A new home
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.