"Unforgettable journey" - Documenting the work of Care in Action in Ukraine
"Unforgettable journey" - Documenting the work of Care in Action in Ukraine
This moving and detailed account of a visit to the Care in Action programmes in Lviv is by Victoria Beisswanger, a German videographer who donated her time together with Kristina Assenova, a photographer.
L'viv, Ukraine 18-25 September 2023
We received a very warm welcome from the Care in Action staff in L'viv. They had already helped us with any questions we had beforehand. The organisation is based in the heart of L'viv, where there is also a Creative Hub. The staff had a meeting, there is a lot to do. Besides the activities, there's a lot of bureaucracy.
We are loaded into the van and drive off to Bortnyky. The journey takes just under 2 hours. The roads get worse and worse and at some point we only manage to crawl forward. The journey was worth it, we are greeted by a former monastery in an idyllic location.
A couple of boys from the children's home come running up to us and immediately take us in. You can see straight away how lovingly the social workers and volunteers treat the children and that they are probably frequent and welcome guests here. It's great to see how the work is carried out and that the organisation really does live up to its name. When we arrive, the boys in the homes are still cleaning and tidying up. They all have different chores to do.
It starts with a short welcome speech from the head of the home. The boys show us around and proudly show us the small museum on the grounds. Then we go out to eat. A delicious pickle soup, we are told. An elderly lady is in the kitchen and seems to be the good heart of the home. You can taste it. A boy serves us.
Afterwards, the art therapy programme starts and in the other house opposite, we are allowed to watch the STEP programme. The boys are taught here. There are always different topics and information to go with it. (The topics help young people to develop personal and professional skills).
In the art therapy for the younger kids, masks are being made today. One boy explains that he can use them to hide from his fears. We gulp.
In between, we get an impression of the building and take photos and videos. The rooms are full of beds with patterned bed linen on them. Some beds are empty. The walls are decorated with colourful pictures. A dog with a Ukrainian flag. A guard dog. Noah's ark. Protection and safety. You can also see that boys live here ;-)
We are allowed to conduct a few interviews and experience first-hand how quickly familiarity develops. They would like to invite us to a BBQ. We don't actually want to leave. We would like to stay longer, play with the kids and ask them questions. Ask them about their wishes and dreams. Allay their fears.
But we have to go. The journey back takes two hours and I'm feverish. Unfortunately, I have already travelled to Ukraine ill. At the hotel, we meet a lady who is available for an interview. In the evening we go to bed, blissfully happy. The day, as exhausting as it was, has given us both so much. We can't even describe it ourselves yet. We organise our thoughts, save the material and go to sleep soon afterwards.
The next day we are invited to a workshop at the Lviv Creative Hub (which was opened for displaced families). Eco bags are being made. Maria is even kind enough to have a prescription written out for me so that I can get some medicine that evening (at the weekend!) and be reasonably fit again the next day. At least fever-free. Kristina will travel to a foster family in Dubliany without me and take interviews there. I am very grateful to her for her support.
On Sunday, our last day in Ukraine, we set off early in the direction of the Maystryshyn family in Polonychi. We pack a few souvenirs that we have brought from Germany. We have noticed that the social workers like to bring a little something with them. A few sweets, fruit, a small courtesy.
We arrive and, as always, are warmly welcomed by a tail-wagging dog and several kids. The shyness is quickly overcome and everyone seems happy to see us. We are shown every room. Care in Action has installed a bathroom here. Previously there was no running water and the mother had to fetch clean water from the well. Now the family of 7 children has a functioning toilet.
The mother bursts into tears during the interview.(With the support of Care in Action and a monthly sponsor, two of her children were able to move back home from an orphanage). Sitting on the neatly made bed, she tells us her story. You can see her gratitude in her face. She wants to help wherever she can.
We are in the oldest kids' room. It is tidy. Colourful pictures and little figures here and there. (Care in Action bought beds so that the teenagers didn't have to sleep in cots). We cross the courtyard into the kitchen. There is a (donated) computer here, contrasting with the otherwise very simple conditions. A boy asks us if he can show us his animals. He pulls one rabbit after another out of the hutch. His pride and joy. He smiles and our hearts open a little wider. The younger children take us by the hand and don't want us to leave.
We have to move on, round the corner, a few minutes' walk away, we enter a household without a mum. The two boys are sitting on the sofa, fiddling around on the computer. The room is large and heated. There are several jars of preserves on the floor. The father, who is now caring for the children, works in the factory. He was at the war front and had to return when his wife died. Now he looks after the kids on his own. Care in Action also supports his family. We tell the boys about the Together programme that is about to take place. They come along straight away.
I don't know what I had imagined a Creative Hub in the middle of the village would look like, but not this. A colourful, warm space that invites you to play and linger. The kids are already waiting outside the door. They all know their way around here. They take off their street shoes and rush to the beanbags that adorn the room. I am overwhelmed by how lovingly everything is decorated. Various Care in Action events take place here. Today, a break dancer is coming to dance with the kids. Games are played afterwards. A few of the Maystryshyn kids are also there to greet us. The games are interactive and fun, almost everyone joins in.
I am deeply touched by the dedication with which everyone here is committed to creating a carefree world for the children. Even if only for a short time. Forget everything. Be a child.
We shoot the last interviews, then the kids leave the hub. The "Man of the Town" (mayor) invites us to stay for a while. A big meal is served! There is wine and wonderful pasta dishes. Fresh grapes from the garden. We feel at home and sit blissfully at the table. We have a chat. We exchange ideas and also receive a gift - the Care in Action T-shirt, which we quickly put on.
We are impressed by these amazing people. They all have a different story to tell. But they are all united by their humanity and warmth towards others.
Someone comes from a war zone, she has moved to L'viv and now works for Care in Action. Not everyone speaks English, so those who speak both languages are busy translating. With or without a language barrier, everyone welcomed us with open arms and hearts. Grateful and tired, we drive back to the city and fall into bed after dinner.
During the night, we are surprised by an air raid alarm. We decide to go into the bunker. Since our arrival in L'viv, we have already heard a few stories. Not everyone has the luxury of a shelter nearby and if they do, it is often cold and wet. Many decided to wait out the alarm and hope that nothing would happen. After an hour, it's all over.
I would like to thank Care in Action, and all their social workers and volunteers for their support and work.
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