Escaping slavery to stay together – Katya and Masha’s story

Katya with daughter Masha – now safe living in a Mother and Baby Unit

Katya is a tiny, frail-looking young woman in her early twenties but she is a fighter. Her life so far has been extremely tough. Her father was murdered and her mother died when she was just a child and so Katya spent years lost in Ukraine’s vast orphanage system. At 18 she had to leave but with nowhere to go and no family to protect her she soon found herself living on the streets with a baby of her own to care for.  

She heard about a rehabilitation centre that might give her a room but the place turned out to be a front for a slavery operation. Katya was sent out onto the streets to beg and told she would not be allowed to see her daughter, Masha, if she didn’t bring back enough money every day.  

After a year, Katya managed to escape but at a terrible price; she had to leave Masha behind. Desperate to rescue her daughter, she turned to the authorities for help and was referred to one of the pioneering Family Support Centres that Home and Homes for Children has helped to develop in Ukraine. The Centres help families stay together and stem the flow of children into orphanages by providing practical support and specialist services to parents and children who are at risk of separation. With help from the police, staff at the Centre managed to find Masha and reunite her with Katya.  

For the last eight months Katya and Masha have been living in the Mother and Baby Unit at the Centre. Here Katya has been given the support and encouragement she needs to learn how to care for herself and her daughter. This includes learning about financial planning, how to advocate for herself and Masha and psychological counselling to help her overcome the traumas in her past. She has also learned how to cook although she says everyone in the Unit still laughs about her first attempt to make soup: it was a disaster.  

When Katya arrived at the Centre she had not had a chance to wash for weeks and she slept on the floor because she wasn’t used to sleeping in a bed. Now she is learning not only how to take care of her daughter but how to take care of herself. The other mothers in the Unit have shown her how to use makeup and style her hair and for the first time she is able to take pride and pleasure in her own appearance.  

“In my life, no one ever taught me how to do anything,” Katya says, “but I have learned a lot since I came here.”

“People told me I was a bad mother but here they recognise that I am a good Mum. I love my child and I am interested in my child. We like to draw together and do puzzles,” she adds.   

Staff at the Centre have also helped Katya to apply for the ID documents she needs to claim social support for herself and Masha. This is a key part of helping Katya prepare to move out of the Unit and live independently.  

“I feel confident and I am making plans for the future. Now that I have my paperwork, I need to find a place to live,” Katya explains. “Without this support most likely my daughter would have been taken away from me” she concludes.