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«Integrate, even if you plan to return ": how the world helps foster families from Ukraine to survive the war

June 16, 2022, 22:45 101 Author: Angelina Aredova adiosvoboda.org What help windows exist for foster families, whether to integrate into a foreign community if you are planning to return home, and why they advise not to neglect the evacuation.

According to official figures, more than 400 Ukrainian children were injured in an attack by Russian troops on Ukraine, and 229 were killed. The war forced millions of Ukrainians to become displaced, and thousands of families found themselves in difficult circumstances. Since 2003, the Charitable Foundation SOS Children's Towns Ukraine has been helping orphans and foster families in Ukraine. Before the war there were 5 social centers: in Kyiv, Brovary, Stanytsia Luhanska, Severodonetsk and Starobilsk. After February 24, the situation changed: more aid was needed, and two centers came under occupation altogether.

The director general of the organization in Ukraine Serhiy Lukashov says that a week before the escalation of the war it was decided to evacuate foster families.

- In December, our team asked the government to organize or inform us about the evacuation of family forms of education: family-type orphanages and foster families. Then we did not receive answers. As we remember, on February 17, a shell of militants hit a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska. It was a moment when we realized that something very bad was going on.

By joint decision, it was agreed to take our foster families to safe places - the Carpathians and Truskavets. But we didn't really expect the war to break out in the Kyiv region. Fortunately, people were also evacuated. One week before the start of hostilities, 70% of our foster families were evacuated and later resettled in the SOS Children's Towns Poland.

The foundation helped evacuate foster families and family-type orphanages not only its wards, but also for all those in need, says Serhiy. According to him, such families were helped to settle in "Children's Towns" throughout Central Europe.

Some found themselves in occupied territory

From the very beginning, the Luhansk region was at the epicenter of hostilities, and not everyone managed to leave. There are still about 10% of employees of the organization and several foster families.

- In general, more than 30% of our employees were in Luhansk region, - says Serhiy. - Someone thought to wait a bit at home and turned out to be in the occupation. That's why about 10% of our team still stays there. We try to keep in touch with them. They continue to provide psychological support to their foster families, who also refused to leave the city. In total, we evacuated more than 1,000 people from all over Ukraine.

2 million Ukrainian children are already abroad

With the start of the full-scale offensive, the number of emigrant children has already crossed the 2 million mark: the figure is large enough for the country, so after the war it is important to do everything possible for their speedy return, says Sergei Lukashov.

Sergey Lukashov

- Now children are in safe and comfortable conditions: they live in SOS Children's Towns of Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia. Children are our future, so it is a huge loss. We try to create appropriate conditions for families in Ukraine to be comfortable and safe here, we support families of internally displaced persons with children by providing psychological, social, educational services and financial support, - he said.

All children are in different emotional states

Serhiy Lukashov says that due to the timely evacuation, the number of children under severe stress is less than it could be.

- We see that those children whom we managed to take out in time, and those who sat for a week or two or even a month under fire in the basement, in a completely different emotional state. Our psychologists are now working with the latter, helping them in rehabilitation. We are very happy that there are children who did not have time to get injured. They watched the horrors of war only on TV.

Currently, in 10 regions of Ukraine there is a program of financial support of the fund for foster families, family-type homes and guardians, where they raise 3 children. The amount of financial assistance under the program per month is UAH 2,200 per family member, and payments are made within three months.

- First of all, we provide assistance to families in Kherson, Zaporizhia, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Chernihiv regions. Later - in Kyiv, Donetsk, Sumy, Mykolaiv and Zhytomyr - explains Sergei Lukashov. - Therefore, every foster family that meets these criteria will be able to take of the program by filling out application.

The number of charitable contributions after February 24 has increased enormously. It is very nice that the whole world is helping us. For comparison, I will explain: our organization is 80% funded by small individual donations. That is, these are small separate contributions - people transfer 10-20 euros, but regularly. The number of donations has now increased, I think 15 times. And we will use this inflow of money for the construction program: in several regions we will create several centers that previously operated in Kyiv and Luhansk regions, - says Sergei. - Many contributions are made by residents of Poland, Austria, Scandinavia, Britain, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. The Canadian government has even provided an emergency grant for families. We are very grateful to Lithuania, relative quantity to the population, really donates a lot. But the main benefactors are Poles . They are very helpful with the settlement, and with various services, and with monetary contributions. I can say that just everyone transfers money. But some a little, some a lot. There is solidarity, and the scale is inspiring.

Boarding schools should no longer exist.

Serhiy Lukashov is convinced that every child should have a family, and boarding school is an outdated and inefficient form of raising children.

- How much more will be needed for emergency assistance to refugees, so much we will do. But in the long run, we want to continue to develop the system of social services: to support family forms of education, to work with people and governments, so that after the war the boarding school system is not revived. We see that children there suffer greatly, especially in wartime. There are a lot of horrible stories. Many children remained under occupation precisely because the very form of such upbringing did not allow them to be taken out in time. That should be a lesson for all of us.

He emphasizes that boarding schools are gradually being abandoned by all developed countries of the world and Ukraine is also gradually following this path.

- Children must return to normal family conditions from abroad. This can be done. We have already proven this with several examples in the communities in which we work. Europe now supports us in this, but it still depends on the political will of the government. I think that we will be able to bring back the vast majority of people and create new conditions for raising children, as is the case in Europe.

It is still possible to find housing for foster families

Inna Scherbak, an adviser to the Family Strengthening Fund, says that SOS Children's Towns are represented in 137 countries around the world, so they can help find housing for foster families evacuated abroad.

- The first three weeks of the war, together with partner organizations, we carried out a group evacuation of foster families by train. Now we help individually those who are planning to leave or have already gone abroad, but do not have housing. We were recently approached by a family from Sloviansk, who has been in a refugee camp in Germany for a month. They left on their own, so when they found out about us, they asked for help with housing. In Germany, local authorities are willing to pay 670 euros for rent, but no one will look for him. Accordingly, many large families and foster families are housed in refugee centers . Many countries are already overcrowded, but there is still an opportunity to accommodate people with a similar situation, - says Inna.

Inna Shcherbak

«Do not neglect the evacuation»

If you have the opportunity to go to a safe place right now, do not neglect this, advises Inna: because during active hostilities it will be much harder to do.

- For example, the local authorities of Kryvyi Rih urged foster families and family-type orphanages to leave the city. We were recently approached by one such family, and we were able to arrange it at the SOS Children's Towns of Austria. Everyone understands that Kryvyi Rih is also under attack, and it can be dangerous for such large families to stay in the city. In this family, for example, 11 children, they will not be able to get together and leave very quickly. This is the case when you should not wait until the last, it is better to plan the move calmly and more carefully.

90% of families want to return now

- Regarding the return of foster families to Ukraine, I will say that more than 90 percent are ready to return and are very much looking forward to it, - says Inna. - There are those who are literally asking to return home, but we are ready to help organize the return from the moment when the local authorities confirm that it is possible to return to the city . Child safety comes first.

Currently, Inna notes, the lives of many Ukrainians who have been forced to leave their homes seem to have stopped because everyone is waiting to return home.

- Unfortunately, many families are in no hurry to integrate into the new environment. This is, in my opinion, a problem. Some children did not even go to foreign schools because they study remotely at a Ukrainian school. Families are so positive that they are ready to return home soon. But even psychologists say that in this way life seems to be paused, and a person begins to "postpone life". It would be right to try to find friends, explore a new city, but most are just waiting to return. Children should not suffer from this. They must have a childhood.

But many families from Luhansk region have nowhere to return. Inna Shcherbak says that the organization plans to build family-type orphanages in other locations so that every family can return home.

- It is very important to hear the opinion of the parents themselves about the location of the construction, - she said. - I think that through the survey we will understand where it is better to build family-type orphanages. Because we need to understand that not everyone from the East of Ukraine is ready to live in the West, and this must also be taken into account.

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