by Christopher McNulty
On August 4 through August 21 I was blessed with the opportunity to go on the 2011 Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of the USA Mission Trip to Ukraine. We traveled to two orphanages outside of Kiev: one in Puhachiv which houses around 90 girls, most with mental disabilities, and the other in Znamyanka which houses over 100 orphans, most with either physical or mental disabilities.
The mission trip is held twice a year, once in the summer and once over the winter holidays, and the missionaries who go help by engaging in projects to improve the facilities, aiding the staff with physical and massage therapy for the children, and, most importantly, spending time playing with and caring for the children.
This year we were able to accomplish several things in the two orphanages we visited. Besides the important time we were able to spend playing with and working with the children, we were able to be a part of the opening of a Montessori Center in Puhachiv, to take girls from Puhachiv outside of the orphanage to a local park, to paint a mural outside of the children’s rooms in Znamyanka, and to take several physically disabled kids from the orphanage in Znamyanka into the town.
My experience in Ukraine was unforgettable: from the moment we arrived at an orphanage to the moment we left, each and every child showed unconditional love for everyone who visited. It was unbelievable that the simple act of holding hands, sitting next to, or even just smiling at a child brought so much excitement and happiness to them.
The children of these orphanages don’t usually get the opportunity to get outside of the complexes and they don’t get to experience life outside of the orphanage. The work done on these mission trips is invaluable to these children, and the help of Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund (CCRDF) and UOC of USA has been integral to the improvement of these orphanages from the condition they were in.
The conditions of most of the orphanages in Ukraine were, and some continue to be, poor. Many of the orphanages built under Soviet reign were not built to last and are falling apart, and many of the orphanages obtain minimal amounts of funding from the government. Some orphanages are flooded with large numbers of mentally or physically handicapped orphans that were left there either because their parents couldn’t afford to take care of them or because it was recommended by a physician. Because many of the orphanages are understaffed, the living conditions in these places were horrendous: many of the children were given minimal amounts of care, there was little to no sanitary measures taken, and many children died.
However, with the aid of the CCRDF and the UOC of USA, living conditions have improved greatly. In Znamyanka alone, the death rate has declined from 20 children in 2000, to none this year. Money goes toward improving facilities and funding necessities like diapers and baby wipes. It is also is used for emergency situations: for instance, funds paid to heat an orphanage during a particularly harsh win-ter, which most likely saved many children’s lives.
With the help of those who support this cause, the living conditions in these orphanages will continue to improve, and the lives of the children who live there will greatly improve as well. Thanks to everyone at Holy Trinity who helped make my trip to Ukraine possible!