From Emily: As my kids are solidly in the middle of Medieval History in our home schooling, they haven’t had many opportunities to hear the the words, “Cold War.” But with the events unfolding over the past week in Ukraine, I have had to fill them in somewhat on the history of Russian’s communist history and how it relates to American values.
Which values in particular? Freedom of the press, for instance, is already being squelched in Ukraine, with Russian forces shutting down local TV stations and replacing them with Russian state run news. And then there are all the assassinations of political enemies, puppet leaders, and the latest–a referendum in Crimea run “democratically” by occupying Russian soldiers. (Is that how you’d like to cast your vote? With a gun to your head?)
As I’ve talked about these events over the breakfast table, it’s been a crash course for my kids. In order to help deepen their understanding, I have asked my compatriots at RR to pitch in. Next week sometime, we’ll post a list of books that we think will be bombshells for kids–novels that awaken their understanding about the difference between freedom and totalitarianism, as well as Ukrainian folk tales to help younger kids understand the culture and pray for the people in it.
While we’re still putting that list together, though, I asked Hayley to share some of her experience visiting Ukraine last year. Here’s what she had to say:
There are some times in life that are unquestionably God-orchestrated, and my trip to Ukraine last March was just that. Through an adoption ministry, I heard about an American family in the process of adopting two little girls in Ukraine. They needed a traveling companion to help bring them home: someone with a passport who could travel immediately. We had mutual friends, and I fit the qualifications.
So, with 24 hours notice, I found myself on a plane headed toward Ukraine. It was a dream come true. In the past two years, I had become very interested in Ukraine. This interest started as I learned more about the international orphan crisis.
Of the estimated 143 million orphans in the world, about 100,000 of them live in Ukraine with 30,000 of these orphans being raised in institutional settings. The future for orphans in Ukraine is bleak. Statistics show that after leaving the orphanage at age 16, the majority of girls will join the sex industry, and the majority of boys will become involved in criminal activity. Only 1% of orphan graduates will attain a university education, but within 2 years of leaving the orphanage, 15% of orphan graduates in Eastern Europe will commit suicide. In countries such as Ukraine, orphans with special needs have even less of a future. These are the weak, the least of these, and for many –without adoption– their future is life in a mental institution.
For some readers, all of this information is known. I did not know, but once I learned this, two years ago, I knew that someday I would go to Ukraine.
On March 13, 2013, I arrived in Kiev and took an overnight train to a city in Eastern Ukraine. In the following weeks, I was able to see two sides of Ukraine, a Russian-influenced industrial city and Western-influenced Kiev.
Former Soviet rule and fragile economic infrastructure are grim realities in Ukraine. They can be seen everywhere: in the blocks of identical Soviet-era apartment buildings, in the packs of
feral dogs roaming the streets, in the cracked pavements and highways rife with potholes.
In Ukraine, people do not smile at strangers. Instead, they walk about their business maintaining an expressionless exterior.
The irony is that beneath the surface of these unsmiling people, lies an ebullient personality. Years of oppressive rule have bottled and suppressed this personality, but as the Orange Revolution of 2004 and recent events have shown, the Ukrainian people are not afraid to speak!
Only in children do you often see smiles. They have not yet learned to contain that emotion. I visited one orphanage in our Ukrainian city. We brought toys and candy and told the children, through an interpreter, a little about ourselves.
. . . while we talked, the group on the ground was shifting. At first the children were sitting in groups, the little ones in the front near us, the bigger ones hanging back, ranging all the way to the back of the room, some still sitting at tables. But, the longer we talked, the more the group moved, shifting, moving closer and closer. By the time we were finished talking, most of the children were sitting in tight rows, as close to us as possible.
At one point, I realized that one of the little girls in the front was asking if Amanda had a Yorkshire Terrier. I nodded to show I understood and mimed that they were little. She smiled and nodded. I can’t remember what was said next, but the little girl pointed to herself and said her name. Then the girl next to her introduced herself in flawless English! A little boy to the right pointed to himself and said his name, behind him another piped up. Suddenly there was a murmur of introductions as child after child told me their name. It was only for a few moments, and then the questions swept back and it was gone, but I won’t forget it. They each have a name, a story, they are fearfully and wonderfully made, they just want to be known. [excerpt from my blog]
The two weeks I spent in Ukraine were life-changing. Equally life-changing for my family has been hosting a Ukrainian orphan. While too old to be adopted, he has become a long-distance family member. We have hosted him twice and will, Lord-willing, host him again this summer.
As Ukraine covers the headlines and Crimea is once again drawn into history, please keep the people of Ukraine in your prayers. If you’d like, you can follow one Christian voice from Ukraine in this blog, Beauty from the Ashes. Or just pray in particular for the 100,000 orphans who remain among the most vulnerable, especially now with the country’s political upheaval.
To learn more about orphan ministry opportunities in Ukraine as well as other countries, here are some wonderful resources:
- Youthreach International Orphan Sponsorship
- New Horizons Orphan Hosting
- Reece’s Rainbow Adoption Grant Foundation
Thanks, Hayley, for filling us in on what you saw during your trip. It is really sobering to think of the children you saw and the uncertainty they face right now. But we can pray!
And for those of you who want your kids to dig deeper, stay tuned next week for some book ideas. In the meantime, you might consider using some editorial cartoons like these at Worldmag.com or these at NPR to get your kids interested. Kids are often very visual, so the cartoons give a sort of picture book summary you can unpack for them.
Discussion Opportunity: Do you know of any good Cold War books? What do your kids think about what’s going on in Ukraine? And most importantly, how might God be working in the midst of all the saber-rattling?