Maksym is 16 years old and has spent most of his life trapped in Ukraine’s vast and loveless network of children’s institutions. Maksym’s mother couldn’t cope with raising her children in poverty and so, when he was three, he was sent to live in an orphanage.
Life there was especially tough for Maksym who had been born with an eye disorder. The other children teased him and he responded with his fists. The only support this lonely little boy had was his older sister, Anya, who has been sent to live in the same institution.
Soon, Maksym had a reputation as a trouble maker and so he was deliberately misdiagnosed as having a “mild mental retardation”. This gave the authorities the excuse they needed to send him to a specialist boarding school, in a remote area some 100 kilometers away. No one asked Maksym if he wanted to go; he wasn’t even allowed to say good bye to Anya.
At first Maksym was defiant – he cried, begged to see his sister; he refused to eat or speak but eventually, he was forced to come to terms with his situation and make the best of things.
After eight years Maksym was transferred to another specialist institution, in yet another part of the country. Again, no one warned him about the move, explained the reason for the decision or allowed him to say good bye to his friends.
Throughout his childhood, Maksym suffered repeated ear infections. He tried to tell the staff in the institutions about the pain but they ignored him and so he stopped complaining. As a result, he almost lost his hearing.
In all, Maksym spent 13 years surviving in a system where no one cared for him as an individual, where no one cared for him at all.
When Hope and Homes for Children began work to close the last facility where Maksym lived, we had to fight hard to guarantee him a better future. Because of his age and his false diagnosis, the authorities wanted to send him on down the line to an adult institution. Maksym was at risk of spending his entire life, trapped in the system, and we were determined not to let that happen.
Instead, we made sure that Maksym was able to move to one of our Small Family-Group Homes. These are houses we build to care for children from orphanages who cannot be reunited with their birth families or matched with foster parents. Often, this is because of their age or because they have special needs.
So today Maksym lives in an ordinary domestic house, in a residential part of town where he is part of the local community. He shares his new home with a small group of other children and adult carers. For the first time in his life, he has his own space, his own clothes and his own possessions. None of these things were allowed in the institutions.
Maksym has already had two operations to correct the problems with his eye and his ears and he is preparing for a third. His dream, to no longer feel ashamed of his face, will finally come true. Maksym has also had his false diagnosis overturned so now he can attend a mainstream school. His ambition is to design and make shoes.
Most importantly of all, we have managed to reunite Maksym with Anya. So this year, at last, he will spend Christmas in a home where he is cared for and respected as an individual, with a sister to love him.