The war in Ukraine has caused a dramatic surge in the number of “social orphans,” according to a mission organization responding to an escalating crisis of child abandonment.
Ukrainian church leaders estimate there are as many as 50,000 “hidden” social orphans, children barely surviving under the radar who’ve been abandoned or severely neglected by their parents due to the ravages of war and fueled by addictions.
“There’s a massive crisis of kids who’ve been either abandoned to live on their own or live with parents who are almost constantly drunk or abusive,” said Eric Mock, senior vice president at Slavic Gospel Association (SGA). SGA partners with more than 800 evangelical churches across Ukraine to deliver aid and “share the hope of the Gospel.”
Uncovering Crisis of Neglect
Local church workers uncovered the extent of the crisis as they went door-to-door delivering emergency food packages and sharing the Gospel with families living on the frontline. Often, they find parents who’ve passed out after a drunken binge while their hungry children sit in squalor.
It’s estimated approximately 30% of neglected or abandoned children in Ukraine are “true orphans” without a living parent, most of them in government-run orphanages. The other 70% have at least one parent who’s alive but they have to essentially fend for themselves.
“We’re seeing fathers being killed in the war and young widowed mothers sinking into despair,” Mock said. “They’re hearing missiles rain down every night and that generates tremendous fear and anxiety. They can’t find a job because most businesses have been wiped out, so they turn to alcohol to blot out their pain and check out of life.”
As a result, abandoned children as young as two or three years old scavenge for food in appalling conditions.
Crawling With Cockroaches
“I visited a house, an absolute mess, and a small child walked in behind me,” Mock said. “The kitchen countertop was covered with cockroaches. The child just wiped all the roaches on the floor, filled a glass with dirty water and took a drink.. The pastor accompanying me said, ‘The father is drunk and the mother is never around. For them, this is just life’.”
At another home, a little boy was dirty and neglected, while his parents were “oblivious and clearly drunk,” Mock said. “Local church workers go back to visit these homes day after day, sometimes taking the children back to their own homes to clean them up and feed them.”
Mock has visited numerous orphanages across Ukraine and Russia, but says he’s never seen anything like these conditions.
“In the orphanages, the children are fed and taken care of. They’re considered the ‘lucky ones’,” he said. “But thousands of social orphans have nothing, and no family who cares for them. They can’t be adopted because they still have at least one parent who’s alive and hasn’t given up their parental rights. That’s why the local churches play such a vital role.”
Feeling ‘Wanted’ For First Time
SGA’s emergency food deliveries and Orphans Reborn outreach support local church efforts to show orphans and abandoned children that “they’re loved by God and loved by the church family.”
“For many of them, it’s the first time in their lives they’ve ever felt wanted or loved, and the first time they’ve heard the Gospel,” SGA president Michael Johnson said.
Since the war began, SGA and its local church partners have provided food packages to approximately 300,000 families in Ukraine, enough for roughly 16 million meals, and local church workers have shared the Gospel with an estimated 500,000 people.