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Changes that save lives: a story of success

© UNICEF/UKRAINE/2012/M.Koryshov
Pictures of children whose life got better due to Sasha’s and other social workers in The Way Home

Sasha’s life didn’t look promising from the beginning. He started living on the streets as an 8 year old and one year later Sasha started taking drugs.

Sasha Gaev, now 25 years old, comes from Odessa. As a child, he lived with his mother who was an alcoholic and failed to care for him. His father died when he was only two. Sasha ran away from home to escape the vicious circle of having to starve and his mother being drunk. Life on the street seemed more rewarding in the beginning. He started living together with other homeless children in parks, in basements below blocks of houses and any other place where they could hide. By the time he turned 9 he had started taking different kind of drugs. He only quit when he was 20 years old, leaving his body with the harm done by 11 years of drug abuse.

According to UNICEF there are around 4,000 homeless children in the streets of Odessa and Sasha was one of them.

When Sasha turned 18 his life finally took a turn to the better. The Social Patrol of the Odessa NGO “Way Home” found him together with a group of other children huddled somewhere in a basement in desolate condition. They were 12 children in total. Most of them later died. Sasha is among the few that managed to survive.

The Social Patrol gave him clothes and food and invites him to come to their open-door centre. Sasha says he initially came to the centre from time to time to get medical aid or to change his clothes. But he didn’t want to stay at the centre for his own reasons. It too years of gaining Sasha’s trust confidence so that he finally agreed to come and stay at the “Way Home”.

Sasha’s life changed completely at the centre. He had a lot of things to catch up since he had no education. He also needed urgent medical assistance due to the neurological damages the 11 years of drugs had had left to his body. With help from the workers at the centre, he was granted a “disability status”, which qualifies him for some minimal governmental social support.  But years of drug use and the widespread practice of sharing needles amongst street kids left another ugly trace: Sasha is HIV positive.

According to statistics about 27 percent of the street children have HIV compared to the total 1.5 percent of the whole population in Ukraine which is infected.

At the “Way Home”, Sasha met Sveta, another former street child with a similar history in life. Sveta, too, suffers from serious damages to her neurological system. And Sveta, too, is HIV positive. A few years later, the two become parents to a little girl, Dasha. Today, Dasha is 2 years old. But unlike her parents, little Dasha is HIVfree. Sasha’s family lives together with his mother-in-law small apartment.

During his stay at the “Way Home” Sasha learnt a lot about computers and today he works as an IT operator and blogger. His dream is to continue to study and working as a computer administrator. He often tells his story to children who are still drug addicted. For many he personifies the horror of drugs and it increases their motivation to quit.

Sasha says he wants to live a normal life like other people do. His dream is to move to the suburb with his family and live in their own house. But of course first of all, this young man wants to be healthy again.

Currently, UNICEF and EU joined their efforts in supporting Ukraine on the path towards an AIDS-free generation. The new project on building the capacity for non-state actors in relation to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care is being implemented in Ukraine in 2012-2014.  In Ukraine, most young people are not aware of their HIV status. Yet knowing one’s status is essential not only for getting access to life-saving treatment, but also for strengthening prevention of HIV infection and successful rehabilitation programmes.  The “Way Home” NGO in Odessa is one of the key partners to the project.

It touches to see how the “Way Home” turned a wicked childhood into a happy ending and it gives hope that even more less-fortunate children can someday find their own way home.



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