Exposed: Former orphanage employee reveals rampant abuse inside baby home in Ukraine

Kseniia* worked inside an orphanage for babies in Ukraine. What she witnessed made her quit. Now, she’s a whistleblower committed to exposing the realities of orphanages and getting children back to family. 

“There is no love there. Children have food, clothes and maybe even toys, but they lack affection and care.” 

These are the words of Kseniia, a nurse turned whistleblower. For five years, she saw children in an orphanage in Ukraine endure violence, abuse and neglect, before being evacuated to safety in the Russian invasion.

Two years on, Kseniia wants to get these children back to family, as 80% have parents who could care for them at home. And she wants the doors to her old orphanage to remain closed forever.

Because in times of war, there’s nothing more important than family. 

Will you help us bring separated children back to family? Donate today. 

A bombed-out residential building in Kyiv, one of countless homes destroyed during Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Hope and Homes for Children

Orphanages exposed 

Kseniia started working as a nurse in an orphanage ten years ago. The living conditions shocked her immediately. “The children were not treated well there,’ Kseniia remembers. “They were hit on their hands, legs and backside with rods.”

Understaffed and overcrowded, Kseniia’s orphanage often had just one carer to fifteen children. The results were often violent. 

“When they were shouting or crying too much, the children were put under cold water. Or, they would turn the kids upside down, hold them by their feet and shake them.” 

The orphanage was also known as a ‘baby home.’ All children living inside were aged between zero and four. 

Abuse inside orphanages

For the next five years, Kseniia tried to protect the children under her care. But whenever she spoke out, she was silenced.

“Some colleagues didn’t like how I treated the children kindly and softly,” she says. “They said I was spoiling them. As a result, I was treated cruelly, and surely the kids were too.” 

Several children had disabilities and needed specialist support. But without the proper equipment or enough resources, the staff would strap them down. 

“We’d get visits from children living in other orphanages,” Kseniia remembers. “They told us that older children were being sexually violent with smaller ones.”

Underresourced, the staff in Kseniia’s orphanage were often violent with the children.
Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Hope and Homes for Children

“Seeing some members of staff abusing children, and knowing about the physical, sexual or psychological violence, I felt very bad because I knew I couldn’t prevent it. All I could do was leave my job.” 

A broken system

Sadly, Kseniia orphanage was just one of 700 state-run institutions operating in Ukraine before the war.

Over 100,000 children lived inside them, an estimated 90% of whom had living parents who could take care of them. Instead of supporting families to overcome poverty or other challenges, a broken system separates children from their parents. Parents like Olena*.

Olena’s children were taken away from her and placed in an orphanage in Ukraine for two years, all because she couldn’t afford child care. “They didn’t even ask me if I wanted to send my children to an orphanage,” she says. “I grew up in one myself. I know how hard it really is.”

Olena, 41, holding her youngest daughter, Zlata*, one.
Halyna Kravets / Hope and Homes for Children

Read more about why children end up in orphanages on our website.

The importance of family

Unable to change the system from within, since quitting Kseniia is committed to raising awareness of the harms of orphanages.

“As a mother, I can’t even imagine how it’d feel if my children were taken away and placed in an orphanage,” she says. “They’d be mistreated, and there’d be nothing I could do about it.” 

“In orphanages, children feel like they’re in a prison,” Kseniia continues. “They’re fed, taken care of and put to bed, but it’s all on a very strict schedule. There were people there who treat children well, who love them and come to work for the sake of children, but you also have those who think it’s only a job.”

Even the best orphanages can’t provide what children need more than anything. Individual love and care. 

“It doesn’t matter how many toys there are, how clean it is, or how well the children are fed. In an orphanage, they’ll still lack the support that exists in any family where children are loved.” 

(From left to right) Olena’s children, Artem*, eight, Sofia*, five, and Oleksi*, ten, lived inside an orphanage in Ukraine for two years.
Halyna Kravets / Hope and Homes for Children

How the war impacts children inside orphanages

“During the war, making sure children get into families and receive psychological protection is more important than ever,” Kseniia says. “These children were already suffering because they weren’t with their parents.”

“When the war started, most of the orphanages closed in one day,” explains Yana Polishko, one of our case workers in Ukraine. “Some children were evacuated abroad, or to safe spaces in Ukraine. And some were evacuated home to their families. Where possible, we want these children to stay home. From violence to abandonment, children should not be subjected to the horrible impacts of institutions.” 

Olena received support from our team in Ukraine to keep her children at home throughout the invasion.
Halyna Kravets / Hope and Homes for Children

“Institutions are full of defenceless children who are lonely and scared. In wartime, it’s not safe to have children in large groups at one place. It’s much better for children to be with parents who can always take care of them.” 

How can you help support children from orphanages? 

As of February 2024, our team in Ukraine has prevented the separation of 12,958 children from 6,474 families due to the war in Ukraine. But as countless families still endure violence, displacement, and the loss of loved ones, there’s still a need for urgent support to help keep families together.

“It’s very difficult for some families to manage,” explains Yana. “They lost their jobs, there’s problems with electricity, and the prices for food and utilities almost doubled. Some and children have had to flee war.” 

That’s why we’re providing war-torn families with urgent financial, humanitarian and psychological support – whatever they need to stay together in times of crisis.

Thanks to your donations, Olena’s four children are growing up with the love of their mum. Not inside an orphanage.
Halyna Kravets / Hope and Homes for Children

Will you help us protect children from being separated from their families? Donate today. 

Your help is helping keep families together. Thank you. 

“I dream that children will grow up in families with love, understanding and good treatment and that those loving families will help children change it all, bounce back, and grow up healthily.”