True Vision

films that make a difference

Ukraine's Forgotten Children

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89 minutes
Kate Blewett
Executive Producer:
Brian Woods

Ten times as many children are in institutional care in Ukraine as in England.  In this disturbing investigation, film-maker, Kate Blewett (The Dying Rooms, Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children) finds out what a lifetime in the care of the state really means for Ukraine’s forgotten children.

To read Kate's story of the making of the film, and to comment on this story click here.

Shot over six months in an institute for disabled and abandoned children in Ukraine, this revealing and intimate film takes us inside the lives of a handful of children who were abandoned by their parents - with a simple signature - to state care.  The institute houses 126 children, of whom all but 4 still have living parents.  The vast majority are what are called in Ukraine “social orphans”, signed over to institutional care in a society that still clings to the Soviet-era ideal that the state knows best.

But what Kate finds is that children of widely varying abilities are warehoused together, leading inevitably to institutionalization, repetitive behavior, self-stimulation and self harm even amongst those with very minor disabilities.

Lyosha is ten, and has no arms and legs. But with a fighting spirit and lively intelligence, he uses his balance and powerful neck muscles to propel himself around the room, along corridors and even up and down stairs, almost as quickly as those around him with four limbs.  He is proud of the fact that he makes his own bed every morning, and will not allow carers to help him do so.

Lyosha is just one of a group of boys for whom Nikolai, the Institute Director, has great ambitions.  Nikolai has seen too many of the children he has cared for leave at 18, to be transferred to psychiatric or geriatric homes, labelled as “incapacitated” and effectively robbed of their human rights and their future.  Nikolai has gained funding from Russia for a small group home for those boys like Lyosha, whom he feels have the greatest unrealized potential.  Once in this home they will get the education and rehabilitation they need to avoid a future without hope or freedom.

Kate also meets young men now in their 20’s and 30’s who were not so lucky.  Despite clear evidence to the contrary, Boris, Dennis and Leonya have all been categorized by the state as “incapacitated” – unaware of, and unable to control their actions. Following their fight to find some way to challenge this quasilegal label, which robs them of many of their fundamental rights, Kate hears their tales of beatings, isolation cells and the abuse of chemical straitjackets as punishment in a psychiatric institute, Novosivitsky, that became notorious in Ukraine in 2010, after an inmate was beaten to death. Boris says of his time there  “It was so painful, like living under the lid of a coffin’’.

In parallel with the fight of the incapacitated for legal freedom, and the journey of Lyosha and his friends into a small group home, Kate also follows the stories of some of the sickest children in Nikolai’s care.  Margarita is five, but gravely ill.  Instead of being in a hospital she has been sent to Nikolai’s remote institute, where there are no specialist medical facilities, and the medical director, responsible for all the children, is a retired dentist.  Desperately worried about Margarita’s worsening condition, Nikolai takes her to the local hospital, but officials there say she must be discharged back to the institute as soon as her temperature stabilizes. The doctor in charge of her care says ‘’I understand her condition is catastrophic, but this is a disaster from long ago, from the child’s birth… …she is a child who has been abandoned’’.

Around £9 billion has been spent in Ukraine in preparation for hosting Euro 2012 this June, but while vast sums have been found for infrastructure in the major cities, the budgets for the weakest members of society have been under strain.  This film takes us into a disturbing world that the Ukrainian government would rather outsiders did not witness.  It is a powerful and emotionally gripping indictment of a system that hides orphan children away in remote and inaccessible institutions, before labelling many of them as beyond rehabilitation.

If you would like to assist Nikolai's Institute then please donate to Happy Child (below).

If you would like to help alleviate the situation for disabled children in Ukraine more generally, charities active there are listed below.

Happy Child Foundation

Happy Child was formed in 2007 and is focused on helping orphans. It is this foundation that has been very supportive and involved in helping Nikolai at the Chernihvsky Institute, over the past few years. The foundation is now seeking to raise the money to renovate a second building at Nikolai's institute to provide another Small Group Home that will take both girls and boys into it. The sum needed is $25,000.00. The foundation is  also trying to provide special food supplements for the seriously sick and bedridden children.


Happy Child is specifically raising a fund to pay for a second Small Group Home – for the girls – at Nikolai’s Institute.

To donate to this fund please make transfers to 
Beneficiary customer: 26000001343412

Title of beneficiary: Charity fund “HappyChild”
Target of payment: donation (you can choose purpose of donation)
Account with institution (Bank of beneficiary): Public Joint-Stock Company “OTP Bank”, Kiev, Ukraine SWIFT: OTPVUAUK
Correspondent accounts of “OTP Bank”: Account 100 9474974 0000 with Deutsche Bank AG, Frankfurt/Main, Germany, SWIFT: DEUTDEFF.

Ukraine Charity

Ukraine Charity was established in 2007 in London in order to raise funds for various charitable causes in Ukraine. It was registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales in the same year, registration number 1120854. The main focus has been to help orphans and underprivileged children and young adults in Ukraine. The charity operates on a volunteer basis without overhead costs and we make sure the funds raised or contributed are all channelled to the desired beneficiaries in Ukraine and their utilisation is controlled as tightly as possible. The charity provided money for Nikolai to furnish the Small Group Home for the selected nine boys to move in to.


Hope and Homes

Hope and Homes for Children is an international charity working to ensure that all children have the chance to grow up in the love of a family and are the leading experts in closing children's institutions and reforming childcare systems. They have been working in Ukraine since 1998 and during this time have transformed the lives of many hundreds of children by creating 65 Family Type Homes, two Mother and Baby Units as well as the Ray of Hope Centre for Social Services in Makariv.  Hope and Homes for Children is committed to ending the institutionalisation of children in Ukraine. In 2011 they completed the first closure of an institution in the country – Barvinok Institution in Makariv Rayon – providing alternative family based care for the 80 resident children and stemming the flow of children into the institution through preventative work with families at risk of abandoning their children in the community. Makariv now stands as an example of how a childcare system based on institutions can be transformed into one that is based on families and will be used to influence further childcare reform in the country.


Telephone 01722 790111

The Elton John AIDS Foundation

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has supported the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (AUNPLWHA) since 2002 to enable them to work for the needs of people living with HIV, especially children. The Foundation has supported projects preventing children of parents living with HIV from being placed in orphanages and is actively working to foster HIV+ chidlren out of institutes.

SOS Children in Ukraine

Sponsor a Child with SOS Children in Ukraine. SOS Children is the world largest orphan charity, working in 124 countries.

SOS began working in Ukraine in 2003, setting up an emergency relief programme in the Podol district of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. This involved distributing food parcels to large families, mainly with a single parent. In addition a counselling service for children and young people at risk from HIV/AIDS through experimenting with drugs was started. Advice is also given to their parents.

SOS Children UK
Terrington House
13-15 Hills Road
Tel: 01223 365589

Orphan's Hope

Orphan's Hope is dedicated to  the needs of Orphans in poverty and transforming their lives. While they  provide relief for urgent needs, Orphan's Hope is committed to bringing lasting solutions that care for the children's physical, educational, and spiritual needs, in a way that gives them hope and a future.

Contact: Orphan's Hope International (DBA - Washington State)

Tel: +1 952-941-1546

Care in Action

Care in Action is active helping Children's homes in Ukraine since 15 years.  They are working all out to modernize the Care model, to activate and involve the local community to improve the lot of children in care and give support to teenagers who leave the institutions.

Update March 2014

Nikolai and his team continue to work hard to improve Chernigov's Child's Home, if you would like further information go to: Chernigov's Child's Home.

To see some recent photos of Nikolai's institute.

Margarita is still alive, but in and out of hospital. She has parents who won't give her up for adoption.

We are told that Lyosha has been adopted in America and is thriving.  Other fantastic news is that three other children were also been adopted in 2013.


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