Some facts about Ukraine
|SOS mother and daughter - photo: M. Mägi|
Ukraine is a republic situated in the east of Europe which is bounded on the south by the Black Sea, the Azow Sea, Moldavia and Romania, on the southwest by Hungary, on the west by Slovakia and Poland, on the north by Belarus and on the northeast and east by Russia. Ukraine has a strategically important position, particularly as the pipeline which transports gas between Europe and Russia runs through the country.
Ukraine is Europe's second largest country, with a population of 45.2 million. Kiev, the capital city, is home to around 2.6 million inhabitants (2011 estimates). Most of the population is Ukrainian, with Russians being the biggest minority - they account for 17 per cent of the population. The official language is Ukrainian, but Russian is still widely spoken, particularly in the areas bordering Russia in the east and in the south.
The Chernobyl nuclear plant is located in northern Ukraine and the 1986 accident contaminated eight per cent of the national territory. Decades later, the consequences from the accident are still being felt. People living in the Chernobyl area continue to be affected by exposure to radiation and limited social and economic opportunities.
One of the poorest countries in Europe
Following independence in 1991, Ukraine - once the breadbasket of the USSR - plunged into poverty. The Ukrainian economy suffered an eight-year-long recession. The country slowly recovered and the gross domestic product increased. However, the 2008-2009 global economic crisis affected the Ukrainian economy and the gross domestic product fell sharply again.
At present, 35 per cent of the population lives below the nationally-established poverty line and the unemployment rate stands at 8.5 per cent. Ukraine is historically an agricultural country. Industry is also important especially in the eastern areas. The percentage of the population working in the service sector is increasing. Tourism is gaining importance and at present about 20 million people visit Ukraine a year.
By all accounts, Ukraine is suffering a demographic crisis. When comparing it to its European neighbours, at 68.25 years it has one of the lowest life expectancy rates. In addition, the country has one of the lowest birth rates and one of the highest death rates. The reasons for this include: environmental pollution, poor diets, smoking and drinking and a health care system in need of investment. The high unemployment rates are not helping matters, as an increasing number of medical staff move abroad in search of work.
HIV/AIDS affects 1.6 per cent of the population: this is one of the highest rates in Europe and it is growing fast. Most of those affected are intravenous drug users (70 per cent of IDUs have HIV) but the epidemic is increasingly spreading through heterosexual transmission. The World Bank believes that unless urgent action is taken, the epidemic will affect economic growth.
Situation of the children in Ukraine
Around 14 per cent of the population are children under the age of 14. According to the United Nations, children in the Ukraine face two main problems: poverty and poor health care.
Over one per cent of all children are deprived of parental care. Most of the children in care are placed in institutions, but when they leave these centres, they are not well prepared for independent living.
|SOS mother with children wearing traditional clothes - photo: M. Mägi|
The increase in divorces means that more children are being brought up in single-parent households. In rural areas, young women who have children out of marriage face discrimination, and this often leads to the mother rejecting the child. These children are at a higher risk of living in poverty and ending up in care.
Health factors also affect the situation of children negatively. For example, there is an increase in the number of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. HIV/AIDS is also a risk factor, as parents become ill or die. In many cases relatives are unwilling to look after children born of HIV positive mothers; they are therefore placed in care.
SOS Children's Villages in Ukraine
SOS Children's Villages has continued to meet the needs of families and children in the Ukraine. At present SOS Children’s Villages is working in two locations in Ukraine. In 2003, SOS Children's Villages started running family-strengthening programmes in order to enable children who are at risk of losing the care of their family to grow within a loving family environment. Other programmes which support families in the communities include counselling and psychological support, and educational programmes. The latter aim to qualitatively improve the services of public schools and kindergartens by offering skill enhancement to teachers and educators. Children whose parents cannot take care of them will find a loving home in one of the SOS families.
Website of SOS Children's Villages Ukraine
(available in Ukrainian and in English)