Only a mother’s love could overcome the heavy drinking that put Maxym and Anya at risk
Supporting parents to overcome alcoholism has a vital part to play in closing Ukraine’s vast orphanage system and keeping children safe in families. Halyna Postoliuk, our Director of Operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, explains why.
Even if you’re parents are lucky enough to find work in the rural villages of Dnipropetrovsk in central-eastern Ukraine, the chances are they’ll be paid in alcohol, not cash. After a day’s labouring or fruit picking, your mum or dad is more likely to be handed a bottle of the powerful local moonshine known as somohon, than a wage packet. It’s traditional for adults in the area to spend their free time drinking and the consequences for children are terrible.
Maryna heavy drinking left her three children at risk of abuse and neglect. Eventually Petya, Anya and Maxym were brought to the Emergency Unit at the Centre for Social Support on the outskirts of the region’s main city, Dnipro. This is a service established by Hope and Homes for Children to support families in crisis and prevent children entering Ukraine’s vast orphanage system. Nearly all the children who spend time at this here, come from families where one or both parent abuse alcohol.
“Maryna knew she had to stop drinking. She had the courage but she needed extra support to succeed”
Like many people who struggle with alcoholism in this area, Maryna and her husband both grew up in the institutions. As children, they never knew the kind of loving family care that helps to lay the foundations of stable, healthy adult lives.
A few days after her children were taken, Maryna came to the Centre and promised that she was ready to change. She said she would do whatever it took to keep her family together. “I will never let my children be in an institution because I know what it is,” she told us.
“I will never let my children be in an institution because I know what it is”
It was not easy to work with Maryna at first. She found it hard to maintain eye-contact during conversations. She did not know how to make friends with the people in her village or deal with the authorities. Growing up in an orphanage, no one had ever shown her how to cook or care for her house or her children. It took a long time for the specialist team at the Centre to win her trust. It was only once she believed that we really wanted to return her children and could help her make this happen, that our work together really started.
Maryna knew she had to stop drinking and we made sure she had the specialist support she needed to achieve this. Without alcohol, she began to see her world more clearly. “You can’t communicate soberly with those whom you used to consider as friends, because you have nothing in common except alcohol”, she explained.
Life without drink was lonely at first. Maryna realised she had no proper network of support and it took time to make new friends. It was hard to convince people that she had really changed. But Maryna was completely determined to stay sober and make all the changes she needed to bring her children home. This included repairing her home, furnishing the children’s rooms and tidying up the yard. To save money to furnish her children’s rooms, Maryna walked 18km to work and back to save the 15 UAH (50p) bus fare, every day.
“To save money to furnish her children’s rooms, Maryna walked 18km to work and back to save the 15 UAH (50p) bus fare, every day.”
Eventually, Maryna’s strength and courage was rewarded when she was reunited with her children. “We are a family and together we overcome all the difficulties”, they told us.
Their life is still challenging but the community social worker is on hand to make sure Maryna is coping and the children are still safe and happy. She is also supporting Maryna’s efforts to become a part of her community and find the extra support that every family needs to stay strong and stay together.
Hope and Homes for Children works with vulnerable families in Ukraine, offering social and psychological support to keep children safe at home with people who love them and spare them the trauma of a childhood in an orphanage.
Find out more about the challenges we are facing in Ukraine here.