A painter paints a stairwell in Home of Hope in Lyiv, Ukraine.

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A painter paints a stairwell in Home of Hope in Lyiv, Ukraine.

April 28, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

UNICEF estimates that there are 150,000 homeless children in Ukraine, making the country a prime target for human traffickers. Many girls in Ukraine end up in poverty, with little or no education, suffering from malnutrition, inadequate medical care or a lack of housing.

One ambitious endeavour aimed at saving these children is through the Bridge of Hope program, a joint effort of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton and the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, Ukraine. Their solution is called Home of Hope.

A house was purchased in Lyiv, Ukraine, which will eventually be expanded to five times its original size. The building will have the capacity to house up to 25 people.

The home will provide housing, security and life skills training to girls over the age of 16 to work towards beginning a career or furthering their education, helping them build a successful future for themselves.

Luba Kowalchyk founded the Bridge of Hope, and started the project because she wants to see young women safe from the perils that await them on the streets.

"For our eparchy, it's important because we care about them, and we would like to extend a helping hand to these girls that otherwise have nowhere to go," said Kowalchyk.

While about 90 per cent of the orphanages in Ukraine are run by the government, this facility will be operated by the Ukrainian Catholic Church. At the Home of Hope, they can attain practical life skills, such as sewing and computer know-how, which will enable them to lead productive lives.

"This will be like a finishing school for young women. It would be administered by the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate, who have very different values, different morals, than the government," said Kowalchyk.

EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT

The sisters are developing programs suitable for these young women for the betterment of their future. The girls will stay in the home until they finish school or find employment.

"We would hope that the girls would also be introduced to God, to Catholic values. Whatever they choose as a profession, they will be helped along," said Kowalchyk.

Home of Hope in Lyiv, Ukraine, stands in an unfinished state.

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Home of Hope in Lyiv, Ukraine, stands in an unfinished state.

Back in 2006, the Home of Hope received the approval of then-Bishop Lawrence Huculak, when he was head of the Edmonton Eparchy. The 1,450-square-foot house was purchased in 2007 for $140,000.

"I know their fundraising efforts are still underway, and they have done well up until this point," said Bishop David Motiuk, who has supported the project.

Both Motiuk and Huculak were present for its blessing in 2008. Construction and renovations have been ongoing ever since, with the total living space up to 8,000 square feet.

ONGOING SUPPORT

The total cost of the house purchase and renovation was estimated at $600,000. About 80 per cent of the costs have been raised. As well, some furnishings such as fridges, stoves and beds have been donated but more are needed.

"Because of the current situation in Ukraine, we want to finish as soon as possible so the girls can move in," said Kowalchyk.

Money will still be required for operating costs such as food, utilities, home maintenance and programming costs. The Bridge of Hope committee is depending on the continued generosity of donors throughout Alberta and around the world.

Luba Kowalchyk

Luba Kowalchyk

"Since 2001, there are several projects we have been collaborating on with the Sisters Servants. We support orphans, and there are shoebox collections that we do for the orphanages at Christmas, and we support children's summer camps, and sponsor families in need. But this is the latest and biggest project that we've undertaken," said Motiuk.

CHANGING THE PATH

This undertaking will be another resource to help change the life path of young women otherwise destined for homelessness and exploitation.

"Three Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate moved in and they received their first two girls about two weeks ago (in mid-March). I think their hopes for this year are to have 12 young women living there, and then next year they will bring it up to full capacity," said Motiuk.

There are children's homes and orphanages throughout Ukraine that house children but the resources are limited for those older than 16. Once they turn 18, shelters and other resources for them are scarce.

"This is the first such endeavour for young women in all of Ukraine. The Salesians of Don Bosco have a home for young men but not for young girls," said Motiuk.

"We can't do everything, but we will help 25 young women who otherwise could have ended up on the streets. People are ready to prey upon young women in Ukraine."