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OPINION

I’m a Father to 3 Ukrainian Children. Putin is Robbing Ukraine’s Orphans of Their Hope for a Better Life

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Andrew Marienko

The nation of Ukraine is splashed all over today’s headlines. It’s a little smaller than the state of Texas but it’s taken on huge geopolitical significance in recent days as Vladimir Putin-controlled Russia invaded it.

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But for me, the invasion of Ukraine isn’t merely an interesting item in the day’s news. This faraway nation is my family’s home away from home. 

You see, my wife Denise and I brought all three of our children home from Ukraine through international adoption. I’ve been blessed to teach and support countless church-planters within Ukraine’s borders for the better part of the last 20 years. As a family, we saw the Church in Ukraine make great strides to rise up and begin to address the orphan crisis within its own borders.

Sadly, it seems this is all about to change as a result of the aggression of Russia — and orphans are among the most likely to suffer.

The needs of Ukrainian orphans are already exceptional. Between 80-90% of Ukrainian orphans are “social orphans.” These social orphans are children whose parents are alive but unwilling or unable to care for them.

Unlike my children, whose parents were deceased or legally deprived of the right to parent them, social orphans are caught in a limbo that gives them little option outside of institutional care. 

And most of Ukraine’s orphans face a grim future. Fully 60-70% turn to prostitution or crime to support themselves after leaving an orphanage at the age of 16. An estimated 20% end up in prison and 10% attempt suicide. 

Children with special needs are sent to long-term placements in institutions outside Ukraine’s cities, where they are isolated and deprived of the developmental tools they need.

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Orphanages, at best, provide for the tangible needs of children. They offer food, clothing and shelter — but they lack the nurturing care and permanence of a family. Institutions are efficient, but they fail to provide a connection or a relationship with God.

The Church needs to fill this gap, and increasingly, the church in Ukraine has been doing just that.

My friends Madison and Yuriy, along with their ministry partners Heritage Ukraine, have been mobilizing the Ukrainian church to assist families of children with special needs. Their work is helping keep kids from becoming social orphans by assisting families to care for their children at home.

The work of Heritage Ukraine and thousands more churches and ministries are threatened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This scenario isn't conjecture. We know this because we’ve seen it before.

The previous annexation by Russia of Ukrainian territory in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine has hurt the economy and destroyed vital infrastructure in ways that made vulnerable children and families even more vulnerable. The armed conflict brought death and produced more true orphans. 

Russia’s answer to the growing orphan crisis in annexed areas is simply more orphanages with more out-of-sight, out-of-mind institutional care. 

What’s more, Russia eliminated the possibility of supporting orphan work from the West and for international adoptions to America for Russian children as a spiteful reaction to U.S. sanctions.  

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As a father of children adopted from Ukraine, Russia’s end to adoptions from the U.S. is particularly heart-wrenching. My children would no longer have a realistic option for the love and nurture of a family because President Putin is more concerned with playing geopolitical games than caring for the most vulnerable in his nation.

Today, my heart breaks for the people of Ukraine. 

As Americans, we must be active in helping to protect the most vulnerable in the face of this conflict. Let’s advocate with our government to stand up to Russian aggression and to stand in the gap for Ukraine. We must not fail to lend our voices to the voiceless in Ukraine. They are counting on us.

Dr. Rick Morton is the Vice President of Engagement at Lifeline Children’s Services. Most notably, Dr. Morton is the co-author of the popular “Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-centered Adoption and Orphan Care” and the author of “KnowOrphans: Mobilizing the Church for Global Orphanology”. He and his lovely wife Denise have been married for over 26 years, and have 3 children, all of whom joined their family through international adoption from Ukraine.

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