A roundtable discussion on the problem of homeless children recently took place in Kyiv’s Ukraine House. Organized by the Oleksandr Feldman International Charitable Foundation, the roundtable “Does Being Homeless mean No Rights?” was accompanied by an exhibit of shocking photographs, called “Children of the Underground,” by the Kharkiv-based photographer Serhii Bondariov.
The photographer mounted each photo on a piece of cardboard. This was the artist’s deliberate choice because cardboard is the life companion of homeless children — they eat and sleep on it. The photos had no captions. Bondariov says that everyone who sees these photographs can figure out what to call the images and what will happen to these children in the future.
“I have been interested in the problem of homeless children for eight or nine years,” Bondariov told The Day. “The photos on displayed at the exhibit were taken in the last two years. These children are quite cruel because they have been placed in these terrible living conditions. Most of them have no hopes of getting out of them. The most striking thing is their animal instinct. Their group is a very strong collective. Even homeless adults are often afraid of them, because these children are capable of stealing their last pennies and beating them up. I tried to show them that I’m not dangerous. When I photographed homeless children, they had an absolutely singular reaction to the camera. Some turned away, others would say something unpleasant. They rarely wanted to have their picture taken.”
According to unofficial data, there are nearly 100,000 homeless children in Ukraine. According to official data, this figure is nearly two times smaller. The main cause of homelessness is the crisis of traditional family values and increasing numbers of troubled families. Many homeless children do not want to return to society. “It’s easier,” they say. Children quickly become accustomed to living in the “underground” — if that can be called living. Some of them, lying among pieces of cardboard and hugging a dirty dog, may dream about a warm home, caring parents, and grandmother’s tasty patties. But a new day comes, and when the child wakes up, he understands that he has to survive somehow.
“Many homeless children from different regions are coming to Kyiv,” says Mykola Kuleba, the head of the Service for Children’s Affairs at the Kyiv Municipal State Administration. “Today you will not see so many children as, say, six years ago. In Kyiv round-the-clock raids are conducted and children are taken off the streets. Two months ago, 150 children were taken off the streets of Kyiv after each raid in one month; 50 children were removed last month. There are many homeless children that have gotten used to this life. But there are also kids who show up at children’s shelters. The problem is not just rehabilitating these children, but helping them to adapt to society.”