Darya speaks of the harrowing situation in Ukraine and the efforts to evacuate as many children as possible.
What does your role with SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine encompass?
Since 2007, my work is directed to the issues of children without parental care, protection oftheir rights and in general the child’s rights to a family.
As national programme development director, I am tasked with ensuring the quality of theservices delivered by SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine, and with developing new services based on the needs and new directions of work to ensure a systematic approach to the child’s rights issues. Advocacy is also my responsibility, meaning cooperation and partnership with all important stakeholders from the government and non-government sector active in the field of child welfare throughout Ukraine.
For the last six years I have been leading the Ukrainian Child Rights Network. This network brings together 27 child protection organisations, including SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine, which right now coordinate their efforts on national level to save and protect children.
How did you prepare for the current situation?
When it became obvious that the country is facing war, even in December last year, we started active communication with the government asking for preparatory steps. But, the experience from 2014 and 2015 was not considered for organizing preparedness measures.
It was unfortunate that despite the efforts made by SOS Children’s Villages and otherstakeholders including the Ukrainian Child Rights Network, the preparatory steps for evacuating children were not done on time.
We mapped all child care services in nine regions which we considered to be risk zones incase of a conflict. The mapping gave us data about the numbers of children living in foster families, and children in residential institutions. The nine regions were selected based on criteria we considered relevant, such as bordering Russia, for example. We made a slight mistake because it turned out that actually ten regions are risk zones right now.
We shared this mapped data with UNICEF, with all key stakeholders and bodies from the Ministry of Social Affairs. Unfortunately, the time was not enough for us because we sharedthe information on Monday, and the war started on Thursday morning. If we had a little more time, some steps could have been done based on the information we collected.
How many children live in these regions which are now risk zones?
The number of children living in these regions is around 4 million. Within these regions,about 1.5 million children live in hotspots meaning cities and towns that are blocked at the moment, like Irpin, Mariupol, Bucha, Hostomel, Stanytsia Luhanska, Sievierodonetsk, Starobilsk, Popasna and others.
Some residential institutions from Luhansk and Donetsk regions managed to evacuatethe children to western Ukraine. Currently, there are big problems with the evacuationof children in Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Kherson, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv regions. There are no exact statistics as new hotspots appear every day.
We constantly monitor the situation of the children in residential institutions there. Just onSaturday, we managed to take out around 150 children age 0 to three from four baby homes in Kharkiv. The staff of these baby homes didn’t want to leave, and evacuation of the children without them is illegal. We were persuading them for three days, and ultimately succeeded.
What is the situation in the towns and cities which are blocked?
People hide in cold basements. There are basements with hundreds of children. In the basement where I was we had some water and bread. Now, you can’t buy anything. The shops are not working anymore in the towns and cities which are blocked. Food is a problem. There is no heating and the temperature in the night was -8C. There is no electricity in the blocked towns, people cannot charge their phones.They cannot use generators anymore because there is no fuel to run them.
There are many babies among the people in the basements. Their mothers cannot breastfeed them because many started to lose their milk. They cannot give them baby formulabecause it’s not available. This means that many children are at serious riskof dying from hunger.
What is SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine planning?
We need to focus on the humanitarian actions in the areas where there are most internallydisplaced people from the most affected regions of Ukraine. We will continue to coordinate the relocation of foster families from the country to safer places.
One of our biggest tasks is to support our staff. We must help them to stabilize emotionally.They need psychological support to be able to continue working. Otherwise, we will lose them.
The teams of Olena Kripak, programme director Kyiv region, and Lyudmila Kharchenko,programme director Luhansk region, did a tremendous job. They put in a lot of efforts to persuade the foster families [supported by SOS Children’s Villages] to relocate before the war started.
Now it's time to focus our support on our staff so that they are able to continue to work.
Do you have any message to the people around the world?
Thanks to everyone who is standing with Ukraine and is expressing solidarity. Thanks to the people who are helping and supporting. The children and families of Ukraine need your helpand support.
I want to everyone to know that what is happening here in Ukraine this is the hell of hell. I want everyone to know that we are in hell.