Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. The Ukrainian landscape consists mostly of fertile plains (or steppes) and plateaus crossed by rivers that flow south into the Black Sea. Ukraine also has highland regions, where the snow melt from the mountains feeds the rivers. The area is rich in minerals and nutrient-rich black soil; its vast fields of wheat and other grains earned Ukraine the nickname “bread basket of Europe.” Ukraine’s official language is Ukrainian, but Russian is also widely spoken. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion and has heavily influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.
By the 19th century, a large part of Ukraine had been integrated into the Russian Empire. After World War I and the Russian Civil War, Ukraine emerged as one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union. Ukraine became independent again when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Although Ukraine began a transition to a market economy, the nation was stricken with an eight-year recession. Following a brief period of growth in the early 2000s, Ukraine was hit by the worldwide economic downturn of 2008 and the economy plunged.
Ukraine has seen a number of environmental issues including air and water pollution, along with radiation contamination from the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. In addition, Ukraine has been in a demographic crisis since the 1980s because of its high death rate and low birth rate. The population is shrinking by over 150,000 a year; and life expectancy is falling there, too. Despite a state-subsidized healthcare system, the nation suffers a high mortality rate from pollution, poor diets, widespread smoking, extensive alcoholism, and deteriorating medical care.
According to the United Nations, the two biggest problems Ukrainian children face are poverty and poor health. Ukraine’s average standard of living has decreased by 80% over the last 20 years, resulting in an inability to provide adequate nutrition. Many children are abandoned and orphaned due to poverty and sickness. According to the Ukraine Orphan Outreach, Ukraine’s 450 orphanages are filled beyond capacity with 100,000 orphans, and at least 100,000 more children are living on the streets. Most of these children are “social orphans” since their parents are alive but don’t take care of them.
Ukrainian children with disabilities and special needs face a very grim future and a greatly reduced life expectancy. One orphan named Levina is seven years old, has never left her crib, and weighs only fifteen pounds. She is blind and has microcephally (a small head), no knee joints, and was supposedly born with brain damage. Her arms and legs are as stiff as boards, but she receives no physical therapy. Children like Levina are often transferred to mental institutions, but life in an institution is even worse. One such institution had 24 children transferred to it over the course of four years. At the end of those four years, all but one of those children had died.
Another orphan, Viktor, is six years old. He has Down syndrome, and crooked ankles prevent him from being able to walk at the moment. He will probably need an operation on his ankles/feet. Viktor is in desperate need of someone to come for him and love him. The poor little boy looks as if he has already given up hope. He is very near the age of when he will be sent to the mental institution, a place that will provide him with even less care than he is receiving now. From there he will never leave.
Yuri is five years old. His special need is microcephally (small head), but he has a lot of potential. Although five, he’s about the size of a one-year-old. He cannot walk or talk, but that may be because he is always confined to a crib and has little interaction with people. He spends every day behind bars, staring vacantly at the bare ceiling and walls. He does have plenty of energy and knows how to escape from his crib and crawl around at record speed. Yuri is very affectionate and lovable, and would blossom amazingly if he only had a family to provide the care that he deserves.
The Kelley homeschool family in Troy, Pennsylvania, has opened up their hearts and home to Ukrainian orphans. They have seen firsthand the many needs of these very special children, and have witnessed the incredible difference that can be made in transforming the lives and spirits of these forgotten ones. McKennaugh Kelley, 15, recently returned from three months in Ukraine where her family adopted two children, Timur and Misha. She continues to advocate “for the little ones we left behind… in hope that someone will step forward and give them love… and life.”
Yuri (left), Levina (center), and Viktor (right)
McKennaugh says, “These three children I have touched, played with, heard their laughs and heard their screams and longed to comfort them as I was forced to only glance hastily through the old white door… when it was left open, that is. These three–like all orphans–have done nothing to deserve the place that they are in. And unlike all orphans, if they don’t get a family, they will likely die. Die. For some, maybe they will be able to live a few more endless years behind bars. For others, like Levina, I know her life will certainly not be years–maybe not even another year–if someone doesn’t come.”
A family has stepped forward to adopt Levina, but it will cost them about $24-26,000 to bring her home. Expenses include: government filing fees, legal fees, adoption agency fees, homestudy interviews, dossiers, passports, plane tickets, travel/hotel costs, notarization, facilitation fee, immigration processing, medical care, and everything else. However, adopting a second child does not cost much more than getting the first. Many large employers provide their employees with adoption benefits such as paid leave, unpaid leave, or adoption reimbursements. The U.S. government offers an adoption tax credit, and some states also offer tax assistance for adoption.
A couple of the requirements for adopting a Ukrainian orphan are that the adoptive parents must be married, and at least 15 years older but not more than 45 years older than the child they plan to adopt. Both adoptive parents must be able to spend 4-6 weeks in Ukraine. The entire adoption process will take at least six months, and maybe longer depending on how long it takes for you to do your homestudy and submit your dossier, etc. Most of all, you must have the time and love to take in another child and care for him or her like your own.
If you want to help donate to Levina’s fund or find out more about adopting Ukrainian orphans like Viktor and Yuri, please visit McKennaugh’s website at http://www.ukrainianorphans.com. “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” ~Matt.18:5