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Escaping Reality

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2014

April 2014, Kyiv. One of the darkest and oldest prisons of Europe, known as “Lukianivka,” has never experienced a touch of modern art on its walls. These premises were brightened by images created by two famous French and Ukrainian artists together with children who are detained there. For one day, 13 teenagers had a chance to go back to their childhood and for, maybe just a moment, forget about the place that became their home for now…

For the second year in a row, the European Commission is supporting a joint initiative of UNICEF Ukraine and the French Institute in Ukraine, aimed at raising public awareness about the rights of marginalized and vulnerable groups of children, particularly those in conflict and contact with the law. Very few know that there are children in “Lukianivska” detention facility. While these teens are waiting for the court’s decision, their life goes on, surrounded by grey walls and small barred windows in their cells.

“Children and youth who are placed in detention facilities have the right to develop their talents and skills, to express themselves though art, just like all children.” – said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Ukraine Representative.

UNICEF has initiated this art project in partnership with the State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine and with participation of the French muralist Julien (Seth) Malland and Ukrainian artist Aleksey Kislow. Together with the 13 teens, artists painted the walls of one of the walking areas. Children had a chance to learn from Julien and Aleksey about street art culture, and admired examples of their paintings from all around the world. “The space used for waking was so grey and sad. With Aleksey, we tried to broaden this space by drawing some bright images on the walls” – said Jullien “Seth” Malland.

While in detention, it’s important that children continue to learn and develop skills that enable them to grow up to become contributing members of society. Through positive and creative interactions children can develop their imagination, social skills, and confidence. That`s why participation of detained youth in this joint art project was very important.

“You need to understand, there is nothing to do here; but today it was fun!” – said Slavik, a 17- year old who spent two months in the “Lukianivska” detention. “I was given a conditional sentence by the court, and I hope to leave this place in few days. However, I have left my touch on these walls by painting them. It`ll be more cheerful to play football in this cell, but hopefully without me now” – he added.

Unfortunately, not every child will be able to leave the prison soon. There are currently 1101 children placed in detention facilities all over Ukraine; 259 of whom are in pre-trial detention. UNICEF believes that children who commit crimes should be treated as children, not criminals. These are often children facing difficult circumstances in their lives, not receiving adequate support from their families or from social services to cope with these challenges.

“The criminal justice system - even the most punitive – can be changed, to become more flexible, focusing on restorative and re-integrative approaches in dealing with children. With the adoption of the new Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine, the number of children in the detention facilities continues to decrease, their living conditions are slowly improving. However, each year about 14,000 children come into conflict with the law. Ukraine needs an effective system to prevent juvenile crime, with special attention given to prevention, educational and rehabilitative components, and the development of specialized judicial procedures.” – said Ruslana Sirman, UNICEF Ukraine Child Protection Officer.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that: “children in conflict with the law should be treated in a manner which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in the society”. In order to achieve these overarching objectives, a specialized juvenile justice system needs to be developed, where detention is used only as a last resort and for the shortest period of time, and in which support is provided to help the child not to re-offend.

The State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine supported the idea of organizing this art project at the premises of detention facility. “I think this unique experience in Kyiv will be used in other detention facilities in other regions. There are many talented people among those who are imprisoned and their talent is just wasted here. Who knows, maybe one of these kids will become an artist, just like Julien…” said Oleksandr Sayko, the Head of the Department of Kyiv Region State Penitentiary Service.

While at the facility, Julien discovered that besides the13 teenagers who are currently detained in “Lukianivka”, there are also three young children living in this facility. They are living there with their detained mothers. Although, not originally planned, Julien came up with the new idea to paint the walls of the cell where children play every day growing up in the prison. This is how the new “Mother and a Child” painting appeared on one of the grey walls, brightening it with some rainbow colors.

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2014 / R. Sirman

“I don`t know whether I can change the lives of these children in just one day. But if for two or three hours these children can forget about their everyday lives in prison and think about something else - it`s worth it!” – said Julien. For some, those are just grey walls, with a silly picture on it. But for many, here in “Lukianivska” prison, they are a way to escape their reality. It’s a way to see the colours of the world for the 7 month old baby who is terrified of a tree or smelling a flower, but calms down when he sees bars on a small cell window …


About UNICEF: UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. UNICEF office in Ukraine was established in 1997. Learn more at Join us on Twitter, Facebook and ВКонтакте

For further information, please contact:
Ruslana Sirman, UNUCEF Ukraine Child Protection Officer. Tel: +38 044 254 2450. Email: and Yulia Yurova, UNICEF Ukraine Partnership Officer. Tel: +38 044 254 2450 Email:



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