Estonia, Olena Zelenska Foundation celebrate opening of family-style group home in Ukraine

  • 2024-06-03
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – Estonia and the Olena Zelenska Foundation (OZF) opened a brand new family-style small group home in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine on Saturday.

The house was built as part of OZF's "Room for Childhood" initiative, with Estonia providing 376,000 euros in funding for the project.

The family-style small group home measures 285 square meters in size, has six bedrooms and five bathrooms, and has been made accessible for individuals with mobility issues. The house has an underground concrete bomb shelter in the yard.

Estonia has financed three additional family-style small group homes to be built in the Zhytomyr region. Construction is already underway and scheduled to be finished by the end of the year. This summer, the Estonian Center for International Development (ESTDEV) will bring the families who have been selected to live in these houses to Estonia. Parents will receive training on trauma-informed foster care, and the children will participate in a summer camp designed to provide respite from the wartime conditions in Ukraine.

Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska said that visiting such families always inspires her personally.

"After all, despite the war, the loss of their homes, the usual circle, these families with a huge number of children have endless optimism and continue to dream. And this is the most important thing. I am glad that my foundation gives such families space for their dreams, and not just space in the form of new square meters," Zelenska said.

Margus Tsahkna, Estonia's minister of foreign affairs, confirmed Estonia's continued support to Ukraine.

"Supporting Ukraine is our top priority, and the completion of the family house is an important milestone that clearly shows that we are keeping our promise. We will continue to invest in a secure future for Ukraine and Ukrainian children. Every step we take for Ukraine will help bring the war to a victorious end," the minister said.

Klen Jaarats, executive director of ESTDEV, which managed the project on behalf of Estonia, said that offering hope to Ukraine is a huge task, as the devastation caused by this war is extensive.

"Providing a safe environment for parents and children who have lost their homes is a major undertaking for any country, let alone a country at war. ESTDEV continues its exemplary cooperation with OZF in the construction of family-style small group homes, and throughout the process, we aim to provide comprehensive support for Ukraine's social welfare system," he said.

Foster parents Anastasiia and Oleksii Melnyk and the children they care for now have a safe, comfortable place to call home, the Estonian Foreign Ministry said in the press release. Six months after the start of the war, the family moved from the Donetsk region to temporary housing in the town of Hryshkivtsi in the Zhytomyr Oblast. Anastasiia and Oleksii have one biological son, 12-year-old Illia, and six foster children: eight-year-old Maria, 15-year-old girls Kateryna, Viktoriia and Sofiia, and 12-year-old boys Daniil and Illia.

Currently, there are more than 1,300 large foster families in Ukraine, providing care for 5-10 orphans each. Due to the war, at least 80 of these families have seen their homes destroyed. As part of the "Room for Childhood" initiative, OZF has built 14 family-style small group homes in eight regions of Ukraine. Construction is financed entirely by international donors, including Estonia, the government of the United Arab Emirates and the Australian Minderoo Foundation. 8 families are already living in their houses. Another 6 will move within a month. OZF also announced the continuation of the project and wants to build at least 10 more houses this year.

In addition to the family home opened on Saturday, ESTDEV, in cooperation with the OZF, Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Affairs, will bring the families staying in the family homes to Estonia during the summer to train parents and give children the opportunity to attend a camp meant for war-traumatized children.