DONBAS, Ukraine—When war broke out in 2014, 31-year-old parents Oksana and Andrey Skotarenko were forced to flee their home with their four young children.
Fortunately, after just a few months, the Skotarenkos were able to return home. Although their hometown had stabilized, the aftermath of war presented new challenges for the family. The cost of living had skyrocketed, and stable work was nearly impossible to find. The family of six could only afford a small, two-room apartment with a leaky roof, and Andrey could only find occasional work as a day laborer for small wages. The family mostly relied on Oksana’s government-paid maternity leave, which came out to less than one dollar a day.
Unable to provide for his family, Andrey turned to alcohol to help him cope. The couple’s financial struggles, in addition to Andrey’s alcohol abuse, left Oksana feeling helpless and desperate to keep her family from falling apart.
Hope & Help
In March 2018, Oksana discovered an SOS Children’s Villages program for at-risk families in her community and reached out for help.
“Oksana was aware she and her husband had a problem,” says Vitalina, a social worker for SOS Children’s Villages. “She asked for individual psychological counseling for her and group counseling for her children, who were traumatized by the war and the family hardships.”
The psychological counseling helped Oksana’s mental well-being and built her confidence to better support her family. She assumed the leadership role in her household and confronted her husband about his addiction. Oksana’s intervention helped Andrey recognize his problem and convinced him to stop drinking. Slowly, the couple learned to work together and saw their relationship and family life improve.
Oksana with her youngest, Masha.
The Value of Counseling & Education
Not only did counseling bring Oksana and Andrey closer together, but they now place a greater emphasis on spending quality time with their children to strengthen their family bonds. Together, they enjoy regular family game nights playing Uno or Monopoly, and they always make time for a large Sunday lunch together.
Oksana is ambitious for her family’s future and is making preparations to contribute to the family income. Taking advantage of free computer literacy training at the SOS Social Center, she hopes to seek employment once her youngest daughter goes to school. She is certain they will be able to afford a nicer, more suitable house once she finds a job.
Her positivity, determination and optimism cheer up the entire family. “We’ve been in the [SOS Children’s Villages] program for just four months, and already we have had major improvements,” says Oksana.
The family gathers for a healthy Sunday lunch.
Working for a Brighter Future—Together
Focusing their energy on strengthening their family and encouraging their children has improved Oksana and Andrey’s outlook for the future.
Just like their mother, 12-year-old Katya and 11-year-old Seryozha are attending computer classes at the SOS Social Center, and they all have English tutors. “We don’t have a computer at home,” says Oksana. “That is why these classes at SOS Children’s Villages are so important for our children.”
Next year, they plan to enroll their older children in creative workshops and additional tutoring to help broaden their education.
Oksana and Andrey also encourage their children to participate in extracurricular activities and to play sports. Katya is a good volleyball player, while Seryozha and Vera excel in soccer. Little Masha hasn’t found her sport yet, but she has an energetic spirit like her older siblings.
Andrey has recently found more stable work, but until the family is self-sustainable, SOS Children’s Villages will continue to provide nutritional support and basic home supplies. Looking forward, Oksana is more than hopeful. "With the proper support,” she says, “I am confident we can improve our lives even further and be able to pursue a better future on our own.”
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