Ukraine’s Forgotten Children Review

June 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews


As football tournaments go, Euro 2012 – and Ukraine in particular – hasn’t enjoyed the finest PR-ride of late. We’ve had racism (a disturbingly en vogue football theme this year), political sniping and tonight we saw another dark side of the nation’s make-up.

In Ukraine’s Forgotten Children, we’re taken inside “orphanagesâ€? (or, to use the proper term, institutions) for unwanted children. Ukrainian policy, we’re told, allows families to sign their children away and into the care of the state, where they are grouped with many other orphaned children, each with their own different needs and conditions.

Overcrowded, and in desperate need of more funding, the managers of the institution where the crew spends the majority of their time are attempting to make the best of a dire situation. When children need to go to hospital, nappies and food are supplied by the institution. Often, doctors in the hospital are unable to do anything with them and they are sent back to the orphanages, despite being close to death. Those that behave badly are often tranquillized into submission, turning them into what one describes as “zombies�.

The suffering doesn’t end in the orphanages either. Very few are adopted, and those that survive are sent to adult “institutionsâ€?, which appear to be nothing more then labour camps for the mentally disabled. Once assigned the status of “incapacitatedâ€?, even if their disability is minor, they have little to no rights. One part of the film concerns itself with two men currently involved in getting their incapacitated status revoked and we’re told the harrowing stories from the labour camps.

One of the young men has escaped the adult institutions, and is now living with a family whilst he pursues a reprieve from the courts. It’s obvious how much he appreciates being in a stable, loving environment and this is a brief respite in an otherwise unrelentingly grim hour and a half. Aside from the stories of abuse, and death, not to mention the never pleasant experience of watching children so in need of care being denied it, Ukraine’s Forgotten children is an intensely bleak affair.

The landscape is frozen ploughed earth pitched against impossibly grey skies. Watching this young man as he proudly shows off his vegetable patch, and describes how he is reading a gargantuan book on etiquette in order to integrate into society, you begin to feel a murmur of positivity. Then he describes his main role in the labour camps – burying those that had died under it’s care. He was brutally gang raped, and when he reported it, he was ignored. In his distress, he banged his head against a wall to such a severity that it caused nerve damage.

Needless to say, Ukraine’s Forgotten Children is not comfortable viewing. It is however, very compelling, and whilst it is shocking, it is never exploitative. You watch out of genuine concern, not out of wonder of what might happen next. Viewing this is no easy feat, but it is a worthwhile one. Whilst it’s an extremely painful watch, you’ll be rewarded with a hard-hitting, immensely powerful piece of journalism.

AnneatCHANGE says:

Like many other people, at CHANGE we watched the BBC 4 film with so many strong emotions. We share the urgency for these institutions to be closed down and replaced with community based services. Many of the people are asking in response to the programme what they can do / what can be done and we want to share what we know about what is happening and our work at CHANGE.

Sadly, large institutions for children with and without disabilities exist across many Eastern European countries. But there are organisations who are campaigning ceaselessly to get the institutions closed down and replaced by community based services. One is the leading children’s charity Lumos.

At CHANGE we are working closely with Lumos. CHANGE is a human rights organisation led by Disabled people who work with people with learning disabilities. We employ people with learning disabilities in professional roles, such as trainers. We are supporting the programme of deinstitutionalization in several different ways – we develop easy read materials so that children and young people with learning disabilities have more information and say in their lives. We provide training to policy makers. We are working with other self advocacy organisations across Europe to help develop an infrastructure that will promote the desperately needed changes. You can find out more about our work from our website or by liking us on Facebook / following us on Twitter and!/changepeople_ and