Flying over the bumps and barely managing to go around the pit, Maxim Timotin hurtling down the highway to the orphanage where he grew up. The road is almost empty, it only has the horse through the snow pulling a cart to the side of the Moldovan border. Every winter frosts leave potholes on Ukrainian roads, but here in the countryside, no one repairs.
The orphanage wasn’t so bad, says Maxim. By the time he was eleven, the worst was already over. “You were in trouble when I was very young. Bad teachers as there are good. But the older I got, the easier — says Maxim. Class to fourth teachers were still able to beat us. But then they had to stop because we could fight back.”
Timotin thin, pale and looks sloppy — but the conversation leads to the pressure inherent in his twenty-two years. He was born in Odessa region in 1994 — three years after he has ceased to exist the Soviet Union. On the streets there were armed mobsters, and abandoned government property began to leak into the pockets of their “roof” — the new oligarchs. Timotina parents, who lived in a small town, life should be to seem terrible and hopeless.
“They drank, led an immoral life,” says max, who knows about his parents, only what was written in his children’s home record. “Mother gave birth to me, so just took it to the House of the Baby”.
Despite the fact that Timotin born in independent Ukraine, the system of state guardianship was absolutely Soviet scenarios. At the age of seven years he was transferred to the provincial city of Kotovsk, where he enrolled in a boarding school for orphans and children from disadvantaged families. Initially, these boarding schools were created in order to solve the problem of street children, children left without families as a result of endless wars and famines. The orphanages was to make such “disadvantaged” children Patriotic workers of heavy industry.
Other boarding schools were intended for children with a disability or, on the contrary, with extraordinary abilities in the first place, to sports. As the promotion of such talents was considered as a public task, the prospective Olympians are torn from families and transferred them to a strict training regimen in closed institutions. Few people think about the feelings of children and how the absence of native people can reflect on their growing up.
“The biggest problem is that the system of orphanages through the Soviet, it is not intended to take into account the interests of the children themselves”, — said Mykola Kuleba, the children’s Ombudsman under the President of Ukraine. “In Soviet times had no matter what the child grew up without a family. The main thing was to teach him to love the Motherland and be obedient”.
The young don’t belong here
Since Ukraine gained independence has not changed almost nothing. On the walls of the orphanage where they grew up Timotin still hang Patriotic pictures and poems. Under the pictures of children’s handwriting signed wishes the victory of Ukrainian troops against the Russian invaders. The area where the children spend all their time day-to-day, looks scrubbed, as army barracks. Each child has a shelf for neat piles of things and one toy, laid across the feature is a narrow bed. The teachers and some of the older kids put on a big smile for us when we enter the house, but most kids look dejected and deeply sad. In classrooms so cold that the students sit in street clothes.
To date, the Department Kuleba has 160 thousands of children in 750 institutions like orphanage Timotina. Every three days a child dies, said Kuleba.
“Many children with disabilities die because they can’t get the medical assistance they needed. Most of these deaths could be prevented if the children at the time were sent for treatment”.
The number of children in the foster care system is growing. Daily 250 new people come into the system — much more than leave. According to the government of Ukraine, at the moment in boarding schools is on a nine thousand children more than two years ago.
Considering the data of Kyiv about the further lives of these children, the growing number of orphans is a worrying trend. 20% of graduates of children’s homes, leaving foster care at the age of sixteen, are in prison. Another 10% commit or attempt to commit suicide. Others drink too much and raise the next generation of orphans. Only less than 1% of children from the care system turns to finish higher education.
Most teenagers leaving orphanages, just can’t cope with the sudden collision with an adult independent life. “Leaving the orphanage, the children have no idea how to cook. They don’t even know how to cook pasta or scramble — says Tatiana Semikor, Director of the NGO “Faith, Hope, Love”, working with disadvantaged children in Odessa. — Orphans do not know how to count money. They come to the store and buy all the chocolate and biscuits without thinking about the costs of the week. They used to, all taken from somewhere in itself.”
Not having the cash for a bribe is often required for admission to the corrupt Ukrainian Universities, former orphans are forced to find other ways to make ends meet.
“If you go to the station and see women who you will offer underage prostitutes, you know: 80% of these girls from orphanages, — says Tatiana Seminar. Teachers in boarding schools have no control, they don’t care. Sometimes girls go out at night and return in the morning, and the staff of the boarding did not notice. And sometimes girls just run away.”
Tatiana Samicor joined a group of organizations acting under the guidance of the Ombudsman Kuleba for the elimination of the system of boarding schools and orphanages. They argue that Ukraine needs to allocate its resources so that children do not come in this system. “Out of these 160 thousand children in the foster care system, only eight thousand of them are biological orphans. Others have parents — said Kuleba. — They give children to boarding schools because they have no other choice. They live in poverty, and they think that the government will be better able to take care of their children. Or, for example, if a parent or disabled child, the child is in the foster care system, because there is no system of support.”
Even today, parents living on state benefits for child care, trying to persuade to hand over their children to orphanages. Thus freed funds originally intended to support families in food and medicines, is spent by officials for the procurement of goods at inflated prices in exchange for bribes. Disturbing news swept the country in November 2016, when the headmistress of the orphanage got charged for trying to sell one of his organs.
In search of an exit
Kuleba says he has a detailed plan for the replacement of orphanages integrated system that connects social workers, support centers and foster homes. The system is based on the reforms already undertaken with EU support in Romania and Bulgaria. Kuleba wants to put an end to the centralized system of care, instead offering disadvantaged families various forms of support, in particular by investing in affordable municipal education and medicine.
“Today, we spend $ 170 million on the whole system of institutions, and only 12 million five thousand social workers who work with dysfunctional families, trying to prevent the placement of children in children’s homes. And it should be absolutely the opposite,” says Kuleba.
The need for state support is growing. The war in the East has deprived millions of Ukrainians of their homes and de-energize the economy. According to the government, about 600 thousand children are living below the poverty line and risk being totally abandoned by their parents or subjected to violence from their side.
Nevertheless, in terms of the Kuleba there’s one catch. To implement his plan, Ukraine will need to obtain from the EU two billion dollars for a period of ten years. In a country where the system of state support and already completely corrupt, it’s a big risk. When last year the new legislation has demanded from officials to declare their capital on the surface suddenly emerged a huge bundle of cash, countless cars of class “luxury” and private homes — property, clearly available on the official modest income. He Kuleba their property to declare did not become, referring to a decree exempting him from this obligation in the post — political rather than governmental.
Despite the dissatisfaction of bribery in the state system of care plan Kuleba has already received considerable support among the Ukrainian social workers and psychologists. In Kotovsk two social worker invited us to visit the foster family and meet Yana — year-old girl, whose mother died three years ago from alcoholism. Shortly thereafter, the stepfather threw to Jan, and she came to the orphanage. However, social workers were able to place her with a local family.
“At first it was hard to get used to, because there are quite different rules than in the boarding school, — Yana speaks. But now I’m used to. At first when they told me they only took, they had me to help, asked all the time if something I did not know. And when I got here, it turned out that I have a sister and we started playing together and now friends”.
It is clear that Ian has flourished in his new home. However, the distribution of orphans by family — it is very difficult and requires a lot of work.
“We have a database for families who want to take the child,” says Oksana weaver, a social worker, which Jana found her new home.
“To be eligible for adoption, they must undergo a medical examination and obtain a certificate of no criminal record. Both spouses must have income, because if they don’t work, it means that they will spend on the upbringing of the child state allowance. In addition, their ownership must have own apartment or house. And, of course, we work a lot with families. We talk to them, look, what of them will be parents. And if we decide for it, then they are sent to Odessa, in the educational center”.
Arranging the child in a family, social workers are obliged to monitor his condition and to visit him once a week for the first month, then biweekly, and finally to gradually reduce the number of visits to one every two months. If there is only five thousand professional social workers of Ukraine is clearly not able to take care of all their 600 thousands of children from disadvantaged families.
It is obvious that the plan Kuleba impossible to implement without additional funding. And even if he manages to get the money, resistance on the part of the welfare system and local authorities are quite capable of destroying his reform in the Bud. Realizing the prospect of losing profitable businesses, municipal authorities and administration of children’s homes began to change the status of their agencies, “orphanages” “special Academy” in the hope to avoid liquidation in the future.
On the way back from the city I suddenly find another opponent of the plan, the Kuleba. Boarding is not so bad, says Maxim Timotin. Personally, for example, it does not hurt. No emotional wounds had not. He didn’t cry, even when filling out some government forms, found out that his mother died. All depends on the person, he says.
Throughout our trip Timotin tries to show how he’s the baddest of boys, who after the orphanage I went the easy way and ended up in jail. He talks about how to get out of poverty by opening a small bar, and plans to go into politics. In the area he is becoming known as an activist championing the cause of child rights. Full of youthful enthusiasm, he swears with teachers defied state officials and walks the hallways of his former orphanage as if he is its Director.
Bravado leaves him only one time. In the chamber where he slept as a child, I point the camera, and he looks at the camera with an embarrassed smile. One second of this rude and cheeky guy turns into a seven year old Maxim — one-on-one with the world.