Article from Sunday Times London

The article below dated 06.02.2011 is copyright The Sunday Times London and must not be reproduced in any manner

"Ukrainian orphanages ‘are starving disabled children’

Torez, which houses around 100 ill and disabled children, is about as far from an ideal world as it is possible to imagine

Daniel Foggo and Martin Foley Kiev
Published: 6 February 2011

Climb the stairs of the orphanage at Torez, Ukraine, pass through a honeycomb of rooms packed with children and there, by the window, you will find a cot from which a little boy called Anatoly stares up at you. His beautiful, long-lashed eyes are bright. His prospects could scarcely be bleaker.


Anatoly is 10 years old, yet he is the size of a toddler. Emaciated to the point where his bony legs could not possibly support him, he weighs little more than 1 stone. “He is dying,” said a nurse, Svetlana.

Like many of the children at Torez, Anatoly has cerebral palsy. His parents gave up on him long ago, so he is living out his last days with no family to visit him and no means of satisfying his craving for sustenance. In an ideal world, Svetlana explained, the orphanage would have given him baby food
high in calories. But it was expensive.

Torez is as far from an ideal world as it is possible to imagine. Opposite Anatoly lies Maxim, seven years old and equally shrivelled. The veins stand out on his hand, which is clasped around his throat as if he is trying to extinguish his own suffering.

Everywhere you look are tiny boys and girls who whimper if their blankets are drawn back even momentarily. Their foreboding reflects the losing battles for survival going on all around them. Of the approximately 100 children in the orphanage, about 12 die each year.

Children with cerebral palsy often need more help to eat than the hard-pressed staff can provide.

Teresa Fillmon, who runs a US-based charity that aids orphanages in Ukraine, said: “I have watched them feed the children in Torez. They just spend around 30 seconds spooning in a soupy mixture
which then falls out of the child’s mouth before they move on to the next.”


The results are inexorable. Shown photographs of the children, Jean-Pierre Lin, a consultant paediatric neurologist at the Evelina children’s hospital in London, said: “I am afraid [it looks] as if the children are starving — [they are] literally skin and bones and extreme deformity. It may be that
these institutions don’t have access to alternative methods of feeding.”

Alexander Vasyakin, the director of the orphanage, denies there is any starvation. “They are ill,” he said. “Because of their condition they cannot process food properly. We are trying to attract American firms such as Nestlé to provide us with food that is more absorbent for them.”

Other westerners with medical knowledge are in no doubt about what is happening. JoAnn Valanzola, a critical-care nurse, and Christine Haglund, a nutritionist, have visited Torez in the past and judged the children to be suffering from malnutrition.

“In my opinion they were suffering from calorie/protein malnutrition,” Valanzola said. “Their bellies were large but their legs and arms were thin. In addition, most of the children that were bedridden were soaked with urine.”

Fillmon describes Torez as the worst orphanage she has experienced in Ukraine, where many of the western-style aspirations of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, leaders of the Orange Revolution six years ago, have been lost along with their grip on power.

Although Viktor Yanukovych, the current president, is closer to Russia, Ukraine has recently reiterated its desire to join the European Union, which has urged it to show its fitness by upholding humanitarian rights. The revelation of what life is like for residents of the Torez orphanage exposes
that commitment to scrutiny.

Baroness Nicholson, a campaigner for the rights of children in orphanages in eastern Europe, said: “This kind of issue can not only delay EU membership, it can forestall it for ever, until the country concerned takes a proper attitude of protection and not exploitation.”

Malnutrition in Torez is not the only concern about how Ukraine’s 55 “invalid orphanages” are run. Three former residents have told of abuse they suffered at the hands of staff at other such institutions.

Maxim Meleckiy, a 20-year-old cerebral palsy sufferer who grew up in orphanages after being abandoned at two months old, said: “The last orphanage I was in was so terrible I couldn’t have imagined it existed. People in the ministry of social policy have told me that if I speak out I will be physically injured, but it’s something I have to do for the children who are still suffering in the orphanages.” Maxim found the food sour and conditions dirty. He alleged that staff stole from children and beatings were common. The response of the orphanage to a series of complaints, he said, was to call the police and have him handcuffed for being “mentally unbalanced”.

According to Meleckiy, he was drugged and confined to a clinic for three weeks until a sympathetic inspection of the orphanage had been completed in his absence.

One boy who was allegedly assaulted by staff was Igor Marchenko. He died last year, aged 15, of an infection.

Other former residents of orphanages have told similarly horrifying stories: Vladimir Pilipenko, now 21, said staff would rape the girls, beat the children and steal their food.

Boris Shlensky recalled beatings from staff using a metal pole. Both he and Pilipenko were classed as “retarded” and placed in a home for those with special needs, although they reject their diagnoses.

Not all children in the invalid orphanages are seriously ill. Some were placed there simply because they have asthma, cleft palates or birthmarks. Fillmon said all the other orphanages she visited were “wonderfully well run by caring people”. But concerns about some invalid institutions have prompted
a government inquiry to root out corruption within the system.

Anatoly Zabolotny, director of the Foundation for Development of Ukraine, a humanitarian organisation, said: “Not all the money goes to the children. Some directors take control of it and spend it on themselves.”

He related the case of an orphanage director who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and built a large house on a salary of $300 a month. “This wouldn’t even buy the bricks to build his garage,” said Zabolotny.

He claimed orphanages were increasingly resisting allowing children to be fostered or adopted because their funding depended on the number of children on the register.

Some attempts to adopt children from Torez have ended in rejection. But a few children have found salvation. Anna Rundall, from California, adopted a seven-year-old girl, Kori, who has Down’s syndrome, from Torez last October. Rundall said Kori weighed 1 stone, 2lb when she collected her. In
the three months since arriving in America she has gained 10lb.

“She had a lot of issues with feeding that just took time, [but] she is doing much better now,” Rundall said. “There are a lot of kids like that there.”

For many of those in Torez, personal attention is something they are unlikely ever to experience. For the worst off, such as Anatoly and Maxim, life is a torment from which the only escape is death.

Additional reporting: Julia Lyubova

"The above article dated 06.02.2011 is copyright The Sunday Times London and must not be reproduced in any manner"

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