Real lives

Latest stories


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

© UNICEF/UKRAINE/2012/M.Koryshov
Anton likes playing football very much

Anton will soon turn 13 He was born in Russia, but after his father died, his mother found a new husband. Anton says this man beat him up and treated him badly. Life in the family was very poor as all the money was spent on alcohol. 

One day the family travelled to Odessa to visit some relatives.

While they were there Anton’s parents continued their drinking and were kicked out on to the street. They slept in different places and begged. Eventually they ended up in a wooded area in the Odessa suburbs and this is where a social patrol found them and offered them some food. Anton was invited to attend a summer camp.

Oleh Vannyk, a social worker from a UNICEF-supported NGO called “Way Home” says that the boy was very fortunate. There are many kids who go unnoticed by sympathetic people and there are children who refuse to live in children’s homes or with foster families. As they need to earn money, they become adults very quickly, being deprived of childhood: “Even aged 12 their histories are so difficult that this would be enough to shoot several TV dramas”, he added.

According to the estimates of “Way Home”, there are more than 20,000 homeless people in Odessa alone and this group includes many children. Odessa is one of the cities where UNICEF, along with its partners, implements programmes to help children and adolescents living or working on the streets. One of the programme components is to use football for children’s rehabilitation.

© UNICEF/UKRAINE/2012/M.Koryshov
Anton with social workers of The Way Home Foundation

Now Anton attends a regular school and lives at the Way Home premises. He has participated in a specialised “rehabilitation” programme, similar to many of his peers who cannot read and write even in the age of 14-16. Anton says that he made a lot of friends, while teachers help him to learn and to go on with his life.

According to Oleh Vannyk, the boy’s mother may come to visit him once every several months, without warning: “Probably as with any kid, Anton misses her. But he feels comfortable here; he has many things to do. We do our best to make his life more interesting”. The social worker assumes the boy’s mother has no place to take him to, and has no permanent job.

Anton is a member of a football team called “Domovenok” (little brownie) and his dream is to become a football star. His favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo, who also grew up in a poor family, and his parents had no money to send him to a good team. Anton believes that it was hard work and determination that helped his idol to become a world’s renowned athlete.

Olena Sakovych, UNICEF’s Youth & Adolescent Development Specialist, says “Anton’s story is a story of success. Many adolescents who live or work on the streets like Anton face the increased and overlapping risks and vulnerabilities to HIV infection. In 2012 UNICEF started a new project supported by the EU on building the capacity for non-state actors in relation to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in Ukraine, - the country that has the highest adult HIV prevalence in all of Europe and Central Asia”.

UNICEF studies have confirmed that the infection is closely associated with the early start of risk behaviours, poor access to prevention services and education, low knowledge on HIV/AIDS and stigmatizing attitudes of service providers. A lower knowledge of HIV/AIDS and lower use of prevention services than among adults at risk.

According to the estimates of some experts’, there are around 100,000 children living or working on the streets in Ukraine. Social vulnerability factors hinder access to medical and social services. UNICEF calls for social inclusion and increased effectiveness in helping the most vulnerable children and families in Ukraine.

More information see here:

All photos copyright: UNICEF Ukraine/2012/M.Koryshov



 Email this article

unite for children