Happy Child logo

«All employees of the children's service fled on the first day of the war, grabbing their children and forgetting about orphans": the story of the evacuation of a family orphanage from Donbass

July 1, 2022, 15:05 492 Author: Larissa Krupina fakty.ua When the full-scale invasion began, the heads of family-type orphanages would not have been able to save their children without the help of volunteers and international organizations.

Velyka Novosilka is the Ukrainian-controlled district center of the Volnovakha district in the west of Donetsk region, on the right bank of the Mokra Yaly river. In this village, founded by Greek immigrants in 1779, the war found the head of the family orphanage, the mother of eight children Elena Mehedko.

Elena is a bright and determined woman in her prime. And the head of the local registry office. It seems that there are no tasks that it cannot solve.

But I have never felt such helplessness as on February 24, my mother admits. - Our Velykonovosilkivska administration was blown away by the wind. All employees of the local children's service fled on the first day, grabbing their children and forgetting about the evacuation of orphans. Despite the fact that there are 4 family-type orphanages (DBST) in our district. I had nowhere to run. I put the kids in the basement. And she herself went to the registry office: to write out acts of civil status. War is war, but work is on schedule!

«We went to the store for groceries ... with a construction wheelbarrow»

On February 27, the Velikonovoselkovskaya administration appeared. On their website, her employees asked not to believe the messages on social networks: “We are in place, keeping the situation under control.” But there was still nothing to take out the Mekhedko family orphanage ...

- I have rights, - says Elena. - I can drive anything that moves. Even the armored personnel carrier. When Zhiguli's father collapsed, she asked us many times to buy us at least some transport for the orphanage. After all, it is far from the village to the district hospital and to the cities where children can be taken to the premiere or to the park. And even to the store, as without a car? We went for products with a construction wheelbarrow!

Elena foresaw disaster and did not let one of her sons go to another city after the school holidays. "Thank God all the children were with me on February 24," says the mother

I also applied to the Volnovakha district state administration, which created us as a family orphanage, and to the Velikonovoselkovsky village council, on whose territory we are located. In vain. So it turned out to be at a difficult moment without wheels. There was no free transport in the village. Some left, others handed over their cars to the defense, the third did not have a drop of gasoline ... And you can’t get by with one car. Eight children.

- Yes, by the way. Wasn't it scary when they took so much?

— If all at once, it would probably be! And so they came in batches… (Laughs). First, in 2010, at a meeting of the commission for the protection of children's rights in the village council, of which I was a member for many years, I learned about the plight of a boy. Took the boy. A year later, it turned out that his brother and sister Ksenia are also not needed. And they became my children. Ksenia kept asking her sister. And in 2017, I met three sisters and a brother on a commission. No one will take four at once. And I could…

But they didn’t give them to me ... Maybe they were afraid of my character that I wouldn’t close my mouth. Formally, they explained that I did not have enough living space. “And if you make repairs in a large summer kitchen, will it work?” asked. "Will do." And when I invested money, converted the building into game rooms, they told me: “No. Not suitable. By law, only one household can be on one lot. The rest is sheds. And… four orphans remained in the orphanage.

We continued to visit them. The officials didn't care how they felt. For them, it only mattered that the house that the children dreamed of lacked the square meters provided for by law, although we had our own bed for each child, a place to study.

But in 2018, when no one wanted to take these children and move to a communal, not very suitable for use house, already bought by the state for living and raising orphans, I was lucky! The children were given away after deciding to create a family orphanage. With the money that our family has been collecting for many years - and this is more than 30 thousand dollars, they made repairs in the house provided by the state, bought furniture, household appliances, utensils. And in April 2019, four orphans who had long called me a mother were finally taken away. Now I have five-year-old Sasha, seven-year-old Valeria, Snizhana, who is 12 years old, Oksana and Veronica, who are 13 years old, Slava is 14 years old, Yura is 16 and Nikita is 24 years old. Nikita is my biological son. He is disabled from childhood.

«War was not expected. Therefore, there was not a piece of meat in the bins»

— In mid-February in Donetsk - and there we have a lot of acquaintances, plus we catch the signals of their TV towers, began to grab the local youth right from the streets - recalls Elena. - For cannon fodder. And the television of "DNRlandia", as we call it here, began to shoot strange stories. Someone shouted: "Ukraine is bombing!", Buses and cars approached the houses. Residents under the sight of TV cameras ran out in slippers and dressing gowns, loaded them into vehicles, drove them a few kilometers from the city and let them back. Then we learned that they were filming fakes to use during the war that was about to begin. And we… Sitting on Ukrainian territory convinced ourselves: “War? Well, it can't be!”

One of my eldest sons, Yura, had to go to the military lyceum after the holidays. And suddenly there was such a strong premonition of trouble that I said, "You're not going !" February 24, all my children were with me. We went to my 85-year-old aunt on the edge of the village. And this place turned out to be the closest to the front line. They sat, did not move. The younger ones ask: What are these sounds? And I said to them: “Yes, this is such a game!” They run around the basement. Laughe...

Five-year-old Sasha and 7-year-old Valeria are favorites of the family

On March 6, I talked to my mother. She lives in Krasnaya Polyana, Velykonovosilkivskyi district. At that time they were occupied and reached Staromlynivka. They captured three villages. We started blowing up bridges. I decided that ours were leaving. I'm hysterical. I regret that I did not listen to the commandments of my grandmother, who survived the war and famine: “Always have something for a rainy day. Think of peace, prepare for war! ”

She always canned stew, - Olena continues, - kept up to a hundred chickens and geese, made sausage and filled it with lard, rolled lard, made a lot of frying. Her little basement from the 1990s, filled with cans of meat and lard, could feed half the village today. I didn't expect war. Therefore, I did not have a piece of meat in the bins. But 300 cans of compotes and jams. Although my grandmother always said: “We don’t conserve water!” She died in 2005...

«We are not there. We all left»

I started to raise everyone to their feet, - continues Elena Alexandrovna. - I called the Donetsk regional service for children (in 2014 she was transferred to Kramatorsk) and asked her boss Natalya Nikolaevna Timofeeva what to do. She offered to come to Kramatorsk, rent a hostel, wait for the evacuation train. But there were only 200 seats on the train. It was scary to drive to Kramatorsk for four hours (it's 152 kilometers). Yes, and no transport. In addition, there were no people to accompany. What if you can't rent a hostel? I ask: “Here we come. And what will happen next? They answered me: “I don’t know. Try to somehow get on the train. We are not there. We all left."

The first deputy head of the Volnovakha district state administration, Yuri Alekseevich Bakaev, sent me the phone number of a carrier who could bring me to Kramatorsk, to the evacuation trains. The driver told me to go to the village council. But from there it's five kilometers to us. And out of eight children, I have two small ones, plus a large suitcase with documents and things for kids, medicines, and a chia-huashka dog. Moreover, our people told that I would have to go along the mined bridge. Either you will explode or they will cover from above ...

She asked the driver to drive up to the house, and in response: “We only know the way to your village council, what, no one can give you a lift? We do not have the opportunity to look for your house, we still have to Bakhmut after Kramatorsk! I call Bakaev and ask questions: where are we going, who will meet , who will help, who will tell him. In the end, he said: "Yes, I'm tired of you! I don't have to take care of your evacuation!"»

"During the war, children moved from house to house, but they did not throw away their favorite toys. They calmed them down," Olena says

— Is it true that communication with Mehedek took place in such a way?.

I won't comment on that. We provided her with transport from the territory of the Velikonovosilkiv community to the territory of the evacuation trains, brought a bus to her doorstep, but she refused.

—The mother says that if at one time she had been allocated even a poor transport to the family orphanage, the evacuation would have been much easier. Why was it not highlighted?

— This is her opinion. Communicate with her.

— I kept looking for options, Elena says. — The former head of the Velikonovoselkovsky District Council Sergey Dmitrievich Kirillov, who is engaged in charity work, offered his personal funds so that we could find a car to Lvov. I found such a private person. It cost 1 524$. But I would have to go nowhere. Out of desperation, I even asked on Facebook for help in the evacuation. I turned to friend Anastasia: “Help! After all, this is the end of us! I have options for departure but they are not very reliable. I don't want to risk my kids! She says: “So there is a hotline from the Ukrainian organization for the rights of the child! They are collaborating with UNICEF".

I called the hotline. That's how I met Larysa Petushkova. She is a specialist of the International Charitable Organization "Partnership for Every Child", a member of the "Ukrainian Network for the Rights of the Child".

Larysa said: “You are leaving for the Dnieper on March 12. Vehicles will approach your home».

«Larisa's voice kept me on the phone. Calm. Confident»

- On March 12, we sat on suitcases. And then the bridges began to blow up. At six in the morning the first. At six fifty-second, by which the bus came for the children. The driver rushed to the Dnieper. We drove for more than seven hours, never stopping. In the Dnieper, at the station, they saw a huge queue that snaked around. Larisa Petushkova coordinated by phone what to do, whom to look for, where to go. We were taken to the platform. No one knew what train to expect and when it would arrive.

The train arrived, the police took us to the car. Many sat in the aisles, on suitcases. When we were passing through the Zaporozhye region, they started bombing it… It was scary. The only thing that kept me was Larisa's voice on the phone. He was calm, confident.

Larisa connected me with the regional Ternopil service for children, Maya, an employee. Maya constantly called from five in the morning: “Where are you?” She was told at the information desk that there was no such train. The movement of the evacuation trains was kept so secret that even the railroad workers did not fully possess all the information.

On the platform, our family orphanage was met by representatives of local administrations, services for children, representatives of UNICEF, and the police. Volunteers showed up later. We were brought to a huge house in the Ternopil region. 320 square meters. Six bedrooms. It used to belong to another DDST, but that family moved to Switzerland.

«Mother, let's stay here!", say the children

— Here we found peace, says Elena. - Almost. After all, my 85-year-old mother is still under occupation in Krasnaya Polyana. She is impossible to evacuate it: it will not tolerate filtration camps. My 85-year-old aunt, who flatly refused to leave Velika Novoselka, has died. The aunt stayed to look after the cats and dogs. And I did not insist... This is my pain... On April 17, the lights and communication were turned off. And my aunt was very dependent on my calls. If there was an opportunity to give her at least a minute to hear me! People somehow managed to charge their phones. But no one wanted to run across five streets to my aunt's house under fire to make a phone call. Moreover, the neighbors said: as soon as the phone is turned on, the raiders track it and bomb this point.

My ex-husband buried my deceased aunt right in the yard, thanks to him. When he was digging, two enemy drones hovered over him. Finished work quickly. He barely managed to run into the house. A minute later, that side was covered by "Hrady".

Children really like the new place, in the Ternopil region. “Mom, let’s stay here!” they repeat

— Do you have somewhere to return?

— The Russians turned Velikaya Novoselka into a cemetery,” the woman continues. “There were battles there in April-May. The authorities organized the evacuation. But some were afraid to leave the farm. Then, finally, they made up their minds. Cats, dogs, pigs, cows were driven out into the street. They say that dogs, even pigs, did not want to leave, they ran after their owners ...

Today, hungry cows with calves roam the streets, lowing. Many ate alfalfa, which they absolutely cannot eat, and died. On the outskirts of the village, dead fascists, mostly Buryats, are lying around. The bodies of civilians are decomposing under the rubble. There is no one to get them and bury them... And for the last four weeks there has been a 32-degree heat... This is what the villagers say. We are not occupied, but we are being brutally bombed. And only thanks to the guys from ZSU the village is holding on.

But even if I had somewhere to return, I don’t really want to. Here, in the Ternopil region, I felt a completely different attitude towards family orphanages than at home. Heaven and earth. The authorities are doing everything possible to ensure that families survive this war with the least losses. We continue to receive state payments for children. Regional Ternopil State Administration, territorial community, funds and volunteers provide food. We were given tablets. Employees of the House of Creativity give master classes to our children twice a week. We are constantly visited by the regional and local service for children, representatives of UNICEF. Children say: "Mom, let's stay here!"

Here, 250-300 thousand hryvnias a year are laid for the maintenance of one family-type orphanage . And at home for three years not a single penny was included in the budget for the maintenance of our house. It would seem, one country, one laws. But the attitude is different. Because it all depends on the people..

«One mother found herself in a terrible situation in Italy»

— Do you want to say that in Velikaya Novoselka you were left to your own devices?

— Yes. And the authorities are themselves. It's like we don't exist. Even on the official holiday, Children'sDay, no one bothered to somehow congratulate the children, invite them to a cafe for juice and a piece of cake. For all the time we were given only a box with pencils there. Never free tickets to the theater or the circus. I spent as much on cultural entertainment, trips, tutors, and expanding the horizons of children as I did on food. True, it was possible to knock out the boiler in December 2021. But he remained in the box in our house ...

But such a setting could be survived if it were not for the evacuation. It seems to me that neither the service for children's affairs of the Velikonovoselkovsky village council of the Volnovakhsky district, nor the district service for children's affairs of the Volnovakhsky district administration, nor the regional service had either Plan A or Plan B, or pre-prepared resources to pull families out during the war.

— Maybe because we were all promised "May barbecue"?

— Many families remained in the occupation, many were taken to Donetsk and Russia,” says Elena. - We have 4 DDST in the area. One such family is now in France: with their own and adopted child. The remaining 6 of their adopted children at the time of the outbreak of the war were in a sanatorium in Mariupol, the rashists “squeezed them out”, they remained in Donetsk. The second DDST, which the authorities took to Kramatorsk (then volunteers did everything) is in western Ukraine. The third DDST, whose mother ran wherever her eyes look, found herself in Italy with her children in a terrible situation, from which she managed to escape only thanks to international organizations and volunteers. And as soon as we left in a human way: not into the unknown, but by clear coordination with the help of the “Ukrainian Measure for the Rights of the Child”. In wartime, they were the most organized and mobile.

"FACTS" phoned the head of the service at the right of the children of Donetsk ODA Natalia Timofeievy on viber.

— As of February 24, there were 80 family-type orphanages (DDST) and 166 foster families in the region,” said Natalya Timofeeva. - We worked as much as possible with their legal representatives to evacuate to safe places. Not only the region was involved, but local specialists too. This is team work. To date, 62 DDST and 107 foster families have been evacuated. Work in this direction continues. The family of Elena Mekhedko, like the rest, was given the opportunity to evacuate free of charge to the west of Ukraine and abroad.

When asked whether the regional service was in place on February 24, whether there were plans to evacuate orphans at the beginning of a full-scale invasion, how many families did not wait for help and evacuated on their own, what is being done to release families who could not leave and remained in the occupied zones, and those , who was forcibly taken to the "DNR" and Russia, Natalya Nikolaevna promised to answer after an official request from the editors within the time limits allotted by law

Meanwhile, Elena Mekhedko, although she says that she is unlikely to return home because of the cool attitude towards their orphanage, she herself continues to help the village.

— On June 11, thanks to caring people, I moved the registry office archive from Velyka Novoselka to the Dnieper,” says Elena Alexandrovna. - And these are two complete jeeps and a Gazelle of documents, in which the whole life of the district since 1936. Thank you, Dubykovskaya Irina Alexandrovna helped pay for the delivery. Guys-partisans helped: they took them to a neighboring village, where girls from the former village council sorted and loaded the archive.

— What would you never do if you knew there was going to be a war?

- “I wouldn’t buy houses. I wouldn't put all my money into them. I would buy a "gazelle" so that at any moment you can throw the children there and rush off. And I would keep the money "under the mattress."

I worked in the civil service for almost thirty years, worked hard to have what I had in my 48 years. Built three houses, a gazebo four by eleven, so that children with their families and grandchildren could live and rest, so that they would not be infringed in anything. Everything went to waste. The village is destroyed. The houses have been looted. And I don't have thirty more years to earn it all.

— I hear a man's voice on the phone…

— Oh yeah! This is my husband talking to the kids. This person has been around for a long time. But only here, in Ternopil, we decided to get married. We realized that every minute should be appreciated. Now my children have not only a mother, but also a father, - Elena smiles.

Happy Child foundation - effective help to the most needy children of the Zaporozhye region, Ukraine, since 2004

They need help:
Oleksiy Marchuk
Oleksiy Marchuk

cerebral palsy, spastic tetraparesis

Help now

You donated in 2023

$ 206 308

Our expenses in 2023
To 79 sick children $37 920
Medical equipment: $963
Humanitarian help: $98 546
To disabled children: $61 218
To children's village: $3 791
To orphans and poor children: $13 208
"Helpus" - help to adults: $340
Service expenses: $15 385
Total sum of expenses: $231 676

$6 526 177

donated since 2007