Street children in Ukraine face harsh winter this year. Credit: Caritas Ukraine

By: Caritas Europa

Caritas Ukraine continues to tackle the increasing number of homeless children, one of the country’s biggest sociological problems, who are now facing a harsh winter.

The charity is currently providing food and heating for homeless children as well as day centres with education, hygiene and psychological support in five Ukrainian cities.

Numbers have reduced but there are still over 200,000 children under the poverty line and living on the streets, according to unofficial data.

Ukraine has a small non-governmental fund for homeless children, but it is not enough to get them off the streets.

¨This winter the clients of the Caritas centres are meeting severe challenges,¨ said Zoryana Lukavetska, the project coordinator for children and youth programs in Caritas Ukraine. ¨The sharp frosts that were in Ukraine these past weeks particularly have been crucial for the youth that are living on the streets, in cellars and in deserted buildings.¨

Police are gathering street children and forcing them outside the city, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

“Help on Wheels” campaign

Caritas Ukraine, the first organisation to openly speak out about the problem, launched a project to help street children in the cities of Khmelnitsky and Ternopil eight years ago.

‘Help on Wheels’, a mobile unit supported by other Caritas supporters, has been providing first aid, food, and heaters for them. Caritas members went out on the streets in search for homeless children and gave them hot food, warm clothes and help them regain trust in adults.

They helped 200 children in 2004 and nearly half became permanent clients of the Help on Wheels.

According to Caritas Ukraine, police and state authorities, who prefer that homeless children live in state boarding schools, soon began criticising Caritas for helping these children stay on the streets. The charity ignored them and extended its services to the cities of Kiev, Lviv, and Donetsk.

Ukraine has been struggling with an economic decline and a shift in values since the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty one years ago. Homeless children saw themselves forced to participate in criminal activities or cheap child labour in order to survive.

There are 1,200 young people regularly attending Caritas youth centres including 140 street children and 90 babies born from homeless young women.

The youtube video ‘Street Children (Caritas Ukraine) – Crans Montana Festival’ was also launched in hope of raising people’s awareness last year. It shows Caritas members posting drawings of street children around the city, even after they are ripped off.

It also shows them tagging famous facebook users’ pictures after editing them to include the drawing in the background. Governmental institutions have recently been collaborating more openly and efficiently with Caritas Ukraine.