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Ukraine’s Hidden ‘Orphans Crisis’

by | Thu, Jul 27 2023

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Ukraine is facing an orphans crisis far bigger than most of the world realises because of its war with Russia.

The Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) supports churches which are ministering to an estimated 14,000 Ukrainian orphans in 190 orphanages across Ukraine and five neighbouring countries.

But SGA believes there are at least 50,000 ‘social orphans’ who are abandoned, neglected and starving in their own homes.

Its Vice President for Ministry Operations Eric Mock told Mission Network News: “We miss the children that remain in these homes among parents that are basically abandoning the children every day. We hear of children that come home from school to find parents passed out, they’re drunk, they’re not providing food. Children are going for days at a time with never getting a meal and no clean drinking water.”

“We’re finding over and over that in the midst of this war, we have single mums that can’t figure out how to survive. The husband is gone or he’s fighting on the front line. Most of the aid centres are single women taking care of children. Some of the men just literally disappeared,” he added.

Many parents have just stopped functioning in the war because of failing mental health, despair, depression, drugs, alcohol and loss of hope. Some of the ‘social orphans’ are older siblings responsible for the younger ones. Many of them end up on the streets, a prospect made more dangerous by the bombs and missiles that have become a daily reality for Ukrainians.

There are also orphans who “age out” of the orphanage system. “Children, when they turn 17, they leave the orphanage. They’re nonetheless an orphan. They don’t know how to buy groceries. They don’t know how to cook a dinner. They don’t know how to wash their clothes. They don’t know how to pay bills,” Mr. Mock explained.

Ukrainian believers are expanding their reach to help these ‘social orphans’ in their communities with the support of SGA. Mr. Mock expanded: “We’re not only helping orphans in orphanages, but we’re also working with churches as they minister to children wherever they find them. It might be on the street. It may be in troubled homes. Some of the churches are working with families to make sure the tide of orphans heading into orphanages is slowed at least in some measure. If we sit back and wait somehow for those children to show up in an institution, I think we’re missing an opportunity.”

Mission Network News reports that in reaching ‘social orphans’, Ukrainian Christians are practicing James 1:27 which reads: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Mr. Mock asserted: “Rather than just thinking of orphans in institutions, let us think of broken homes, let’s think of older orphans, and what you see is God raising up His Church in these communities to be salt and light among these hurting hearts.”

The Slavic Gospel Association is a mission which serves Bible-preaching churches in Eastern Europe and the lands of the former Soviet Union, by helping equip national pastors and church planting missionaries reach their people with the Gospel. The Australian office, which is part of an international network, mainly supports work in Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia.