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I did not want my son to be an orphan

© UNICEF/UKR/4094/2007

In the window of a small hut, which looks very cosy in spite of its small size, sits a little boy smiling sweetly at passers-by. His mother takes him in her arms, and both of them go out into their yard to feed the domestic animals.

It is here, in the village of Lobachiv in Volodarsky District, Kyiv Region, that a young and happy family live – Natalia, Mykhailo and their two little boys, Borka and Pavlyk. Pavlyk is two and a half years old, and Borka is just thirteen months. Their father Mykhailo works for a local entrepreneur and makes good money by village standards (1,000 hryvnias a month, or about 100 pounds). The family run a small farmstead, consisting of a vegetable garden, a goat with her kids, and a dozen hens. The courtyard is clean and tidy.

But a year ago nobody would have predicted such a happy turn of events.

Natalia was born in a village in Kyiv Oblast. When she was just a baby her mother and father were deprived of parental rights because of their abuse of alcohol and neglect of their child. Natalia was taken into care and brought up in state institutions until she was of age. Later, she graduated from a vocational school with a qualification as a house painter and plasterer.

Several years ago, a friend of hers invited Natalia to the village of Lobachiv, where she met Mykhailo. They fell in love and started dating. In a while, Natalia had her first son, Pavlyk. In less than a year Natalia found out that she was pregnant again. That was when her life totally changed. Quarrels began in the family. Her husband’s parents refused to recognise the unborn child believing that it was not their son’s. They convinced him too that the child was not his and kept repeating that they would not tolerate an illegitimate child in their home, referring to the material difficulties that their family found itself in. Mykhailo’s mother said she was prepared to look after Pavlyk but that she was not going to recognise the other child.

“He refused to recognise the child” Natalia told us in a worried voice. “He said he thought it was not his. He didn’t even want to see the child. He packed my stuff and kicked me out of the house. To put an end to that torture for myself and for the child” she said, “I even thought of killing myself.”

But something kept her from committing suicide. Natalia was looking for shelter wherever she could, in every home. In one of those, she gave birth to little Borka.

“Remembering my own childhood, I did not want my son to be an orphan” Natalia admits.

She went to the District Centre of Social Services for Family, Children and Youth hoping to find some way out of her plight. There she learned about the existence of Mother and Child Centres and that a new one was about to open in the nearby city of Fastiv. Natalia rushed there with little Borka immediately. That was how she became the first client of the Centre.
“In the beginning Natalia was rather morose, and would only answer questions with just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Often she cried” says Tetyana Kasyanenko, the social pedagogue of the Fastiv-based Mother and Child Centre who worked directly with Natalia. “While other residents were visited by friends or relatives, nobody ever came to see her, not a single time.”
Gradually her life started to change. Natalia found peace and quiet for herself and her child at the Centre. She met other girls, found new friends and came to understand that she was not alone. She started to take better care of herself and her child than she had done in the first desperate times immediately after her arrival at the centre. She began to dress more smartly and even visited a hairdresser.

Specialists at the Centre conducted worked with Natalia every day on her rehabilitation. Every day she talked with a social worker and a psychologist who tried to understand the fundamental causes of the problem, tried to find the right approach to Natalia and her relatives and to resolve the situation. Natalia also had her share of responsibilities. Every day she, like the other residents at the Centre, had to cook for herself and her child, keep her room tidy and sometimes clean the courtyard. She took her child to the polyclinic for vaccination and medical examination. She began to live the life of a young mother.

“I liked it very much in Fastiv,” Natalia recalls with pleasure. “Everyone treated me well. They helped me work out what I needed to do. Also, they taught me how to sew and to work use a computer.”

She lived that way for six months.

During this time the Centre specialists also worked with Mykhailo. They told him how his son was growing, how Natalia was feeling and how much she and their son wanted to be with him. They also helped the mother to buy a place to live – a small house in Volodarsky District.

One day, after she had been six months at the Centre, Natalia summoned up the courage to telephone Mykhailo. He came to Fastiv to see her. It was the first time that he had seen Natalia after eight months of separation. And that was when he saw his little son, Borka, for the first time.

Natalia remembers that that was the moment when something changed in Mykhailo’s life. He felt something strange, but close and dear. Mykhailo saw his little son who looked so very much like himself.

Both parents together made the decision to start living together again, to bring up their sons together to watch them grow bigger and stronger together.

Now Natalia, Mykhailo, Borka and Pavlyk live together in their own house. Most importantly, the children are with their parents, and they are in a family.

 “Within less than a year nine children from our Centre have been given a chance to live in families, with parents” says Larysa Bruj the Centre Director. “Most of our clients are women who come from families with social problems or are mothers who were brought up in institutions or who have lived through numerous tragedies.”

As Andriy Haidamashko Child Protection Officer for UNICEF Ukraine says,

“The work of the Mother and Child Centres gives us the possibility of preventing early child abandonment, thus decreasing the number of children who become orphans and are placed in state institutions. Sixty-one women were given shelter and help in the five existing Mother and Child Centres in 2006. Those who have left these Centres now live together with their children, most of them with their husbands. The first Mother and Child Centre was opened in Kherson with UNICEF support in 2003, and the other four Centres were opened in four other regions during the last year. UNICEF provides constant support for the development of methodologies and in conducting training courses for specialists on the prevention of early child abandonment.”

The Kyiv ‘Maty I Dytyna Razom’ (Mother and Child Together) Centre for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation, located in Fastiv, is a participant in the project aimed at the development of the methodological basis for facilitating the prevention of child abandonment at an early age. The project is implemented by the NGO Hope and Homes for Children with the support of UNICEF.




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