A new home

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY -

When young girls and women give birth to chil­dren, they of­ten find them­selves help­less and lonely. This soli­tude flows from one gen­er­a­tion of such women to another, mul­ti­ply­ing in staterun in­sti­tu­tions. They leave board­ing schools and or­phan­ages with vir­tu­ally no so­cial skills that are nec­es­sary in ev­ery­day life and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Worst of all is that these young women don't know how to love and take care of others, be­cause never ex­pe­ri­enced any of this in their or­phan­ages.

Vik­to­ria Fe­do­tova runs Martin Club, an ini­tia­tive founded al­most 20 years ago by a group of ac­tivists in Makiyivka, Donetsk Oblast. The place of­fered re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion spa­ces for young mothers who find them­selves in dif­fi­cult life cir­cum­stances. Martin Club started with one so­cial shel­ter called A Vil­lage for Chil­dren. Three years later, three so­cial homes were in full op­er­a­tion. In the sum­mer of 2014, the ac­tivists were forced to make a tough de­ci­sion: they had to evac­u­ate some of their res­i­dents with their ba­bies. Some women who had no doc­u­ments stayed in Makiyivka to avoid putting the whole group at risk. Vik­to­ria says her team is still sup­port­ing them. But she can't speak more of those who are stay­ing on the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory.

“We bought a house in the vil­lage Or­livshchyna in Dnipro Oblast,” she says. “That's howour home Mit­ten moved. We host women with ba­bies who had no other place to go to. Vir­tu­ally all of our girls don't feel very com­fort­able with so­ci­ety, their fam­i­lies and them­selves. Some of them had never seen their mothers and grew up in or­phan­ages or foster homes; some had been in pris­ons. Some were at­tached la­bels and were de­prived of parental rights. Here, they learn to be­come mothers in the first place. We've had to teach some of them how to play with ba­bies. Pre­vi­ously, they acted like or­phan­age nurses, hid­ing toys so that the chil­dren wouldn't toss them around. They don't have so­cial skills that are nat­u­ral for others. We have re­cently found a woman in the vil­lage who used to work as a kinder­garten care­taker. We of­fered her a min­i­mum wage to come to our Mit­ten once a week and work with the kids. Now, vir­tu­ally all chil­dren are calling her Grandma. Be­cause they've never seen real grand­moth­ers.” This is Vik­to­ria's story of the nine mothers and 13 chil­dren who live in the Mit­ten.

Sur­pris­ingly, Vik­to­ria man­ages to give cases which var­i­ous ser­vices and au­thor­i­ties just shrug off. I have ex­pe­ri­enced her help per­son­ally: I once had to se­cret ly send a preg­nant women and her 3- year old son some­where be­cause her hus­band was beat­ing her. Her mother lived some­where along the front­line but she never sup­ported her daugh­ter pre­vi­ously, so ex­pect­ing it now was naïve. I sent the young woman to the Mit­ten. As a re­sult, Inna now has a new fam­ily where her se­cond child, a girl named Veronika, was born. Be­fore la­bor the doc­tors pro­jected that the child would be born with dis­abil­i­ties: ap­par­ently, the beat­ings and the stress the mother had to go through af­fected the baby. The Mit­ten team pre­pared to crowd­fund for an ur­gent surgery im­me­di­ately af­ter the birth. But sup­port from the peo­ple around, timely di­ag­no­sis

and ac­tive treat­ment su­per­vised by Vik­to­ria per­son­ally did won­ders: the baby girl ar­rived to the Mit­ten healthy.

In 2016, Vik­to­ria and her team be­gan to ac­cept those in need of a shel­ter from Dnipro Oblast. The project grew be­yond help to IDPs. By the Mit­ten a chil­dren's play­ground ap­peared where lo­cal kids hang out. The so­cial space en­cour­aged the vil­lage com­mu­nity to de­velop. To­day, the lo­cals plan to cre­ate a sports ground for teenagers. To­gether with part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions in eight oblasts across Ukraine, the ac­tivists spread sim­i­lar prac­tices of sup­port­ing fam­i­lies with chil­dren from ru­ral ar­eas. In the past year, Martin Club helped 906 fam­i­lies with the fund­ing from donors and grants. It works on the case-man­age­ment ba­sis: de­tects a prob­lem and over­sees the so­lu­tion till fi­nal­ized. Also, the club launched a shel­ter for the next stage of so­cial­iza­tion for its res­i­dents. “When we see that a woman has re­ceived a nec­es­sary set of skills and has pre­pared for an in­de­pen­dent life, we trans­fer her into the dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment called Kan­ga­roo,” Vik­to­ria ex­plains. It hosts two or three fam­i­lies to­gether. But they live on sep­a­rate bud­gets and have to take de­ci­sions in­de­pen­dently. “We no longer solve their prob­lems, just help them out and keep up with how they do,” she says. “It's some­thing like a fi­nal exam be­fore the woman and her chil­dren go to live a fully in­de­pen­dent life.”

This works. Some of Martin Club's grad­u­ates have al­ready started an in­de­pen­dent life. Some have be­come tu­tors at the Mit­ten shel­ter. This in­spires the team to start new projects. Re­sid­ing in Dnipro with her hus­band and three sons, Vik­to­ria has now launched a Brethren-in-Arms ini­tia­tive. It fo­cuses on so­cial­iz­ing the de­mo­bi­lized military.

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