“… in the first days of the war, most of the orphanages and boarding houses were evacuated. If you look at the statistics, you will see that a lot of work was done in the early days of full-scale aggression.”
From an interview with the head of the presidential office, Andriy Yermak, to the publication LB.uaJune 20, 2022
Anatoly Romanov, the head physician of the Antoshka orphanage in the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, already had experience in evacuating the institution: in June 2014, when Kramatorsk was occupied by illegal armed groups, thanks to Romanov, a safe place was found for the wards of the institution in Kharkiv.
However, on February 24, 2022, when Russia vilely, without declaring war, already launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine, Anatoly Alekseevich and the wards of Antoshka had to endure an experience that cannot even be compared with the hellish summer of 2014. Anatoly Romanov told ZN.UA how 76 children and 45 employees got out of the hell of war to a picturesque place in the Chernivtsi region.
— Anatoly Alekseevich, did you think about the actions in case of a full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation?
“I can say that for some time before the Russian invasion, we talked with the authorities about the possible evacuation of our children. For about a week, we discussed options for where to evacuate Antoshka’s wards. I called Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk, Rivne and Chernivtsi orphanages. However, the number of places we were offered did not match the number of children we had to take out of the danger zone. So we discussed the possibilities.
In addition, already about a month before February 24, we prepared a “disturbing suitcase” for each child and employees. There was a first aid kit, diapers, water, food. We were also preparing a shelter for a possible long stay during the hostilities. We did not know what to expect, but we saw that the whole of Ukraine was living in tension.
— How did the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war begin for you and Antoshka? How was the evacuation issue handled?
– On February 24, everything happened unexpectedly, suddenly. But already around lunchtime, the regional department assured me by phone: there would be an evacuation, you could go to the Chernivtsi orphanage, everyone would be accepted.
Then I talked with Antoshka employees. The 79 children we needed to evacuate had to be taken care of by at least 40 employees. Then we already knew that the Russian army was bombing the Kiev direction, the Dnieper, that is, everywhere on our road it is dangerous.
The employees asked me if I can guarantee that they will safely reach their destination and, very importantly, return back to their families, because they have children, relatives. The situation was extremely difficult. Then I suggested, taking into account the experience of 2014, first to find some place closer. The Department proposed to evacuate Antoshka to the children’s rehabilitation center Smaragdovo Mistechko in Svyatogorsk. We were taken there by bus.
In “Smaragdov’s Place” we were given a separate building. They decided to organize the work on a rotational basis: about 20 employees changed twice a week. Rooms have been allocated for them.
— Then there was already fighting nearby.
– Exactly. Izyum is not far from us in a straight line – from there we constantly heard cannonades. The situation was very turbulent, we followed the news, tried to understand what would happen next. And on March 13, the Svyatogorsk Lavra was shelled. From us it is a maximum of three kilometers. The regional authorities reacted promptly – buses came for us. We decided to go to Chernivtsi.
— How many employees agreed to accompany the children?
– For understanding: we have 284 employees. 14 employees immediately agreed to go – this is for 14 children. Most did not dare to leave their children. I reported this to the department, said that it was not enough to overcome such a path, they simply would not be physically able to take care of the children during the long train journey.
We were promised that at the railway station in Kramatorsk, from where we were supposed to be evacuated, volunteers would be waiting for us to help take the children. But on the spot it turned out that there would be no volunteers. We began to search among the relatives of our employees, we simply searched among the people who were at the station. Found about 15 more people.
— How did you overcome such a difficult path?
“We were given two carriages, the rescuers helped us get up and carry our things, in general, everything was perfectly organized at the station. We had a lot of things with us: in Smaragdovo Mistechko, in case we needed to settle in the basement, people brought us a lot of water, dry mixes, food, diapers …
On the way we spent 36 hours. You understand what small children are: five times a day you need to feed, wash, change clothes … But we managed. Boiling water for dilution of dry mixtures was taken from the conductor. The children were taken care of around the clock.
Of course it was scary. In addition to the situation itself, there is also a change of place.
— What was your destination in Chernivtsi? Where were you placed?
– On the territory of the Ascension Banchen Monastery. We were met by the bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Longin, the abbot of this monastery. We arrived in Chernivtsi at three in the morning. The entire process was led by the local service for children’s affairs. Reassured: everything will be fine. Vladyka met us personally, together with the clergy.
We were taken to a very nice place. Mothers ran out of a large bright building, took the children to pre-prepared rooms. And the adults were settled in the pilgrim’s house. To say that we are treated very well here is an understatement. Good new rooms with everything necessary for children, a lot of food, hygiene items. It was even funny – they regularly tried to give children as many sweets as possible, and I had to emphasize that children are fed in accordance with certain norms, and sweets in large quantities can make them feel bad … But this example only shows how loving and The people who received us were attentive.
We take children for examination to Chernivtsi, which is about 30 kilometers away. There is also a clinic of St. Luke with experienced doctors, where our children have been registered. Now the examination of children continues, we plan vaccinations. In general, we enter into a normal rhythm in order to provide children with everything necessary, as it has always been.
— Did any of the Antoshka employees join you in this monastery?
– Yes. In general, we now have about 45 employees. Nurses, nannies, doctors, educators. In addition, Vladyka provided wages for people who are helping us take care of children here. Many people help to do this. Mostly believers, parishioners.
But I will note separately that we pay salaries to Antoshka employees – at the expense of the budget, everything is as it should be. Our accounting department works, we even took out the computer.
— Under what conditions were you placed? What are your plans for the future?
– Vladika Longin said that we can stay. We live here on the funds that he allocated. The fact is that issues related to the protection of children are extremely important for him, since there are pupils on the territory of the monastery, children whom the metropolitan has taken under guardianship.
There is a house for orphans with disabilities “Oselya Viry, Nadiya ta Lyubov”, where children with severe diagnoses are taken care of. We have already drawn up the relevant documents, and eight children from Antoshka are now undergoing rehabilitation in this institution. In general, out of 75 we have 17 children for whom disability is registered.
Let me note that we came to Kramatorsk with 76 children, of which three palliative children with an extremely difficult diagnosis were left in the intensive care unit of the Kramatorsk Children’s Hospital. Later they were taken to Kropyvnytskyi, and one boy with hydrocephalus died there – unfortunately, with such a severe course of the disease, this was not a surprise either for us or for the parents.
— Do children from Antoshka communicate with their biological families?
— Frankly speaking, no. Nobody gets in touch with us. There is only one child, a boy whose mother, deprived of parental rights, obtained a court decision in her favor, and already took her son away from here; she is from Pokrovsk, Donetsk region.
I personally feel safer that the children are in a safe place, and not in the Donetsk region, where hell is now. For the period of martial law, according to the issued documents, we can stay here.
Here, our wards are supervised by the Chernivtsi Service for Children. The clergy take very good care of us all. Children are slowly returning to a quiet life. Here we are like one family – they even christened all the children, they now have godparents.
We hope for the restoration of peace in Ukraine. Our children must live in peace.
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The protection of childhood is one of the priority tasks of the state and society, especially during the war. Despite the real heroism of individual leaders and employees of orphanages, the war once again showed that in force majeure circumstances, the boarding school system establishments to guarantee such protection is difficult, unlike the family.
“A child needs a family” is a common project of media workers of Ukraine and “Ukrainian campaign for the rights of children”. Together we talk about foster and guardian families, families of adoptive parents, family-type orphanages (DDST), boarding schools institutions that, after the start of a full-scale war, were forced to flee from shelling in Western Ukraine and abroad, adapting to the conditions of life in evacuation. These stories will help create a roadmap for child rights and family support in post-victory Ukraine.
This material is published as part of the ISAP project Unity: “Development of advocacy capacity Public Union “Ukrainian Association for the Rights of Children” in the formation of state policy in the field of protection of the rights of the child and family support”.
Archive of materials of the media campaign “A child needs a family” here.