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The worst thing is when children are silent

August 23, 2022, 21:25 121 Author: Maryna Kuraptseva zn.ua On February 24, the parents-educators of the family-type orphanage, Pavlo and Olena Shulga, were preparing for a trip to the Khmelnytskyi region — they were to conduct a training for 15 public organizations on the provision of social services in the field of children's rights. But a full-scale Russian invasion ruined the plans.

The worst thing is when children are silent

Pavlo Shulga takes care of the protection of children's rights, he is the president of the Association of Mentoring for Orphans in Ukraine, the head of the public organization "Dawn of Dreams" as well as an adviser to the chairman of the regional council of the Mykolaiv region. Pavlov's wife Olena is the president of the charitable foundation "Touch of the heart", national trainer of the mentoring program for orphans and representative of the Investment and Charitable Fund Kidsave in Ukraine.

The worst thing is when children are silent

Photo courtesy of Olena Shulga

Plans and reality

On the eve of the war, the family had several "worrying" plans - for various options for the development of events.

"Plan A is to go outside the city, where we have a small house," says Pavlo. — If the hostilities continue and progress, plan B provided for an exit to the village 80 km from Mykolaiv in the direction of Kropyvnytskyi. And in case of a completely bad situation, there was plan C — to go to the west of Ukraine, where our friends agreed to accept us."

In addition, there were ready "anxiety suitcases" for myself and all children - one biological and seven adopted.

"At 5:30 an explosion rang out at Mykolayiv airport," Pavlo continues. — We learned that other regional centers are being bombed as well. Therefore, we called our colleagues in Khmelnytskyi and informed them that we would not be able to come. Acted according to plan A.

But when the children were taken out of town, the parents of Children's homes of family type from Kherson called and asked to evacuate them.

The worst thing is when children are silent

On February 24, my wife and I took a minibus from friends and evacuated two Children's homes of family type from the Kherson region, as well as three large families. Today we have a team of about 60 people — mostly our friends who joined us. To date, we have already evacuated more than 21,000 people. Lysychansk and the surroundings of Severodonetsk, Mykolaiv and Kherson directions. Chernigov, when there were powerful bombardments, and Russian troops were stationed near Chernigov ...

The worst thing is when children are silent

First, by own car. But for the past four years, we have cooperated with the American Investment and Charitable Fund Kidsave, which trained us in various programs in the field of child rights protection, so that after receiving the certificates, we trained our partners in Ukraine. We informed the foundation that we are engaged in evacuation and need transport. They began to collect and send us funds. Thus, in the first week we bought one passenger minibus, in a month - eight, each with 18-20 seats. Now we have more than 30 vehicles."

Friends of Pavel and Elena - businessmen and lawyers - agreed to be the drivers. In addition, two Children's homes of family type parents volunteered to drive the vehicles.

The worst thing is when children are silent

Photo courtesy of Olena Shulga

In the first 1.5 months of the full-scale invasion, the team evacuated 11 residential institutions from the Mykolaiv region. Among them is the Baby House. And two days after the evacuation, a Russian rocket partially destroyed the building.

The worst thing is when children are silent

Evacuation continues in coordination with regional and district administrations. Families with children and residential institutions are taken to safe places in Ukraine. But most of the evacuated Children's homes of family type, foster families, guardians, adoptors moved outside of Ukraine.

«Please, can i visit my mom?»

A big challenge for residential institutions was the problem of personnel: people do not want to accompany residential institutions in the evacuation, seeking to take care of their own families and children.

"Many staff refused to go with the pupils: they wrote applications for dismissal, for leave, in a word - they resisted leaving in order to stay with their families," says Pavlo.

The team helps many teachers to get to the evacuation sites of institutions in order to work in shifts. But in case of a critical situation, children have no choice whether to go or not. Their only legal representative is the director of the residential institution, who does not want problems for his institution and is subjective in a number of issues.

The worst thing is when children are silent

Photo courtesy of Olena Shulga

"There are many reasons, including financial and corruption reasons," Shulga lists. — Another attempt at deinstitutionalization lasted for five years. I was an expert of the authorized president of Ukraine on children's rights. It is known that more than 90% of children in Ukrainian boarding schools have biological families. However, since February 24, many children in residential institutions have been evacuated without the knowledge of their biological parents.

Boarding institutions claim that they warned parents about the evacuation. However, I insist: children are vulnerable, their rights are not violated, they are destroyed. Many of the children said during the evacuation: "Uncle Pavle, can I just go to my village, where are my parents?".

It should also be taken into account that emergency evacuation takes place mostly right during bombings, in very difficult conditions. These children are still estranged from their families, and if the situation worsens (now I will say the worst), they may never see each other. No documents, no status."

However, it was possible to send some children to biological families, who turned out to be absolutely capable of taking care of their children, Pavlo adds. And he emphasizes: "There are a lot of problems in residential institutions that make children vulnerable. When the war is over, I will have plenty of reasons to destroy this system as it currently exists."

In addition, residential institutions were not prepared for evacuation due to hostilities.

"I can personally testify to this," says Pavlo Shulga. — Because I had conversations with every director of every evacuated institution, traveled with every convoy, held negotiations with managers, regional and district authorities. There was no preparation."

Evacuation is not the only thing a like-minded team does for evacuated children.

The worst thing is when children are silent

Photo courtesy of Olena Shulga

Psychologists work with children who are often visited by the team. "And you know what's the scariest thing for me? It's the fact that the children just sit and remain silent after the evacuation, the man shares. — They are scared, they get traumatized by the movements. Now they already recognize us, meet us, communicate. But everyone who has biological parents has one question: "I want to go to mom and dad, can I go home?" And where are mom and dad? Are they all right?". They tell about brothers and sisters who stayed in other cities, because, for example, they were sent home due to illness, and here there is a war - and the children were separated. It breaks the heart."

The boarding system cannot provide high-quality care for children, because the child's personality is simply eroded due to the mass detention of foster children.

"So much children's grief... Only because the children were in this Soviet residential system, which is absolutely not concerned about the rights of the child, about its psychological state. Due to outright sabotage, documents for obtaining the status of deprived of parental care were not submitted in a timely manner, and a number of other problems were not solved, ”says Shulga.

What can be done

In the conditions of a full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, a number of other problems are also revealed.

“While taking care of the evacuation, I see that there is not enough communication with other countries for family forms of education, where these children could both get access to education and fulfill their basic needs,” says Pavel Shulga. Families have to overcome these problems on their own. Unfortunately, in international relations there is no clear route letter for such situations. One of the Children's homes of family type was evacuated to Spain, but there was no financial support program for refugees from Ukraine. We contacted a local volunteer organization and that was the only way to solve the problem. However, volunteers abroad are gradually getting tired of the flow of people, their opportunities are running out.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian state payments Children's homes of family type receive on their cards and can spend them abroad. Yes, and on the territory of Ukraine, the actions of services for children's affairs have become, according to Pavel, more coordinated than at the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In his opinion, despite the war and the fact that the priority is to protect Ukraine, judicial institutions should consider all materials and statements of claim regarding the deprivation of parental rights of negligent parents. So that children can get the status and, accordingly, a chance to live in a family of adoptive parents or Children's homes of family type. “Even abroad, there are people who are now ready to adopt Ukrainian children,” Pavel continues. “Of course, I am for Ukrainian adoption, but if there is a chance to save the child, let it be foreign adoptive parents.”

“My kids are asking what’s next, if I have a plan D,” says Pavel. Of course, my wife and I discussed it. We really want Ukraine to win and remain an integral, independent state. If, God forbid, the situation escalates, my wife and children will be evacuated outside of Ukraine. In the meantime, we are trying to save as many women and children as possible and and we are engaged in evacuation.”

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