Since 2008, the Ukrainian Charitable Foundation Zaporuka has been working to be there for families with children affected by cancer, for them not to be alone with problems caused by the disease.
Zaporuka’s core project Dacha is a unique house in Ukraine, in which families with children affected by cancer can live in decent conditions during their treatment, without giving up an everyday life. Until February 24, 2022, Dacha hosted more than 1,300 children with their family members from all over the country.
During the first days of the Russian invasion, Zaporuka’s team, like all Ukrainians, thought it was the end of the world. However, the ability to act despite emotional exhaustion helped us to get out of the stupor quickly. Just in a few days, we started evacuating children with cancer to safe countries. Now Zaporuka takes care of more than 100 families who are on treatment in Europe, helping solve various issues: from paperwork help, psychological and financial support to adaptation in a new country.
When the majority of the children were evacuated, Zaporuka’s priority changed. The goal was to strengthen hospitals in relatively safe regions of Ukraine, to which seriously ill and wounded patients were transported from the war-affected areas. The hospitals, including front-line ones, are provided with medicines, supplies, and equipment to ensure their stable operation.
Long-term housing for internally displaced persons, especially families with children, was a no less important issue. We understood it when we met a big family from Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, in Lviv. The child from the family finished a treatment cycle, and they had to go somewhere with four children, two cats, and three dogs. The awareness that there are dozens of such families prompted Zaporuka to try to find a solution.
The idea was to create decent housing for such families, turning an abandoned dormitory building into a small but comfortable studio apartment complex in the village of Neslukhiv, Lviv Oblast. It took only five months to implement this ambitious plan.
It wasn’t easy to recognize an old, gray building in a newly renovated construction. Nobody could hope for such a transformation. But for its future residents, whose homes were destroyed by the war and who lost their jobs, friends, and relatives, it gave hope for a second chance in a new place.
Thirty families, more than sixty people, had a housewarming party in their apartments with a separate kitchen and a bathroom. Among them was a ten-year-old boy with cancer from Kharkiv, Mykyta, with his father, Serhii.
“Dad, come here,” Mykyta called his father to the window. “Look how many people came.”
“Yeah. These are locals. They came for our housewarming party. Now we will also be locals,” he replied.
“Here, the radiators are warm. There are many sockets. The teapot is so beautiful,” the son continued to scrutinize the new home.
“What did you like the most?” asked the dad.
Mykyta’s father Serhii has two dreams – both about the victory: for Ukraine over the enemy and for his son, who has been fighting cancer for almost half his life. Another wish was to gather their family under one roof, and it was about to come true. Now, his wife Oksana and their six children have a place to return to from Germany, where they evacuated at the beginning of the war.
“In Kharkiv, only two families are left in our entire high-rise building. People are afraid there. The missiles fell down in the yard several times. The building itself seems to be holding up, but we are unlikely to return there soon. That’s why, this house is a salvation for our big family,” said the man.
Mykyta, who has already had three recurrences, underwent surgery at the Western Ukrainian Children’s Medical Center in Lviv. He is receiving strong chemotherapy, so a cozy apartment in quiet neighborhood is what the boy needs. Still, he misses his mother, brothers, and sisters. If earlier their return seemed fantastic (finding accommodation in Lviv for a big family during the war is unreal), now that they have their home, everything will finally settle down. Everyone will be around again. If so, then the boy’s recovery will be easier.
Four-year-old Bohdan, diagnosed with cancer, and his father Hryhorii are another family that has received a new apartment in Neslukhiv. In their native Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, where they were under Russian occupation, local doctors were helpless. They could not treat the boy without appropriate equipment, specialists, and medicines. At the family council, they decided to evacuate Bohdan.
Five times the father and the son tried to escape, but each time they had to turn back at the roadblock. The occupiers came up with different reasons.
“They wanted alcohol, but we didn't have any,” the man recalled. “Another time they wanted coffee and cigarettes. Don’t you have them? Go away! Then they did not like our passports. Why were they not in Russian? And so on. What shall I do? You lower your eyes, take the child and turn around. You feel a terrible rage inside. But you restrain yourself for the sake of your son.”
The sixth time they got lucky – they were allowed to go. For some time, they lived in a school in Dorohobych, Lviv Oblast. Then they moved to Lviv. For a little boy whose immunity is almost at zero, any infection is a risk of getting complications. Doctors insisted on an immediate change of living conditions.
“I didn’t know how I would cope with it,” said Hryhorii. “To find an apartment when you have almost no money, and in Lviv, where there are many people like us? It is impossible. Then a miracle happened to us. At the Western Ukrainian Children’s Medical Center, we met Mariana Nych from Zaporuka Foundation, who immediately offered to help us. She helped us get medicines, gave us some money, and, most importantly, supported us with the kind words we needed to hear. It was a miracle for my son and me when she brought the news about an opportunity to get a new apartment for free.”
The life of Bohdan and his father in the new place is getting better little by little. The boy learns to read and count. Hryhorii is waiting for spring to start fishing in the local lake. However, sadness and anxiety remain because some of their relatives are still under occupation and there is no contact with them.
“One hope is for our soldiers,” said Hryhorii, “to knock them out of our land. I want to hug my loved ones who remain among the enemies. With our victory, it will happen. I wish it would happen faster….”
You can support Zaporuka’s beneficiaries following the link: https://www.globalgiving.org/donate/11442/charitable-foundation-zaporuka/
In the photos: Bohdan
Mykyta in his new home
House inauguration day