong with great immunity and excellent health!
THE CHILDREN IN UKRAINE ARE IN DANGER
For the past 14 years, the German-Polish-Ukrainian Society (GPUS) has been helping acutely vulnerable homeless children, orphans and street kids in Ukraine to find safety and protection. Our Kyiv Centre for Children – “Our Kids” – has been successfully operating since 2007, offering those children care and rehabilitation, socio-psychological support and individual development, helping them to reintegrate in society. It is run by professional carers and educationalists, in close co-operation with government offices and aid organisations.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made the situation dramatically worse for the children of that tragic country. Millions of mothers and their offspring have become instant refugees, forced to flee their homes and split their families, leaving loved ones behind them. Our task has suddenly become far more desperate and challenging.
But this is not the first time we have been forced to deal with an emergency. When Russia first invaded eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, we responded to the fighting by providing care and shelter to displaced orphans and vulnerable children from the affected areas.
We had already developed a Socio-Cultural Inclusion Programme where children suffering from traumatic stress from the war zones could be treated by talented peers under the direction of national and international artists.Today the challenge is still greater. This is outright war. Great swathes of the country are being bombed from land, sea and air, with thousands of civilians deliberately targeted by the invaders.
We must provide non-stop assistance to children with special needs, orphans with disabilities, and their families. We must provide emergency psychological support, assist in the evacuation process, help find shelter from violence, abuse and ill-treatment. For that, we have established two emergency task force groups, in Warsaw and Berlin, to help provide immediate aid to children and families impacted by the conflict in Ukraine.
Ukrainian children are in danger and we need your help to protect them. Please donate today and save Ukrainian children. Every life matters, your help counts.
ESCAPING THE WAR
Ever since February 24, the first day of the Russian attack, the 23 children at Our Kids were kept safe, hiding in underground bomb shelters on the territory of the centre. The shelters were stocked in advance with blankets, water, food and equipment for some school activities. In between air raid sirens, they could emerge for a short walk round the territory of the centre, ready to run back in case of danger.
FLIGHT FROM KYIV
On February 26, Barbara Monheim, our founder, decided to evacuate the centre, and transport the kids and their carers to safety in Poland. Thank God Natalia, the director of Our Kids, was all ready to help. After three days of planning, to determine which way to go and how to travel, we decided the best way to safety was to take the train from Kyiv to Warsaw.
Our Kids centre is on the left bank of the Dniepr river, so on March 1 we had to drive the children across to the right bank, and find overnight shelter in a church, in order to catch the train the next morning. But that night the Russians bombed the television tower, which is very close to the church. The children and their carers fled for the railway station, already packed with hundreds of people.
After hours of anxious waiting, it was decided to add an extra carriage to the train, for children and disabled people. Thanks to the help of our faithful friend Mykola, we were able to get the children into the carriage. Natalia was desperately afraid that she might lose a child in the crowd. But she did not.
The trip was terrible. The train was fully packed with people desperate to get away from the city to relative safety in the west. There was no space for the exhausted kids, except for standing in the corridors and gangways.
On the evening of March 2, the Our Kids group arrived at the train station in Warsaw, to be met by Inna and Karolina from the Warsaw Task Force. A comfortable bus was waiting which took us all to very well-equipped houses of the SOS children’s village in Siedlce, and a safe stay. The management of SOS was very welcoming and thoughtful and swift to support all our needs. We are very thankful to them and everyone else who helped us in such difficult times.
But now we must plan ahead, and look forward to returning to Ukraine to experience once again all those happy moments we had together before being forced to flee and abandon our home.
Finally save in Poland
The children from Our Kids are safe and cared for in Poland, thanks to the efforts of our Warsaw Task Force. But they are far from home, and the care and attention they enjoyed at Our Kids. They want to go home, to the world they knew in Kyiv.
A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF “OUR KIDS”
Excerpts from Our Kids quarterly newsletters on our activities and excursions, and examples of the generosity of our donors in the year of Covid-19.
New Year is here again. It is always a time of fun and excitement at Our Kids.
But some things are constant in the life of our Centre. The most valuable thing for everyone is the family. You can have many good friends and acquaintances, but only the family gives us a sense of security, makes us happy and confident in the future. It is in the family that we feel supported and loved.
One bunch of our children joined their foster family. It is a moment of both excitement and some trepidation. Valeria and her siblings Anna, Anton, Pavlo, and Oleksiy will now have the opportunity to feel the warmth and care of loving parents. We wish them a happy childhood in a loving family!
We would like to thank Archpriest Volodymyr Bilyak, the Rector of the Nativity of Christ Parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv, for his food aid. Thank you very much for your support and your faith in our work! May your kindness and compassion be returned to you many times!
In any institution like ours, clean water is the best investment in health and well-being. For the second group, our children have had a reverse osmosis filter installed. It produces pure water with a pleasant taste, 5 degrees of purification. Reverse osmosis technology retains the smallest impurities, including bacteria and viruses.
Agrofirma Stolichna kindly presented Our Kids with generous supplies of the cherry juice it produces. The children love the drink. It is not only delicious but also healthy. They say that just one glass of cherry juice a day is enough to nourish the body with all the vital vitamins and minerals contained in 25 similar portions of fresh juices from other fruit and vegetables. The secret lies in its rich chemical composition. Thank you for supporting our activities.
Our children have been regularly invited to the Kyiv Academic Theatre of Ukrainian Folklore, known as “Berehynia”. The main objective of the theatre’s activities is to preserve and reproduce the folk culture of Ukraine. The repertoire includes concert programmes and theatrical performances dedicated to the calendar-ritual cycle (“Ukrainian Evenings”, “Rusalia”), as well as musical and dramatic performances based on works of classical Ukrainian drama (such as “The Kaidash Family”, and “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”).
The children also visited the Start cinema, which shows new films of domestic and world cinema – from cartoons and fairy tales for children to blockbusters for young people and films for family viewing. They also put on historical films, film adaptations of foreign and Ukrainian classics, popular science, and social films.
This was when our children were able to visit the sanatoriums in Pushcha-Vodytsya and Odessa. The organisation of recovery and recreation in such surroundings is of great importance for their health. Our children also had a great opportunity to make new friends, and best of all, have a good time.
In March, Biosphere Professional provided support to our centre in the form of cleaning products, specialized body chemicals, hand and floor cleaning, and washing children’s items that are safe for the little ones. They also received paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper.
Developing, helping, and educating our kids is our main goal. We could not do it without help from many backers. We must thank Nestle Ukraine, Nivea, ATB, and FORA who supported our activities and provided our children with some of their popular products: sweets, food, personal hygiene products, toys that children love and look forward to at any age. We owe thanks to the employees of the companies for providing such useful, tasty and entertaining gifts. Our children are sincerely grateful. Thank you for every child’s smile!
For three siblings, April brought a long-awaited and exciting day, when they found a Dad and Mom with their small family. We are happy to put our children in the safe and caring hands of such parents. They will enjoy a happy childhood in a loving family!
In Ukraine, on the third Thursday in May we celebrate Vyshyvanka Day! The traditions of our people are one of the oldest and most beautiful in the world. And it is in our power to spread the word about them. That is why we wear vyshyvanka, our embroidered folk shirts, one of the symbols of our nation, to show the world the beauty of Ukrainian culture!
In spring, an exciting and joyful day for our older children, is when they return to their family homes. Observing the undisguised joy of teenagers, we can confidently say that everyone needs a family, regardless of age. Therefore, we want to wish them family warmth and respect for each other.
We celebrate International Children’s Day with gifts and sweets and quests – for the sake of fulfilling children’s dreams and desires to overcome the difficulties and obstacles they may face in their lives!
At the same time, it is a holiday for those who care for children and help them believe in themselves – educators, teachers, mentors. Thanks again to ALL concerned citizens and organisations that help make our children’s lives bright, exciting, and full of love and prosperity!
It is the end of another school year, ahead of the long-awaited summer vacation. The children played games and quests, and feasted on homemade cakes and sweets.
Two of our kids also graduated from kindergarten and celebrated their first graduation ball. In September, four boys will sit at the school desk for the first time. New challenges and accomplishments lie ahead. We wish our children unforgettable rest and health.
Hooray! Summer is our favourite time of the year, as all children are looking forward to it. After all, it is in summer that you have the opportunity to relax, see the sea for the first time in your life and make new friends. The long-awaited trip to the camp by the sea came true. After all, it is here that you never get bored, because every minute is planned with interesting contests, concerts of peers, competitions, and of course a disco. And you can still enjoy the warm embrace of the Black Sea and relax under the southern sun.
The Museum of the Historical Centre of Kyiv organised and conducted a walking tour for the children of the city centre on the topic: “Princely Kyiv”. The kids visited the old part of the city, its historic buildings and streets, and saw the monuments and statues of its princes. They learned a lot of new and interesting things about the history of the capital.
This summer has become especially joyful and anxious for our boys as they are moving into family nests. Two brothers went to a foster family and the other two boys returned to their biological family (under guardianship of their relatives). Of course, it is a pity to say goodbye but we understand that every child should grow up in a loving family. Our centre has become the bridge that unites these wonderful children with responsible adults who will become a support for them. The boys will start their new school year in new families and in new school teams. We wish the kids health, self-confidence and support in new families!
Our kids have just come from the sea and go on vacation again, to the Snowdrop sanatorium. Summer is a wonderful time! Children are getting more strength and energy, and meeting new friends. They take an active part in interesting activities for which they receive diplomas and thanks. They not only get a good rest, but also strengthen their health and self-confidence with lots of fresh air, sun, water, a special diet, and all sorts of physical activities.
The school opens its doors again to children on September 1 after their long summer holiday. It is a very exciting day for youngsters and older students. First-graders are the most worried and we have four of them! We wish our children a great desire to learn, in a friendly atmosphere, interesting events, great achievements and a strong desire to be better than yesterday.
We are happy with tears in our eyes on these sunny autumn days. Our children found their families again. May the sun always shine brightly for them, and may life give them pleasant gifts!
It is very nice that there are people who support the Centre. During this period, we received charitable assistance for our children in the form of food, including sunflower oil, cereals, dairy products, chicken eggs, etc. We are sincerely grateful to Ukrainian publishers who (for the second year in a row) are providing us with textbooks, manuals and workbooks for our pupils from the youngest to the oldest ones. For the first time we have children under the age of three. There was an urgent need to provide our kids with beds, mattresses, educational toys and, of course, diapers. And we have got all this support and also special equipment for the psychological rehabilitation room, which will significantly help our specialists in rehabilitation of the kids. We are very grateful to everyone who contributed, for their understanding, support and help.
We never get bored. We always have fun together. We go to interesting performances, movies, cook with educators a variety of delicious dishes, play in our favourite games room, as well as go on holidays to the resort.
The holidays are coming (again). At the beginning of December, the New Year mood and New Year atmosphere appear. New Year mornings are held in kindergartens and schools. Children are decorating the Christmas tree, waiting for St. Nicholas and the New Year, and most of all they are waiting for presents.