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The story of Vira’s life is a classic tragedy of small Ukrainian towns and villages. A single woman with 5 children, an alcoholic partner who was always violent to Vira and children, and Vira herself – trying to seek salvation from a brutal reality with alcohol.

The social worker in the village could only monitor the situation and support the woman with advice. But the situation became increasingly worse, and social services were going to remove children from the family.

Exactly at this critical moment, the centre of social support – established as part of a local deinstitutionalisation project – came to the assistance of Vira and her children.

Vira came to the centre all covered in bruises, with floods of tears due to frustration and pain. She and her children were scared and haunted by constant beatings and humiliation. The woman was immediately placed in a separate room in the mother and baby unit. Here, she and her children could feel safe for the first time in several years.

First of all, social workers of the center organized the treatment of children who had mental health problems stemming from the abuse, enuresis, night terrors and developmental delay. One of the children had tuberculosis, and a few days of delay could have been fatal for a child.

It was an extremely painful process for Vira to break up her traumatic relationship between her and her dangerous partner. Only after a lengthy persuasion, she could write a statement to the police about abuse and injuries. Unfortunately, in Ukraine cases of domestic violence rarely reach court. A guilty verdict is given to the abusers in even fewer instances. It was not surprising that the forensic examination did not find the injuries so easily and the state investigator urged the woman to withdraw the statement. However, due to the unwavering position of social workers in the centre, the case was brought to court and the offender was held accountable. It was for the first time in the local area when domestic violence was not only detected but also punished.

Social workers have also managed to find Vira’s mother who lived together with the eldest Vira’s daughter in another village. Vira’s mother and Vira did not communicate with each other for many years. However, little by little, the two women began to have contact with each other. Vira told her mother about grandchildren, shared joys and concerns, supported her mother and received support in return. The women have decided very soon that Vira should move to live in the village with her mother. Social workers from the centre visited the village, met its Mayor and asked for his assistance.  The head of the village was sceptical to begin with, but promised Vira some help with job an accomodation. A few weeks later the mayor told us enthusiastically:

“I have never believed in such transformations. I remember Vira from before. Now I can see a confident woman who wants to stay with her children. And she does her best for this. I promise to help her with everything as much as I can”.

It didn’t come as a surprise because thanks to the centre of social support, Vira has recovered from her alcoholism, has got a job and receives welfare benefits to support her children as a single mother. Vira rents a house near the school and kindergarten that her children attend. She has made some repairs to the new home and all the children now live with her including a daughter who was previously living with Vira’s mother. The family has a small domestic farm and takes care of it together. |Recently Vira called the centre and told about her new life and those dramatic changes that have happened to her and her children. On the phone, she was constantly repeating:

“I’m so happy! Even my older daughter who lived away from me for 9 years returned, we are happily living together now!”

Vira, of course, will still be looking for support and protection for some time, as she only starts her life without violence, and she often feels insecure. But we are convinced that we laid a solid foundation, and Vira will build on a prosperous future for herself and her children. She is not alone in her struggle: in addition to support from the social services, Vira can always rely on her mother or ask her fellow villagers for help  – they no longer perceive her as an alcoholic woman with multiple children. They are prepared to step in and support Vira establishing her way in their  community.