Ukraine (MNN) — All eyes are on Ukraine again this week as pro-Russian protestors hold their ground and the East-West divide deepens. An ultimatum deadline imposed by Ukraine’s interim government came and went yesterday with no follow-through; activists only dug their heels in further and took hold of yet another eastern city.
Even more pressure is being put on a diplomatic conference scheduled for Thursday, which involves representatives from the U.S., EU, Russia, Ukraine, and Switzerland. But MNN is taking a closer look at the voiceless victims of the Ukraine crisis: the children.
Ukraine is home to over 100,000 orphans. Only 10% of them have lost one or both parents; the majority are so-called social orphans: children abandoned by neglect or their parents’ addictions or imprisonment.
“We’re very concerned about what’s happening to children both in Russia and Ukraine,” says President and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, Bill Blacquiere.
Last month, thousands of institutionalized children in Crimea lost hope of ever finding a “forever family” when their peninsula was annexed by Russia. The Communist nation quickly applied their 2013 ban to the Black Sea peninsula, terminating any in-progress adoptions.
Many groups, including Bethany, fear the same could happen throughout Ukraine if Russia extends its footprint.
“If there would be, I don’t want to use the term ‘war,’ but some kind of military skirmish with Russia, or if Russia takes over more [of Ukraine], what’s going to happen to those programs?” Blacquiere asks.
Active in Ukraine since 1998, Bethany offers social services to families in need. Their Family Preservation Program offers support, counseling, and material resources to struggling families so they don’t have to give up their children.
“Given poverty or disease, or I’ll call it ‘marital break-up,’ children will sometimes end up in an orphanage,” Blacquiere explains.
The program also introduces families to Christ, through what Blacquiere calls a “hands to heart to head” process. First, the hands: Bethany offers much-needed services to families in the name of Jesus. This prompts questions from families about why Bethany is helping, which creates an opportunity to share the Gospel.
However, the escalating Ukraine crisis has stopped Bethany’s Family Preservation Program in its tracks.
“It is preventing us from being able to remove children from orphanages into…families,” says Blacquiere. “We have been praying for our staff and [are] very concerned because things are very tense.”
Ukraine and Russia aren’t the only places where vulnerable children are running out of options. According to figures recently released by the U.S. State Department, the number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents has reached its lowest level since 1992. This is due in part to Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions.
Blacquiere says there was hope that U.S.-Russia relations might improve, perhaps opening the door for adoptions again. But “now with what’s happened since the Olympics, those relations have gotten worse. And again, children are hurting.”