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Football helps street children to become fans of sport and healthy lifestyles

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2013 / R.Rudakov
Kirill together with other kids open Ukraine-France football match, November 2013

When you see this 11-year old smiling and energetic boy who is obsessed with football and likes outdoor activities, you can hardly imagine that he has already had to deal with the apathy of the world.

Nowadays, Kyrylo* lives in one of Kyiv’s centres for social and psychological rehabilitation of children and until recently, the majority of his life was spent living on the streets. His family found itself in disadvantaged life circumstances, after his father died his mother and step-father could not manage to raise eight children. At first Kyrylo started to runaway from home for some hours and eventually began to disappear for several days. He was alone; he roamed the streets and sometimes found shelter at different places.

One day he was found limping on the street with pain in his leg following a bike accident. Doctors from a nearby ambulance noticed the lonely, sick boy and took him to a hospital, where they provided health care notified social workers.

“When Kyrylo first entered our centre, he behaved sullenly, and responded to all our attempts to talk to him in an aggressive manner,” recalls Ivan Pidiura, a specialist at the Centre for social and psychological rehabilitation of children №1 in Kyiv

Still, social workers managed to deal with Kyrylo – he started to engage in sports and was encouraged to play in the Centre’s football team. Soon enough, things were looking up, as the boy started to change. Specialists of the Centre report that he began to express positive attitudes, and that he had become the most energetic and active child in the Centre, getting involved in all events. His eyes are shining bright when it comes to sports.

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2013 / R.Rudakov
Over 67,000 football fans attended the play-off World Cup 2014 FIFA match between Ukraine and France

As Kyrylo had missed a lot of school classes, his knowledge level is quite low compared to his peers. But he likes studying in the Centre school and easily manages to quickly overtake arrears. Teachers say that this is not only due to good memory, but rather to the boy’s keen interest in his studies.

One of the most remarkable impressions of Kyrylo was regarding his participation in the preparation of events before the football match between the national teams of Ukraine and Israel. He entered the pitch with one of the most famous football players and had a talk with the athletes.When he learned that children would also be invited to enter the pitch together with the football players of the national teams of Ukraine and France last week, Kyrylo could hardly wait. It would be a day of great football and communication with his icons again! Moreover, Kyrylo as entered the stadium with the professional footballers, over 67 thousand real fans and millions of TV audience would be looking at him.

Due to the ongoing joint initiatives of UNICEF and the Football Federation of Ukraine, children are given such incredible opportunities. This initiative is aimed at drawing public attention to children’s rights, especially the rights of those most vulnerable, and at promoting sports such as football for rehabilitation of such children.

“Such events are very beneficial for children like Kyrylo. They start to change their attitudes to studying, and also to their health – in fact, a sportsman should observe discipline, keep his body healthy and strong. They love football, and football players are heroes and icons for them. Kyrylo is a good example of how sport can change children from disadvantaged families,” Ivan Pidiura says.

“Irrespective of the score, the match appeared to become a great event in the life of children – they looked absolutely happy. Disadvantaged children have few happy moments. This is why UNICEF, together with the Football Federation of Ukraine and other partners, run initiatives aimed at providing assistance to vulnerable children to see more smiles on their faces”, stated Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.

* The name was changed due to ethical considerations



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