Caritas Employees visited a group of homeless young people during the New Year and Christmas holidays. Social worker V’yacheslav Fedchenkov explains: “On St. Nicholas’ Day, these disadvantaged kids received gift packages from Caritas; today they invited us into their make shift home to decorate a Christmas tree, make a New Year’s wish and share the holiday.
In preparation of the visit, young Caritas Kyiv clients made decorations for the hosts: garlands, snowflakes and paper figures. When the Caritas visitors arrived, the young hosts happily hung out the decorations on their improvised Christmas tree. Under the tree they set up a wishing chair which was supposed to help make their dreams a reality. The smell of mandarins and a festive atmosphere filled the basement.
Some people may feel that this was a condescending expression of empathy or pity, but these young people and children live on their own, any way they can. In contrast to financially secure adults, these young people are not ashamed of their problems and difficulties.”
“In the last 10 years homelessness and abandonment have decreased by half. This is largely because of changes in Ukrainian law. Parents can attend parenting classes and this has resulted in fewer children on the streets today,” said Ulyana Kotlyarova, Associate Director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Department of Youthful Offenders in a recent interview with Radio Liberty.
Mr. Fedchenkov agrees that there are fewer street children. He notes that 2005-2006 statistics documented tens of thousands of street children, now they number in the thousands. The assessment of workers at regional Caritas centres also support the statistics; in big Ukrainian cities—Kyiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovs’k—there are hundreds, not thousands (as was the case in the mid 1990s) of children living in the streets. This is due to a state program to overcome abandonment and to change the attitude of society, and the efforts made by community organizations.
The young hosts encouraged us to take more photographs of their basement hide away, and proudly displayed their meagre possessions. But the visit was short because the cold, damp basement filled with stagnant air made the visitors nauseous.
In parting, the young hosts wished their visitors a successful New Year and extended an invitation for future visits. “Social workers in the private and public sphere work at reintegrating similarly disadvantaged under aged children to mainstream society, however society also needs to change its attitude and be prepared to welcome these children back,” Mr. Fedchenkov noted at the end of his story about their New Year’s visit to the basement hideaway the homeless children created for themselves.