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Ukrainian children orphaned by war ‘need a tremendous amount of help’

February 28, 2023, 22:40 222 Author: Ramon Antonio Vargas theguardian.com President of Los Angeles-based non-profit Kidsave says Americans need to be made aware that Ukrainian needs go beyond military aid.

Children in Ukraine with whom the group Kidsave has worked ride a bus in 2022.

Children in Ukraine with whom the group Kidsave has worked ride a bus in 2022.

Since russian troops invaded Ukraine a little more than a year ago, some in the US have shown their support for the encroached country by volunteering to fight for it while others have called on politicians to equip the defenders with munitions and weapons.

Randi Thompson is calling on Americans to ponder another way: aiding efforts to place Ukrainian children orphaned by the russian invasion in new families within their country.

Thompson is the president, chief executive officer and co-founder of the Los Angeles-based non-profit Kidsave, which is dedicated to connecting older children in institutionalized care around the world with families to adopt them. The group had worked in Ukraine for six years before the invasion by russian forces on 24 February 2022 made a bad situation worse.

Officials estimate there were more than 105,000 children across 700 orphanages, boarding schools and other institutions in Ukraine when the war there started – that’s more than 1% of the nation’s underage population and Europe’s highest rate of youth institutionalization.

Numbers since then are harder to track as children have been evacuated and moved out of Ukraine’s institutionalized care for safety reasons. But there’s reason to think things have gotten only harder for Ukraine’s orphans.

At least 6,000 Ukrainian children have been forced into camps and facilities across russia – without parental consent – by the invaders, according to a report from the Conflict Observatory, which is supported by the US state department. And Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, has said his teams have documented more than 14,000 instances of Ukrainian children being forced into adoption in russia since the invasion, which shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

“There’s no question that the fighting is going to continue,” Thompson said. “The suffering is going to continue.”

According to Thompson, Ukraine has made it a clear priority to keep in the country any of its children who are in need of adoption as opposed to sending them abroad. And Kidsave has done what it can, investing a million dollars from its coffers into its operations in Ukraine, according to Thompson.

The group first used cargo vans to move to safety nearly 120 children that the organization had placed with families.

It then bought 17 more vehicles for its fleet, including 22-passenger sprinters, buses with capacities of 50 to 62 passengers, and cargo trucks, including an 18-wheeler with refrigeration.

That fleet has crossed checkpoints, gone into towns ensnared by conflict and helped evacuate more than 30,000 people while also assisting in the delivery of more than 1,000 tons of humanitarian aid, with Kidsave staffers and their charges sometimes having to navigate behind the invaders’ lines using satellite phones, night vision goggles, protective gear and helmets, Thompson said.

Children in Ukraine with whom the group Kidsave has worked ride a bus in 2022.

Children in Ukraine head to a Kidsave bus. ‘There’s no question the fighting is going to continue,’ Randi Thompson says. ‘The suffering is going to continue.’

Among those whom Kidsave evacuated were three children – ages three, four and six – whose mother died from an illness after she had left her physically abusive husband and took them with her. They had moved in with a loving, attentive foster family whose home ended up surrounded by shelling and bombing.

The foster parents were unable to leave, but they made arrangements to move the children out of the conflict zone and, through Kidsave, place them with another family in Ukraine, motivated – as Thompson put it – by a nationwide sense of, “I’m going to be my brother’s keeper now.”

In a statement provided to the Guardian, Ukraine-based Kidsave staff member Olena Shulha described how the children told stories, drew pictures, played and watched cartoons until they fell fast asleep during a two-day, nonstop trip of nearly 1,100 miles that was not devoid of explosions and shelling.

Shulha said the children were happy to brave the trek after being told there was “a new life waiting for them, full of interesting moments, love and care, new friends and discoveries”.

“We explained to them that there was a new family who would take care of them in a safe place,” Shulha wrote. “We pray that their little hearts will never again experience separations, wars and disappointments.”

While many of her compatriots may be unable to help prolong such work by physically getting on the ground in Ukraine, Thompson said a new campaign offers them the chance to get involved from a distance.

But, if nothing else, just becoming aware – and spreading the awareness – that Ukrainian needs go beyond military aid is vital as the war slogs through its second year, according to Thompson.

“We want Americans to [realize] these children still need a tremendous amount of help,” Thompson said.

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