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POKROVSK, Ukraine - Everybody was busy on Oct. 15 at Pokrovsk orphanage, getting ready for the grand re-opening of its main building, renovated by the UN Development Programme thanks to funding from the government of Japan.
The older children helped teachers carry furniture to the newly repaired rooms, while the younger ones helped with washing and painting.
The orphanage in Pokrovsk, called the Children’s Town Residential Care Centre, was built in 1944 and required repairs and improvements to its energy efficiency. In April 2017, the UNDP, with financial support from the government of Japan, started renovation work.
The building’s facade was insulated, and its windows and doors were replaced. The ground floor was completely overhauled, with heating and ventilation systems being installed. A fire safety system was then installed and the premises were equipped to suit the needs of people with disabilities. The centre can now house up to 40 children.
Nastia Chernysh, 15, was cleaning with a bucket of water and a rag. She earlier arrived at Children’s Town from her hometown of Krasnohorivka to help with the cleaning.
Nastia, whose mother has died and whose father has another family, came to live at the orphanage in early September while she studies to be a primary school teacher at a local college.
“It was my decision to live here, and I like this place better than a dormitory,” she said.
Nastia regularly travels to Krasnohorivka, a town located near the contact line, to see her grandmother and continue her piano studies at a musical school.
The orphanage is home to a total of 20 children (five girls and 15 boys) aged from three to 18.
Many of its former residents returned to help at Children’s Town, or even live there.
“I grew up here. I saw how this all was constructed,” said Roma Kostiuchenko, 22. “And now I want to help my father out with the current repairs.”
Roma’s father is Leonid Lytovchenko, Children’s Town's director. Lytovchenko adopted Roma when Roma was a 3-year-old, together with his brother and two sisters, after the social services deprived their mother of parental rights.
Lytovchenko now has more than 30 foster children out of those who live or used to live in the orphanage.
The children grow potatoes and tomatoes, tend fruit trees and breed chickens in the orphanage. This allows them to live on their own products and also help several families who escaped from the contact line cities of Donetsk and Avdiyivka, and who now live in the building next to the orphanage.
Lytovchenko founded the orphanage in the early 1990s. It happened after he visited his own son in hospital and met a 3-year-old boy whose mother had abandoned him there right after his birth.
“I offered him some sweets, but the boy was looking at me without moving. Then I was told that everybody would give him sweets. The boy was looking how I was hugging my son, and wanted someone to hug him also,” Lytovchenko remembers.
“So I hugged him, and he clasped my neck and called me “mama.” That’s what he called every person who gave him a hug.”
Children’s Town hosts and provides social services to the most vulnerable groups of the conflict-affected population – orphans and children deprived of parental care. Similar residential facilities in Pokrovsk and surrounding areas are overcrowded.
"In any armed conflict it is children who often bear the brunt of suffering and hardship," UN Resident Coordinator Neal Walker said at the opening ceremony. "Helping the most vulnerable groups, in particular children, is among the top priorities of the United Nations in Ukraine. The UN is working closely with the government and the local authorities to help restore social and economic infrastructure in the conflict-hit regions of Ukraine."'
The UNDP Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme, with support from the government of Japan, has reconstructed 34 socio-economic infrastructure facilities in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts since 2015, including bridges, pump stations, healthcare facilities, rehabilitation centres, and schools. Another seven infrastructure facilities are under reconstruction.