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Centre for struggling mothers aims to break the cycle of child abandonment in Ukraine

© UNICEF Ukraine/2007/Sukhodolska
Oksana and her daughter Marynka; after the girl's premature birth, mother and baby were hospitalized for a month.

By Natalia Kyyak

KYIV, Ukraine, 12 July 2007 – Oksana’s life had never been easy. After having grown up in an orphanage and struggling to make a stable life as an adult, she found herself pregnant and alone. After giving birth prematurely to a daughter, Marynka, she and her baby were hospitalized for a month.

Concerned for Oksana’s future, hospital staff arranged for a social worker to visit her. The worker told Oksana she could get help at the Mother and Child Together Centre for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation in Fastiv, Kyiv Oblast, which provides shelter, child care and psychosocial support.

Determined not to slip back into the violent relationships she had endured prior to Marynka’s birth, Oksana didn’t think twice about taking that advice.

An alternative to institutions

Without an alternative, it’s likely that a struggling single mother like Oksana would give up her baby and leave the child in an institution. Poverty, unemployment, alcoholism and drug use have made child abandonment a common phenomenon in Ukraine.

© UNICEF Ukraine/2007/Sukhodolska
Unlike many other children in Ukraine, Marynka avoided the fate of being sent to an institution, thanks to the support of the mother-and-child centre in Fastiv.

In fact, despite the government’s efforts to prevent it, the number of children placed in institutions has doubled to 65,000 in the past 10 years.

The mother-and-child centre in Fastiv is just one of many projects that aim to help mothers and prevent them from abandoning their babies. Similar projects are implemented by the non-governmental organization Hope and Homes for Children, with support from UNICEF.

Mother-and-child centres offer a protective environment and help young mothers gain strength from each other. Counselling and job training are available, along with support to help solve relationship problems.

Talking about the past

“When Oksana first arrived, she would lock herself and her daughter in her room,” recalled centre staff member Tetyana Kasyanenko. “She was even afraid to go out into the corridor.”

Gradually, Oksana began to make friends with the other young women and staff at the centre. She started to talk about her childhood – growing up in a poor family of six children, none of whom had known their father – and about how her own overburdened mother placed her in an institution when she was 10.

Oksana also spoke of her relationship with Ivan, the only person who treated her with love and respect, which ended when her mother forced her to leave him because she disapproved.

Several abusive relationships followed: One man left her when he found out that she was expecting a baby, and another beat her and made her work even when she was heavily pregnant.

A relationship rebuilt

After Oksana had been at the centre healing her emotional wounds for a few weeks, somebody came to visit her. “Can it be my mother?” she wondered. It turned out to be Ivan. The staff had located and contacted him, and asked if he wanted to get back together with Oksana.

“He came with his sister and mother,” she recalled. “It had been so long since I left him, so many things had happened, and he still wanted to live with me?”

To her surprise, Ivan stood by her. After a few months of rebuilding their relationship, they decided to get married.

“The staff at the centre organized a wonderful wedding party for us,” Oksana said with tears in her eyes. “Miss Larysa [the centre’s director] was the bridesmaid. She gave us a big set of dishware. Everyone was crying, as if they couldn’t believe such happy endings could ever happen.

“I can’t fully believe it myself.”



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