‘Without SOS, we would not have opportunities like this’
Amid the hardships in eastern Ukraine, SOS Children’s Villages delivers help – and hope
SOS Children’s Villages is one of the few international organisations working on both sides of the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, addressing humanitarian needs of families and providing support through a team of social workers, psychologists, educators and other staff. In some of these communities, SOS Children’s Villages is the sole provider of holistic care for children and support for families.
Since the conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in 2014, the organisation has supported nearly 57,000 children and adults on both sides of the contact line that separates the Luhansk region between Ukrainian-government controlled and non-government areas. Mass displacement, economic disruption, and a fragile peace continue to create challenges for families.
SOS Children’s Villages specialists work closely with children affected by the conflict, family separation and in some cases neglect. High unemployment and insufficient public services also have an impact on families in the region.
In the following photo essay, we look at how SOS Children’s Villages helps in a difficult and demanding environment.
Mass displacement and high unemployment take a toll on families living near the line of contact in the Luhansk region. SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine offers social and emotional care, activities and support so families can improve their livelihoods. The demand for social centres like this one in Stanytsia Luhanska is growing. The social centre in Stanytsia Luhanska opened in 2017 in a building that was damaged during fighting and is still being renovated to add more meeting space.
In conflict-affected communities along the line of contact, SOS Children’s Villages provides food, baby supplies and other material support to help families make ends meet. In Stanytsia Luhanska, the district head of social services says the lack of jobs and businesses in his city “affects the emotional health of people, so there are increasing risks to our families.”
In Zolote, a community near the contact line, residents help unload relief supplies provided by SOS Children’s Villages.
“Our biggest strength is that we have a holistic approach to each family’s needs,” says Lyudmila Kharchenko, Programme Director of the Luhansk regional branch of SOS Children’s Villages. “Our humanitarian deliveries are important. But these families have other needs as well. We help them overcome their difficulties by providing a range of services to support children, and we work with their parents to keep families together whenever possible.”
Poor roads and limited public transport create challenges for families in need of support as well as SOS Children’s Villages mobile teams in remote areas. Conditions are especially difficult during the winter. Some communities have asked SOS Children’s Villages to open social centres to address the need for psychological support.
“There is a need for more specialists locally but more importantly to provide the training for the social workers,” says Maxim Shemet, the SOS coordinator for emergency programmes. “The distances are often too great and the conditions too difficult to bring people from other communities.”
Here, families collect blankets and other supplies for children in Zolote.
SOS Children’s Villages has worked in the Luhansk region since 2012, providing support for families living in vulnerable circumstances and foster families. Since the conflict began in 2014, its role has expanded to address the mental health needs of children affected by the conflict and displacement.
Here, children participate in a group activity with an SOS psychologist in Stanytsia Luhanska. “Because of the conflict, many of our medical and mental health specialists have left for other places. Those qualified to provide care have left even though the need is growing,” according to the head of the local hospital.
Activities and art lessons offer creative outlets for children. They can also help in the healing process for children who have experienced traumatising events. SOS psychologists say parental involvement in the activities is also important to help them with the challenges they face.
SOS Children’s Villages takes a holistic approach to helping families, with social workers working closely with each family to address their needs. Children and an SOS social worker play together at a home in Sievierodonetsk. Like many others in the region, this family has faced hardships since the conflict broke out in 2014.
The SOS Children’s Villages social centre in Sievierodonetsk provides opportunities for young people, some of whom are internally displaced by the conflict, to interact with their peers and discuss social challenges such as high unemployment, the lack of housing support for young adults who grew up in foster families or were displaced by the war.
“Without SOS, we would not have opportunities like this,” says one young participant. “It’s more than just a meeting place for us.”
Besides the opportunity to interact, share experiences and attend international youth events sponsored by SOS Children’s Villages, the young people can enjoy activities. On this day, they are learning to make lasagne.