Amendments at legislative and procedural levels will resolve most of the problems faced by the children affected. Officials and representatives of civic sector discuss the main gaps.
All children that have been affected by the military conflict in Donbas in one way or another must get the status of victims of war or armed conflict. There are about 580,000 such children in Ukraine. 22,000 children are residing close to the contact line. According to official data 68 children were killed and 186 were wounded in course of the conflict. The information was presented by Lyudmyla Volynets, expert on children’s rights, PhD in political science during a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. All children from the near-frontline areas, from internally displaced families and of parents on military service have been affected by the conflict. Similarly affected are the children who remained in the occupied areas and are living there in a “parallel reality”. “All the children who were pulled out of their familiar environment, who see their parents in an undue mental state and who reside in the near-front areas have been affected, as well as the children who fall asleep to the sound of attacks. All these children have names. And each one has got a huge tragedy behind,” emphasized Lesya Lytvynova, volunteer, co-founder of the volunteer assistance center for internally displaced persons on Frolivska street. According to Daria Kasyanova from the international charity organization SOS Children’s Villages, although this status does not foresee financial benefits, it gives access to healthcare services and rehabilitation.
How to detect a psychological trauma?
The work of psychologists in the conflict zone is coordinated in no way. There is not a single regulation on psychological trauma in Ukraine. “It would be untrue to say that children who have not witnessed the armed conflict with their own eyes have no psychological trauma. All these children have relatives or classmates who were affected or whose houses were destroyed. Or they fear every day that the contact line will move and tomorrow the war will come to where they live,” said Iryna Sazonova, chief psychologist at the children’s camp Lisova Zastava, head of the board at the Ukrainian charity foundation “In support of the right to life” (Za pravo na zhyttya).
As it turned out, Ukraine is not ready to prevent and adequately document the cases when minors take part in the armed conflict. Last year legislative amendments were introduced that change the status of children engaged in military groups from that of a criminal to that of a victim and witness. However, liability for the crime has not been yet defined. “Courts are currently considering nine cases of persons under 18 years of age who were part of military groups. A total of 27 proceedings have been registered. After the amendments were introduced the children engaged in the conflict become victims and have the status of children affected by the armed conflict,” emphasized Oleksiy Lazarenko, vice president of the Ukrainian foundation “Protection of children’s rights” (Zahyst prav ditey).
No exact data is available
Actual statistical data on various categories of children is missing. Healthcare agencies and the national police started collecting the data only in 2015. No information comes from the occupied territories. “We cannot be sure if the data on orphans and children without parental care [across the contact line] is correct. We have no contact in that area. We communicate ‘confidentially’ when we need to find out the fate of a particular child,” said Raisa Rodina, head of the service on children’s affairs at the Luhansk regional military-civil administration.
Since the war started load on the social workers has increased, while the number of the workers has decreased for no apparent reason from 175 to 166 persons. Talking in numbers, one social worker in Donetsk region services 4,917 internally displaced persons (IDPs), in Luhansk region it’s one to 7,274. Official number of children requiring adoption grew by mere one per cent. However, according to Svitlana Klochko, former deputy head of the service on children’s affairs at the Donetsk regional military-civil administration, the number of children whose parents started asocial behavior as a consequence of war is much higher. “If social workers are not working with the family at an early stage after the parents start their asocial behavior, the parents may lose child custody. Civil servants simply lack time to work with the families or strip of parental rights the parents who deserve it,” she said. “We intend to double the number of social workers. The law was passed by the Parliament and signed by the President. We would like to see the increase start from Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” added Yuriy Molokanov, deputy head of the parliamentary committee on family affairs, youth policy, sports and tourism.
There are other related problems. Some orphans and children without parental care are hard to put on the state waiting list for accommodation as they are registered in the uncontrolled territories. Issuing of IDs also remains unclear. “Children who remained on that side get an ‘LPR’ passport at 16. If they have accommodation registered here, we cannot register this accommodation after them as the ‘passport’ does not give grounds for that,” Rodina explained.
Today it is quite hard to return back to Ukraine for the children taken to the Russian Federation by their parents who subsequently lost child custody there. Out of the 26 children in such circumstances it was possible to return only five. “It is similarly hard to return back the children from the uncontrolled territories of Donetsk region. It concerns the children who are in healthcare institutions there. Our children were receiving treatment there, but our attempts to bring them back even if they have relatives here have not been successful,” said Natalia Tymofeyeva, head of the service for children’s affairs at the Donetsk regional military-civil administration.
There have also been reports stating that representatives of the self-proclaimed republics are seizing premises of family-type orphanages and their vehicles in the occupied areas. Nevertheless, not a single family like that abandoned their children. “Not a single child’s house or a host family has returned children to the orphanage. The system of host families has justified itself, it is durable especially in the wartime,” Daria Kasyanova noted.
To resolve some of the issues, centers for administrative services are being set up at the control points across the contact line. “On January 11 the Cabinet of Ministers approved the Plan for reintegration of the defined areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It suggests establishing centers for administrative services at the contact line. It is very problematic to get passports or IDs issued even in the government-controlled area. We are currently drafting the amendments that would allow resolving these problems right at the control point,” noted Yuriy Grymchak, advisor to the Minister on the affairs of the temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons.
People are turning to non-governmental organizations more willingly than to the state agencies. Keeping away from the latter is a growing tendency. “The state is overwhelmed with problems and is not coping well. NGOs now tend to stay away from the state, we do not count on the state as on our aide. Not only laws need to be passed, but also the mechanisms need to be found how to resolve the problem at the bottom level and what to do if the problem that arises is not regulated by the law,” said Viktoria Fedotova, head of NGO MARTIN Club.