Real lives

In eastern Ukraine children suffer as fighting breaks water supply

UNICEF delivered first aid medical kits to provide immediate medical care for thousands of displaced children and their caregivers

UNICEF helps meet the hygiene and water needs of children affected by the crisis in Ukraine.

In Ukraine, children suffer as conflict continues

Colored pencils, drawing albums, books and games – basic but so necessary items for children.

Volunteer Vova: “A simple window pane separated me from death”

With the support of social workers, Maria was able to avoid the biggest mistake of her life

Inna: from Kyiv to Odesa. Hostage of circumstance

Angelika from Mykolaiv: looking for home

The most vulnerable children are the most affected in the conflict in Ukraine

Maria: “I feared for the lives of my children. There was no question, I had to take them away”.

Mother of two children from Donetsk: It is necessary to build a new life. And we are going forward.

Sisters from Luhansk are overcoming their fears after life in the conflict zone

One boy’s journey of change and coping with crisis

12-year-old Sumaya from Crimea is back to being ‘herself’ thanks to the psychosocial support she received from UNICEF

Football helps street children to become fans of sport and healthy lifestyles

Young activist asserts the rights of her HIV-positive peers

Liuda is sure that prevention will help her to give birth to a HIV-free baby

Prevention and treatment will make it possible for HIV-positive Kateryna to give birth to a healthy baby

Social workers provided care when all other people gave up on dealing with me, Maria says

Hard life is hard to change

An attempt to start a new life

What matters in life – success in football

Vinnytsya Becomes More Child-Friendly

Korosten Became More Friendly to Children with Disabilities

“Football gives me different life”

Football did not let him down

There is a way out. Widening a range of services for the most-at-risk adolescents in Mykolaiv region

A mistake in your life is not a full stop; it is a comma

A Boy from Odessa: from the street life to the dream of becoming a famous footballer

Changes that save lives: a story of success

Children with special needs: “To be not worse than others!”

From darkness to light: A social worker’s story

A true meaning in life: success with football

If to compare him today and then – it’s as different as day and night

Indifference may ruin lives: Children who No one Helps

A better life for at-risk girls in Ukraine

Hope in darkness - Olena’s story

Street children in Ukraine are among the most vulnerable groups to get HIV/AIDS

“Fathers are as important for newborns as mothers”

Child development in Chernobyl-affected Ukraine

Anastasia Polishchuk: “We thought that our child was just cutting teeth and we almost lost her because of meningitis”

“I had never even dreamt of such wonderful big family...”

Mediation as Implementation of the Right of the Child to Legal Protection

Sebastien’s story: A young Haitian earthquake survivor speaks

Breast-feeding: a Woman’s Happiness, a and Society’s Maturity Test

God and the Sun

The Price of Safer Sex Goes Up

The Duties of Real Men

Joined Hands Can’t Be Wrenched Apart

A Perfect Future

I did not want my son to be an orphan

I will not give him up… I will not be able to live knowing my child is somewhere along…

HIV positive mothers in Kherson oblast in Ukraine know their children can be born virus-free

Children’s authority in the world of adults

“It’s Just a Bug”. The Story of One Unvaccinated Boy’s Struggle with Meningitis



A better life for at-risk girls in Ukraine

© UNICEF Ukraine/2010/G.Pirozzi
Two girls stand in the street at night and wait for clients in Mykolayiv, south Ukraine, one of the cities which is most affected by HIV

MYKOLAYIV, Ukraine 12 February, 2012 — Anya does not talk much about her teen years   in Mykolayiv, one of the most populous cities in southern Ukraine.

She desperately wants to forget the days of fighting with her grandfather, her only surviving relative after her parents died.  When she finally opened up, she recounted getting thrown out of the house and being cajoled into sex work by a friend at the age of 15.

 “I am ashamed of my former life. I do not want to talk about it and I don’t want to remember it,” she said.

Alcohol and drug-fuelled nights drove her to high risk sex without condom. Her story is similar to those of hundreds of most-at-risk adolescent girls from often poor and dysfunctional families. For girls who fall into sex work, their situation is dire: they routinely face arrest, exploitation and abuse. Prostitution is illegal in Ukraine. 

Anya is a city girl but she knows many others from poor rural areas who migrate to cities across Ukraine to seek better paid jobs, greater independence or to flee family strife. Such girls are particularly vulnerable as they have little or no support from family and friends.

Observers note a higher demand for female sex workers in cities than in rural areas. A UNICEF-supported study across 25 cities in Ukraine found that nearly a third of girls surveyed aged 15–19 selling sex reported starting to sell sex between the ages of 12 and 15 years (Data from Desk research report – a review of the evidence on HIV/AIDS and most-at-risk adolescents and young people in Ukraine. By UNICEF, Ukrainian Institute for Social Research, 2008). National level data are lacking on how many poor rural girls come to the cities to become sex workers.

An urgent challenge is the continuing spread of the HIV epidemic, a trend that increases the vulnerability of adolescents and young people who engage in high risk behaviours. Sex workers are often prevented from accessing social or health services from the state, despite Ukraine’s alarming overall HIV infection rate of 1.1 per cent - the highest in Europe.

This HIV epidemic in Ukraine is driven by an explosive mix of injecting drug use and, more recently, sexual transmission. Children and young people constitute a group whose risk of contracting HIV is particularly high. Women now account for some 40 per cent of new cases compared to just 24 per cent under a decade ago (Data from: UNAIDS. The changing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Europe and Central Asia. Geneva, 2004, p. 5).

Mykolayiv is one of the cities in Ukraine most affected by HIV.  One fifth of female sex workers here are adolescents and 98 per cent have engaged in unprotected sex during the previous year, while 16 per cent have injected drugs. Up to 11 per cent of adolescent female sex workers are infected by HIV annually (UNICEF (2009) ‘Most-at-risk adolescents: the evidence base for strengthening the HIV response in Ukraine’ – Kyiv, 2009).

To address this, UNICEF recently implemented an innovative service delivery model in Mykolayiv.  With the aim of reducing risk and vulnerability, UNICEF and partner outreach  workers brought girls to a drop-in centre that offered a safe space, counselling, and referrals to governmental health and social services. Working with child protection services, the police and the education sector have fostered a more supportive environment for these girls at risk, and have even empowered them to actively participate in service planning, implementation and evaluation.

© UNICEF Ukraine/2010/G.Pirozzi
A girl talks to a counsellor at a UNICEF-supported community center for young female sex workers. Here she can get medical consultation, social care support and information on safer sex

“Despite having had a lot of unprotected sex, I had never visited a doctor,” Anya said. “I went to a gynaecologist. I also talked to a psychologist. I do not know what would have happened if I had not gone to them.”

She is one of the lucky ones not to have been infected with HIV. Of the 42 per cent of adolescent sex workers who accessed services at the drop-in centre, 10 per cent tested positive for HIV (Project data, UNICEF report, 2009).

Anya also managed to turn her life around.

Through these youth-friendly holistic services at the community centre, she learnt about how HIV and sexually infectious diseases are transmitted and how to engage in safer sex. She quit drinking, stopped selling sex, made up with her grandfather and returned home. She even managed to graduate from school. 

Because of the results in Mykolayiv, the National AIDS Programme and the State Social Services now recognize, female adolescent sex workers as an essential constituency for services. The national AIDS law, enforced since December 2010, allows adolescents aged between 14 and 18 years to have HIV testing at local AIDS centers without parental consent. This will help rural areas too although there is a dearth of data on most-at-risk adolescents there.

UNICEF aims to have these services rolled out nationally and adequately resourced but huge challenges remain. Most legislators and other stakeholders who control the budgets for these services believe that those involved in high-risk behaviors need to be punished and not helped. 

Advocacy for a less punitive legislative and policy environment for young people who inject drugs, sell sex and or live on the streets will continue. Rather than locking up the offenders, Anya, and others like her, may have another second chance in life.



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