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Third Ukraine Summer Camp Stories

We thank God for the opportunity we had to host 3 camps this summer. We were able to minister to 218 children in need; including 49 orphans, 52 children from large, poor families, 22 children from dysfunctional families (often with only a single moms), 34 refugee children, 25 disabled children, 8 children whose parents are involved in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine or who died during the war.

There are so many life-changing, touching stories from the children/teens, that we’d like to share some more of them with you!

Children from the Tsyurupinsk orphanage; this orphanage is for disabled children. The children live here from birth until they are 18 years old.

Tanya is 19 years old. She has lived at the boarding school since she was 7. She doesn’t have any family; no one ever visits her. Tanya was born with splayed feet, so she cannot walk properly. She was also diagnosed with “mental retardation”. Even so, Tanya is very sociable, she delights in all that she sees and does. She was actively involved in all activities. It was very important for her to communicate with children of different ages and from different cities. For the first time in her life, she was a full-fledged team member. After the camp, Tanya will return to the boarding school, but later she will be transferred to a kind of nursing home, where people just live their days until they die. Basically, at this place, they aren’t involved in anything useful. But at least she spent 9 of the most amazing days of her life at the camp.

Ukraine - Tanya 19

Igor is 16 years old. He has lived at a boarding school since he was 6 years old. He has cerebral palsy, very poor eyesight, and he needs help sitting up. In spite of everything, Igor is a good student at school, and he loves to read. He even writes poems, but since he cannot write, he has adults write the words down for him. Recently, he found his relatives, but they can’t take care of him. Therefore, Igor spends all his time at the boarding school, even holidays and weekends. At the camp, he liked to communicate with other children and participate in all the activities. He worked carefully while doing crafts, he was very grateful for everything and patient with everyone.

Ukrarine - Igor 16

Children from Lviv childcare center; at this center, children come from families with difficult financial situations and/or where parents abuse alcohol. Most of the children have parents, but for various reasons the parents can’t cope with their responsibilities. Children are fed at the center, they go on tours, and receive humanitarian aid.

Nicole is 9 years old. Nicole’s parents were not married but lived together for 10 years. They drank a lot of alcohol and were always having fights and arguments. In February 2015, Nicole’s father died. Now Nicole lives in the most appalling conditions, without any facilities in the house. Her mother doesn’t have a permanent job, so the family needs to be supported financially. At camp, Nicole enjoyed the Bible lessons. Every evening, she and her friends sang the songs they learned during the daily Bible lessons. She also talked about God with her friends.

Ukraine - Nicole 9

Svetlana is 11 years old. Her older brother and father still live in the occupied territory of Donetsk, but Svetlana’s mother and her 2 daughters moved to Lviv. The family is very poor, although her mother tries to find work so she can take care of her daughters. They often have to change apartments, because the rents are too high. The mother is unable to get any help from the government, because there are problems with the documents as they come from a different region. Svetlana felt at ease and safe at the camp. She loved the Bible lessons. Before camp, she was very afraid of heights. Yet here, for the first time in her life, she came down the hill by rope and decided to do it twice, to prove to herself and to others that she can do it! Sveta is very interested in everything that has to do with God and the Bible. She asked more questions about God than all other children.

Ukraine - Svetlana 11

Dmitry is 9 years old. His dad died when he was only 1 year old. Dmitry’s mom has a disability and therefore can’t work. Recently, she tried to get a job, but in vain. What doesn’t help, is that his mother abuses alcohol. The family is in a difficult financial situation. Dmitry was very happy for the opportunity to come to camp. He played David during our Bible lessons. He said that he had never heard about David before. For his help, he received a Twix bar, and he said that he had never tasted something like that before. Dima communicated a lot with other children. He was very happy at camp and enjoyed each day.

Ukraine - Dmitry 9

Arthur is 11 years old. His mom abuses alcohol and doesn’t pay the necessary attention to the children’s upbringing. Arthur has one younger brother. His great-grandmother usually takes care of the children, but it isn’t easy on her either. The family needs a lot of help. Arthur has had a lot of negative examples in his life, and this has made him aggressive and rude. According to his teacher, he became much friendlier and more attentive to others while at camp and, most importantly, he played with other children and communicated with them without aggression and fighting. He even enjoyed all the Bible lessons.

Karina is 9 years old. She lives with her disabled mother in a one-room apartment without proper facilities. Karina’s dad died a year ago. Her oldest brother is disabled and her other brother is 17 years old. Her mother doesn’t work, and they live on a small pension which they receive because the family’s bread-winner died. Karina was happy at the camp. She smiled a lot and enjoyed herself thoroughly. Most of all, she liked the crafts and Bible lessons. She made friends with the other children, and they all learned how to communicate with each other.

Ukraine - Karina 9

Irina is 9 years old. She comes from a family of 4 children. Ira’s father’s parental rights have been revoked, because he beat his wife and children and abused alcohol. Ira’s mom and her partner do not have a permanent job; they live from the little they make by doing odd jobs. Irina spent 9 happy days at camp. She liked sports. The teacher said that as the days went by, Ira began to helping others more and more, and she became more obedient towards her elders.

Ukraine - Irina 9

Kirill is 14 years old. He, his younger brother and their mother left the temporarily occupied territory in eastern Ukraine. Now they live in Lviv. The family often has to change apartments, and there isn’t always enough money to buy the things they need, even food. Kirill is very serious and not talkative, but, while at camp, he was constantly smiling, and he was very happy. He even said that he didn’t want to leave camp; he wanted to stay! And this from a child who lacked joy and laughter. As his teacher said: I simply don’t recognize him anymore!

Ukraine - Kirill 14

Children from Kiev:

Dasha is 10 years old. She lives with her grandmother, but her grandmother is old and often has to stay in the hospital because of her poor health. When that’s the case, Dasha’s older sister looks after her. Dasha made new friends at camp, and she learned to play as a team. Most of all, she liked to play games.

Ukraine - Dasha 10

Theodore is 12 years old. Theodore’s family are migrants from Crimea. When the annexation of the Crimea started, they left. They have three children; 7, 12 and 18 years old. Theo’s dad fought in Eastern Ukraine. At camp, Theo liked the English lessons very much, and he learned how to ask questions in English. For him, it was a great experience to learn to play in a team of children who were all new to him. He learned to accept children the way they are. For example, he helped carry Sasha’s (a boy with special needs) wheelchair when needed.

Ukraine - Theodore 12

Children from Kharkov:

Nikita is 11 years old. He lives with his older brother. Their mom, a doctor who treated and saved other people’s lives until the end, died from cancer. The older brother loves and cares for Nikita. At camp, Nikita made an important decision: I have to do more to help others. When his friend at camp became sick, Nikita did not leave him the entire day; he even brought him tea and some medicine.

Ukraine - Nikita 11

Alina is 10 years old. She has 2 siblings, and she and her family are migrants from Crimea. They left Crimea, when the annexation has started. Now they live in a village, and they are financially very constrained. Alina has problems with her eyesight, but she enjoys knitting. At camp, she learned to weave bracelets and rings, and then showed her handiwork to everyone. Also, after talking to Ben and Heather, 2 helpers at the camp from the USA, she decided to work harder at learning to speak English.

Ukraine - Alina 10

Evelyn is 13 years old. Her family does not have a home of their own, so they live in a church building. Evelyn wants to become a missionary and prays about it. At camp, she decided that she needed to spend more time with God. She said: I want to be a missionary and work with children!

Ukraine - Evelyn 13

Children from Grace Christian school: children that came to the camp from this school all come from disadvantaged families. We will continue to follow-up with these children after camp is over.

George is 11 years old. He has 4 brothers and sisters; the youngest is 7 months old. The entire family, mom, dad, grandmother, 5 children and George’s brother’s family, live in a 2-bedroom apartment. They struggle financially and have difficulties with accommodation and living facilities. George enjoyed camp very much. After the Bible lessons, he said: Previously, I would take things that didn’t belong to me, but now I will not do it anymore. He took all the Bible lessons to heart. This was his first time at a summer camp, and the first time in the Carpathians. He learned how to make friends with other children and to work as a team.

Ukraine - George 11

Nikita is 11 years old. His mom died, and his older brother brings him up. Their dad doesn’t help them at all. Nikita was a very reserved boy; at first, he did not want to play or talk to others. He is very sensitive and didn’t have much trust in adults, but when he started to make friends with our camp helpers from the USA, he started to trust adults. He also found a friend with whom they “earned some money” at the fair. Together they bought some toys and even helped out at other stations. He didn’t feel lonely at camp. It was the first time for him to be in the Carpathian Mountains. It was also the first time that he heard about Jesus.

Ukraine - Nikita - 11

Masha and Katya are 11 and 14 years old. They both live with their mother. The girls’ dad fights in Eastern Ukraine, so he is not able to be at home with his family. Their mother abuses alcohol and pays very little attention to the children. They often stay with relatives, but they are dysfunctional and drinkers as well. The girls have not been able to go to church. At camp, the girls learned about God; Masha was very upset about the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Now she wants to share the Gospel with everyone and do something good for others. Both girls did not want to leave the camp. They loved it at camp and needed all the support and encouraging words they could get.

UKraine - Masha and Katya

Children from Irpen:

Ivan and Maria are 10 and 6 years old. They have another sister, Lily, who is 17. This family came from Donetsk. When the war broke out in May 2014, the family went to stay with relatives. They hoped to be able to return home before the new school year. They moved back last August, but there were bombings going on in the city, Masha’s Kindergarten building was bombed, and Ivan’s school was hit by a shell, and all the windows were blown out. As there was no school for the children to attend, the family left Donetsk. Their dad stayed behind, because he had work. Then, early one morning, at 4 am, the apartment where their dad slept, was hit by a bomb shell; this demolished and destroyed the walls of the building. Their dad survived, only because he took cover under his mattress. He was wounded by shrapnel, but more importantly, he was still alive. The children said: Now, on December 1, we celebrate the birthday of our family. We live at a time when any house can be destroyed, but our dad survived because of God’s help and his blessings.

Ukraine - Maria 6  Ukraine - Ivan 10

Children from a charitable organization called My Family: this is a children’s rehabilitation center. The center is for children from disadvantaged families who are in need of assistance. Ten children live at this home.

Roma is 14 years old. His parents were deprived of parental rights, and he was taken to a foster family. Yet, the new family wasn’t able to build a good relationship with him, so he was sent to an orphanage. Since then, he’s been sent to a family-type children’s home, and this is where he lives currently. Roma showed his leadership qualities at camp. He got some guys together, and they performed a skit during the talent show. Roma was also a big help with the children in wheelchairs.

Ukraine - Roma 14

Marina is 14 years old. Her dad is in jail for a serious crime, and her mother died in front of Marina’s eyes. Initially, she moved into an orphanage, but now she lives in a family-type children’s home, with 10 other orphans. She enjoyed every day at camp; she prayed and found out more about the Lord. She was very grateful for this opportunity.

Ukraine - Marina 14

We also had a few children from HIV-positive families. According to Ukrainian law, we are not allowed to share their pictures or names (* we altered the names for this purpose).

Vlad* is 13 years old. His parents are HIV-positive. His mom was shocked by the news that she was HIV-positive. After people in their surroundings learned about their status, they turned away from them. Neighbors had them evicted from the apartment, so now the family lives in a communal apartment. They really need the support. Vlad is a very talented boy, but he finds it difficult to communicate with “normal” children because of prejudices and myths around HIV that exist in Ukrainian society. For children like Vlad, going to camp was a unique opportunity.

Sasha and Vanya*. Their father was in prison, their mother was a crime investigator. She left her home and her family and moved to Ukraine to be with their father. Later, the twins were born. When the mom learned that her husband was HIV-positive, and she too, her career was over. Besides all the obvious challenges, the family also faces financial problems. Sasha and Vanya just loved the camp and the entire program. They enjoyed every day. They had a lot of sympathy for the children in wheelchairs and helped them to participate in games. Once, during a table game activity, one of the twins declared a draw, saying: Although they lost, I’m announcing a draw, I do not want to offend them! He told this secret to his teacher afterwards.

Inessa* is 10 years old. She only has her mother and grandmother. Her mom found out about being HIV-positive just recently. She is a doctor, and she doesn’t know when and how this happened. She plunged herself into work, trying to escape the depression and loneliness. Inessa spends most of the time with her grandmother who is already 82 years old. At camp, the girl learned how to crochet. She crocheted a ring and bracelet. The girl felt very comfortable at camp and had 10 very happy days.

Please continue to pray for these children. It has been a chance of a life-time, but as you can tell by these stories, their life situations are very difficult.

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