3/18/2014: Sparked by protests against the government of former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and inflamed by ongoing political discord, violent clashes between Ukranian factions have led to an increasingly unstable social and political climate in the Ukraine
“It's tense. You can feel the instability in the air,” says SOS Mother Valya from SOS Children's Village Brovary, which lies less than 13 miles from where the fighting began in Kiev. Just a few weeks ago, demonstrations and meetings were contained in Kiev, and the eastern part of the country was calm. Now, the volatility is moving throughout the country.
Even the safe walls of the SOS Village cannot exclude the stories of violence in the area. “Children do not live in a vacuum - they go to school and they watch TV, and so they hear about the situation in Kiev. They asked why people were being killed,” Valya says. “We explained as well as we could. Our main aim was to keep the youngsters in the Village.”
SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine has begun preventive measures to ensure the safety of children and staff at the Ukrainian Villages. Ukrainian law does not allow armed guards, however, it is possible to set an alarm button in the Brovary Village which would call an armed state guard in five minutes if pressed during an emergency. In addition, SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine is hoping to install cameras at the entrance of the its Village in Brovary in order to monitor who enters the village.
Old Fears Resurface
As the violence spread, the activities of normal life stopped. The roads to and from Kiev were blocked, families limited their outdoor time, and children stopped going to club activities.
For children and adults alike, living under the threat of war has brought on a great deal of stress. High blood pressure and heart attacks have increased among the elderly, and vitamins and tranquilizers are in extremely short supply in the pharmacy. Many children are unable to sleep at night. The SOS mothers report that many have also developed enuresis.
“Old memories come back to them – in one word, fear,” says SOS Mother Valya. “All my children - no matter what their age - are stressed out. They have problems sleeping. When we asked them to draw themselves, they drew themselves as tiny children; it's like they are trying to hide.”
The Village has tried not to hide from the situation, but rather to organize more activities and therapies for children and families.
'The security of the Village was tightened so we would know every minute what is happening on our territory,” says Bilyk. "Mothers forbid children to go outside of the Village territory; our students do not go to universities and schools in Kiev.”
The SOS Mothers try to discuss the situation and quell fears each and every day. “The topic still arises, even when we are doing homework together. I speak with each and every child in a way that they will understand.” says Valya.
Shortages Burden Families
An end to the instability is not yet within sight. “You could say that there is a feeling of impunity in Ukraine right now,” says Olena Bilyk. According to the SOS staff, the police force is not currently functioning.
Instability has caused panicking. Money can lose one-third of its value in hours, gas prices have gone up at least 30%, and the price of food has increased.
"It's very difficult to buy bread from a shop – people buy for spare, because they see the prices are going up; many still remember the war and the hunger,” says Olena Bilyk.
For the 8 percent of the country’s population who are without a job and receive stipends of less than 100 euro per month, the situation is especially dire. Unstable prices increase the number of people living below the poverty line, which is already at 35 percent. SOS works to keep threatened families together and healthy in the Social Center Brovary, the Social Center Kiev and the Social Center Lugansk.
Weathering the Storm
Despite their fear of war and supply shortages, the SOS Brovary families look toward the future with hope. The Mothers in the Village have gathered food in reserve, and they look after each other more than they used to.
“We were friends before all of this happened, but now we are much closer,” says SOS Mother Valya. “The children have become more mature in the last month. We hope for the best. If everything is peaceful in the country, which will mean it's also peaceful in my family. We are alive and we continue raising the children.”