The Internat In Mykolaivka

An Overview

Posted Thurs, 30 Dec 2004

My name is Jon Brasher. I work for the libraries of Auburn University, performing troubleshooting for staff and student computers, and maintaining two servers. I also administer course-based webpages for about 150 faculty members across the campus.

Between December 8th and 17th of 2004 I was in Ukraine to visit four orphanages, delivering donations and keeping a mental diary of the conditions in which the children are living. One of these orphanages was in a town called Mykolaivka.

Mykolaivka is a small town in the Donet’sk oblast, in Eastern Ukraine. The town is ringed by power-plants belching smoke into the air from the coal furnaces. Mykolaivka is reached by road, unless you can hop a coal car and ride from Kramatorsk or from the mines. The road is very bumpy, in many spots reduced to one lane by pot holes and ice-damage.

The Internat, or orphanage, in Mykolaivka is used for housing children aged 8 to 18. The orphanage itself is situated in the middle of Soviet-built apartment buildings that most likely house mine workers and their families. I’m not sure of the individual situations of the children in this place, but a lot of the children in orphanages around Ukraine are there because their parents are unable to care for them. In other orphanages, in less remote areas than Mykolaivka, once a child’s parents have lost, or given up, their parental rights, the child is placed on an adoption registry. This rarely happens at Mykolaivka because of its remote location and because the children are so much older. Very few adoptive couples are willing to travel there when younger children are more accessible.

In Ukraine, once an orphan reaches the age of 18, he or she is released, no longer considered the responsibility of the government. Unless these children have received training in some vocation while under the government’s care, their choices are extremely limited when it comes to choosing a career.

Another difference at the Internat, a difference readily seen but not discussed much, is that a large portion of the children have mental problems. To say an orphan has emotional problems is, to some extent, redundant. The same goes for mental delays, which are a common facet of orphanage life. I didn’t see the entire population of the Internat, but there are some children there who are completely empty. Unlike the ones who are visibly brain-damaged or handicapped, these children are hollow. They may have had emotions or thoughts at one time, but all those things leaked out and there’s nothing left to life except going through the motions.

Scattered throughout the population of the Internat are children who have managed to cope with orphanage life. They are as normal as they can be. If given a chance, they will be able to lead productive lives once they leave the Internat.

The Internat currently has two vocational training programs. Boys from the woodworking class scour the dusty streets, searching for scrap wood to make breadboards, decorative shelves, and molding for picture frames. Their work is mostly the result of carving and cutting with hand tools. There is currently a project underway to purchase power tools for this shop.

The other program is a sewing class. The girls in this class make garments and do needlework and embroidery. Until recently they were using a treadle type sewing machine. They now have three electric machines.

What is needed?

Even in the world of Mykolaivka, computers have a place. Children who excel in woodworking and sewing, as these do, will find jobs when they leave the Internat. A child with computer experience can do much more. Computer experience can open doors to higher education, self-education, and better jobs.

From the brief four days I spent at the Internat, I was able to meet perhaps twenty to thirty children who would benefit greatly from the hands-on experience of a computer lab. One boy named Sasha, who repeatedly tried to see if he could squeeze my hand hard enough to make me flinch, is searching for some way out of the life he seems destined to lead. One girl, who gave me a handkerchief she had embroidered herself, would do well in a computer class. Like her, there are many more at the Internat who are trying to make something better of themselves, and who are proud of every little thing they accomplish.

These children are the spark of life at the Internat. The administrators and teachers are proud of the woodworking shop and the sewing room, readily giving tours of both areas. A computer lab would occupy a prominent place in the school building. The teachers gladly show pictures of graduates from the Internat. Life2Orphans is working to make adoptive couples aware of Mykolaivka.

The normal delays children exhibit from living in an orphanage will be reduced once they have been exposed to a computer lab. The children will hungrily welcome the new mental challenges presented by computers. A computer lab at the Internat in Mykolaivka will not only change the children’s future – it will improve the chances of their adoption.

Christmas for Orphans

An Adoptive Granny

Posted Thurs, 9 Dec 2004

We, the “oldies”, have many varied memories of Christmas. When I reminisce about this time of the year, I am transported back to my childhood in a small town in Africa. December was summer time, a time of clear blue skies, hot sun beating down on the dry earth and a time of excitement for children waiting for that special day on the calendar.

For weeks prior to Christmas, the shops/stores were already celebrating with trees covered in twinkling, bright lights. Shelves were stacked with an assortment of gifts, enticing parents to buy for their children, family members and friends. Cheerful carols were played at a loud tone. There was nothing somber about this time of the year.

As a child, I couldn’t wait for the festive street lights to be switched on! What excitement. My sister and I would dash out to the family car and wait for my father and mother to join us. We couldn’t wait to reach the town centre where we would gaze in wonder at the beautiful, colored illuminations around us.

On our return home, we would run to our room. There we would place our pillow case at the foot of our bed before going to sleep. This was one night of the year when children had no objections about going to bed!

I remember the excitement when waking up and finding the pillow case bulging with gifts from Santa. How did he always know exactly what my sister and I wanted for Christmas?? My parents came into the room and like parents all over the world, they were captivated by the expressions on our faces as we admired our presents. Our cries of joy indicated the amount of fulfillment of our dreams, desires or expectations.

These were my childhood years during WW2. Everything was in short supply, both food and luxuries. My mother made our clothes and many of our toys were of the knitted/crocheted/stuffed variety. She baked for our birthdays and other celebrations. We made do with what we had and we never lacked sustenance. My sister and I were secure in a world of conflict because we felt loved and protected.

Now, many years later, I have 2 grandchildren. My grandson, is 8 years old, and granddaughter is 4 years of age. My granddaughter was adopted from an orphanage in the Ukraine at the age of 2 years. The world, as I knew it during my childhood, is gone forever. Life has changed drastically. However, one thing has remained constant – Christmas. This is still a time of celebration, a time of sharing and caring. It is a time of counting ones blessings and bestowing some on others, less fortunate. It is time to remember Charles Dickens story of Scrooge. For me, especially, having an adopted granddaughter coming from an orphanage, it is a time to remember all those little souls still living without a home, without a Mommy and Daddy to spoil them on Christmas morning.

I would like to make an appeal to readers to remember these little children too. I appeal to you to open your hearts and generously contribute gifts to these little ones so that they, too, may know the joy of receiving something special on such a special day.

I quote from an article written by a founder of the Life2Orphans organization:

“Last year Life2Orphans families and donors provided over 2000 gifts to 4 orphanages. This year we have grown to cover 18 orphanages and we hope to provide many gifts as possible. Many of the older orphans have never received a gift in their lives and have no understanding of the concept of Christmas. Consider the impact that just one Christmas gift can have … a child at the Children’s Hope Rehabilitation Center stood up and announced that the reason they don’t run away anymore and live on the street was because they get food AND last year they received a CHRISTMAS GIFT.”

For further information about the Life2Orphans Christmas project, feel free to email Jon our Christmas Co-ordinator at

Santa, I Need A Home

Posted Wed, 8 Dec 2004

Christmas is still a few weeks away and my daughter's gift orders for Santa keep rolling in: A Nemo clock, a jewelry box, yet another doll's pram, the list goes on...

Of course I have some sympathy for my daughter's wishes as I remember wishing much the same thing at her age. But as I prepare Santa's Christmas shopping list I can't help but think of the Christmas wish of another girl I know of, Ada (pronounced, "Arda").

Ada's wish is simple. It is not based on the latest Barbie to be released, the most fashionable outfit, or the best computer game of the 21st Century. Instead, it is a wish based solely on love. Ada's Christmas wish is for a family and somewhere to call home. For someone to tuck her in at night and say those three magic words, "I love you."

You see, Ada is one of many thousands of orphaned children living in Ukraine. Some of them are social orphans whose parents are too poor to clothe and feed them, some have been rejected by their parents, and others (like Ada) are true orphans whose parents have passed away. Many are available for adoption and most have never received a Christmas gift in their lives.

At this time of year it is all too easy to forget about those living a life less privileged than ours with a quality of life that we would struggle to imagine.

As we try to decide what goodies to put on the table for our Christmas meal, many of these kids are receiving only 50% of the minimum required daily nutrients. Christmas day is no different and, for most orphans, passes without as much as a celebratory meal. The children go to bed cold and hungry.

Toys are so few that Christmas day is simply another day of boredom for many orphans. And while our children moan that they didn't get quite what they wanted and we complain that the turkey was overcooked, the weather was miserable, and the Christmas tree looked less than perfect; a child waits on the other side of the world and quietly hopes for nothing more than a family to love her.

To help Ada, and others like her, please contact US registered charity, Life2Orphans. This organization is made up of a number of individuals and corporations from throughout the world who join together to provide not only Christmas gifts but also much needed daily essentials to children in a number of orphanages in Ukraine.

Now is a great time of year to give a little extra and bring a smile to the face of a child who has very little to smile about. Visit for more information and have a very Merry Christmas.


Two Cribs Apart - Transforming Lives with Food and Play

Posted Fri, 6 Aug 2004

Life has an interesting way of coming full circle. Sasha was Orphan #15/Group 9, one of 160 babies at the Antoshka Orphanage.

We adopted her in March 2002 at age 26 months. She was malnourished and weighed 17 pounds, was bald with a distended belly, bow-legged and had rickets. The orphanage budget of $1 a day per baby for food, heating, salaries, medicines, maintenance, cleaning, diapers, and so on, is hopelessly inadequate. This only allowed for milk for babies up to 4 months. After that it was a vegan regime of potato, gruel, soup, bread, tea and sugar water.

The result was a toddler, wearing clothes sized for a 9 month old with several development contradictions. Sasha's fine motor skills were surprisingly well developed as result of necessity (the children had to feed themselves), however, she could barely walk and would stumble and fall after every other step. Her speech consisted of only a handful of Russian words and she had absolutely no concept of how to play with even the most basic of toy. Her cognitive skills languished behind children half her age and we were at the orphanage for three days before we saw Sasha or any of the other orphans smile and this was triggered by food. Sensory deprivation meant that sound, light, color or the smallest change in routine would trigger an overload.

The memories of the orphanage haunted me daily once we returned home, and so together with several other families, Life2Orphans was born. We returned in 2003 and 2004 on humanitarian trips. The transformation was amazing. The kids were smiling, playing, collaborating, better nourished and not standing rocking or banging their heads. Some of the disabled orphans were integrated into regular groups and the staff seemed to have more hope.

We took a photo of the room where Sasha slept. This week we discovered that the little boy two cribs down who we captured on camera is Jonathan (adopted by a Life2Orphans family). Somehow this made it all worth it - to meet a family (albeit online) whose child had directly benefited from the donations. And the babies that are there now are benefiting from Jonathon's family's involvement. And so the cycle continues.

Comment from Lisa (Jonathan's mom): When my husband and I first visited Antoshka, we were impressed with how clean it was, the kindness of the staff and the bright and new toys we saw (later we found out that was the month after L2O came in with all those toys). His medical records showed growth at every three months when he was weighed and measured. He learned to walk at 16 months and weighed a wonderful 19.5 pounds at 18 months. I am so grateful for all the food and donations that were sent from which our little boy was given the opportunity to grow. I know that his being given formula not only helped with his physical growth but also his brain development! But there is still more work to be done! When all the adoptive parents met with their new children, at the orphanage, the first thing they did was bring out the food. All the children were like little birds. Their mouths were open wide after one bite, eager for the next because they were hungry. Jonathan was eating anything we would give him and searching in our backpack for more. There are so many more children left behind. I have to keep going and help other children. It is the least I can do.

How you can help.....

Feed a baby by donating $5 a month. Contact Stacey at














Sasha's Crib #15, Group 9 and Jonathan (on the right)

Group 9 - The effect of donations start to kick in - each child has a toy to play with

Group 9 - 2003 - The children are playing - together!


Providing a Glimmer of Hope - Help an Orphan

Posted Fri, 2 Jul 2004

An email report from Galya, our Life2Orphans on the ground volunteer in Sevastopol.


Just came back from the Sevastopol shelter. Thank you for the perfect timing with Leonya's birthday present!! He was thrilled! With the money I bought enough drinks, cakes, candies and cookies for 20 kids to share.

They LOVED the party!! Natasha and Leonya were very excited with their presents. Esme, you made their day, thank you so much!! All the clothes fit perfectly except for the red pants which Natasha is going to give to her friend who is now in hospital, and a pair of running shoes, which Leonya gave to his buddy Maria (you can see them in one of the pics) they were a little too small.

Natasha is very concerned about her front tooth missing, so she quit smiling each time she saw me trying to take her picture :) Leonya didn't seem to care much, thought. First thing Natasha told me when I went in, was her concern about the teacher who was supposed to teach her read and write, because she hadn't showed up yet! She's worried because soon she'll be transferred to an orphanage and thus will join the kids in the summer camp. I explained her that soon she'll start her classes, but it was great to see that she very excited about it.

Also she was obviously very upset, almost crying, first she wouldn't tell me why, but then she said that her birthday is in February. And?

And by then she'll be gone to an orphanage!! I reassured her that her that Esme isn't going to forget her just because she'll move.

How you can help.....

Sponsor an orphan by sending at least two parcels a year. You will receive a picture and feedback about your child.

Contact Michelle at

Click here to read more about the Help an Orphan project.

The kids in the shelter enjoying the party

Natasha and Leonya wrapped in their new hand-made blanket



Plight of Older Orphans

Posted Fri, 26 Jun 2004

There are 217 children aged 8 to 16 years in Internat Mykolaivka. The Internat is officially for orphans with learning difficulties - but is in fact, often simply a dumping ground for orphans - sent there because there are no beds available elsewhere. For example, a boy with cleft palate who should have been in an Internat for children with speech difficulties had been placed here. Many are mentally 100% when they arrive.

The Internat is located in a small village outside Slavyansk - which is 14 hours by train plus one hour by car east of Kyiv. Because of its rural location and 'labeled' children there are no adoptions to speak of. This means that they have no outside assistance as they are remote and isolated. The buildings are grey and in need of maintenance and the grounds are barren.

The kids are cheerful despite their circumstance and when we took gifts for a group of 10 kids (who were graduates of the Roschitsa kindergarten age orphanage we support) they stood and sang for us - everyone was crying. Manjour (a dark-skinned, 11 year old boy) sang a beautiful song about having a family - we (including the staff) were all in tears. He has been available for adoption for his whole life but several adoptive families declined to even see him because of his skin tone. Kiriel, who is 11, and has been in an orphanage from when he was born prematurely, is an engaging, charming, articulate child. And so on.....

They seemed so intent on doing something in exchange for the gifts and candy we brought them.

The children have tatty clothing and many had shoes that were too small - one boy had slit his sneakers open at the front so that his toes would fit and another had sandals and socks on - the sandals were at least 3 sizes too small. One of the children was SO delighted to get a simple ballpoint pen from us and another cried when her plastic bag tore (an ultra-thin supermarket plastic bag).

Three sisters could not tell us their ages or their own birthdays (not even the month). They are 10, 13 and 14 (we had to look this up). I guess after years of neglect and no one ever telling them they simply didn't know. It is also difficult to assess their ages because of their inadequate nutrition -all the children are much smaller than their real age. Anton, 10 years old, adopted in Russia at age 8, traveled with us to Ukraine with his mom to work in the orphanages for a month. He towered over the 11 year olds. The average shoe size is 3 to 4 years behind.

As we left word got out that we were there and we were mobbed - in the gentlest of ways.

The orphanage director, when asked what help they needed, asked for clothes and school supplies for the children. They also need laundry equipment but he was firm that the needs of the children should come first.

These kids have no one to lobby for them. The staff members are warm and kind but trapped in a hopeless situation - no one speaks English and they have no contacts with aid organizations (which are often affiliated with adoptions).

I do believe that it takes very special people to provide aid to kids that are older and no longer "cute and cuddly" - but I do believe that they deserve to sleep the sleep of the just.

If you would like to help these kids please contact us at 


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