Saving Ukrainian Children: Mission Possible

August 18, 2023
Ukrainian civil society has shown remarkable solidarity and effectiveness.
Photo credit: “Save Ukraine”

Especially since the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent full-scale invasion in 2022.

Numerous charitable foundations and volunteer organisations have taken on critical responsibilities, providing vital assistance to Ukrainians.

Notably, the "Save Ukraine" foundation has evacuated over 100,000 children and their families from conflict zones. The foundation works tirelessly to ensure the safe return of Ukrainian children who have been illegally deported.

UkraineWorld spoke with Mykola Kuleba, the foundation's founder and leader, who shed light on this important mission.

How does “Save Ukraine” rescue people?

“Save Ukraine”- is a rescue network, founded in 2014. It began to gain experience in rescuing children and their families from war zones at the time.

“Before the full-scale invasion, we rescued around 60,000 people. Thus, step-by-step the organisation learned how to work, communicate, and improve its operations.

The team was strengthened after the full-scale invasion began, with more than 100 people strong. Additionally, more than 300 volunteers are engaged in the foundation’s activities, and hundreds of people work in the foundation's various programmes.

"Save Ukraine" activities are divided into three categories: rescue, restoration, and reconstruction. We evacuate people from war zones, provide healthcare, assist them in returning to normal life, and support them in integrating into new territorial communities. We’ve already evacuated more than 100,000 people. Mostly, they are women and children.

The foundation has also been taking action to rescue Ukrainian children from deportation. It managed to get more than 100 children accompanied by their families and 131 abducted children back from the occupied territories of Ukraine and Russia.

There are numerous shocking stories associated with this effort.

For example, we recently rescued a 12-year-old boy whose parents were murdered by Russians, with the boy having watched everything.

We tracked down his elder sister and secretly saved him from occupied Mariupol because the Russians would refuse to hand him over. The boy is a witness of war crimes.

Within the project, we have specialised centres where we help rescued Ukrainians return to normal life. Children and families who have been evacuated are taken to hope and healing centres. There are a total of seven of them.

We also have a centre for abducted children whom we brought back to Ukraine and reunited with their families. There is a centre for women and children who became victims of sexual abuse, and a centre for abandoned elderly people.

There are also 16 community centres. These are day care facilities where children and their parents can visit on a daily basis. There, children can study and eat. Specialists work with their traumas as well as the traumas of their parents.

“Save Ukraine” builds special houses, which serve as temporary shelters for families with children who have lost their homes. We have already built 106 of these houses and plan to build 50 more this year.

After rehabilitation at ‘Hope and Healing’ centres, these families can take refuge in these houses in the safest areas. We place them in Western Ukraine, where there is no active shelling".

Challenges the foundation faces

"Save Ukraine faces certain difficulties. First, there are families who don’t realise the risks of being in a war zone, and so it’s difficult to convince them to evacuate. However, we can all understand the difficulty for people to leave their homes.

Also, it is important to remember that the psychological trauma they suffered as a result of the war prevents them from making conscious decisions.

Another difficulty is financing. We know how to save people and restore their lives. But we don’t always have enough funds to open new centres. And of course this comes at a cost; it’s necessary to rent premises, hire employees, and train them.

Rescuing even one child from Russia is a complex, long and an expensive operation.

Thousands of dollars are spent just to go to Russia to take one child and bring them back home, because sometimes you have to wait there for a month or more. The whole process of rescue can take up to six months: it includes searching for the child and their relatives, preparing documents, reclaiming the child, returning them home, and putting them through a rehabilitating process.

That’s why we always ask for financial help, since the number of future rescued children depends on it.

The whole team is inspired and determined to rescue every single child. It gives us strength and motivates us to keep going. We cheer like children at every saved life".

You can learn about the foundation’s activities and support it at the link:

Mykola Kuleba, the foundation's founder and leader