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A safe harbor for Yana after many disappointments

Yana and her children at the Shelter this Christmas.

Even as we watch the Russian border, our staff continue to invest in the lives of orphaned youth – who continue doing the hard work of learning and healing. 

Shelter resident Yana M. lived in three abusive and neglectful homes before she found our ministry.

Yana was born in the far southwest of Ukraine; later her family moved to a village outside of Zhytomyr. After her brother was born, her parents began drinking heavily and fighting. 

Yana desperately wanted to leave home, where she didn’t feel supported or loved. She dreamed of having a happy family. At age fifteen, she married a man eleven years older. After she became pregnant, her husband began drinking, neglecting his family and home. Even after their second child was born, he didn’t look for a job, living on the money they received for their children. Yana endured for three years, but finally filed for divorce.

Soon she tried again with someone new. For the first two years, she and her children were treated well. She had another baby. Then the pattern repeated. For a time she endured the drinking, humiliation, and physical abuse. But her abusive partner was reported to social services, so she was at risk of losing her children. 

After a brief stay at a center for moms in Zhytomyr, she had nowhere to go. So the center’s director contacted our Oksana Pankyeyeva. In June of last year, Yana moved into the Shelter.

Yana and her son on his birthday at the Shelter.

“I am infinitely grateful to God and the people who have completely changed our lives – leaders and sponsors from America,” Yana said. “Thanks for this opportunity for the children to be with me. That is the most important thing. We live in a house with all the amenities. The children and I have never experienced this…. It’s just incredible. During this period of residence, I can save money for the future and plan a future for myself and my children. Thanks again to Last Bell for everything you do for us.”

Yana’s kids have been through a lot. But thanks to your support, N. (11), A. (10), and Z. (6) will have the safe home they need. Yana is breaking her family’s cycle in our loving community. We appreciate your prayers as they all learn how to be a healthy family!

A sweet smile from Yana’s oldest, N., who is old enough to remember those many difficult years.

What does a young family need?

At our Stop the Cycle Christmas party, Last Bell’s “next generation” – the children of orphaned parents – received so many beautiful gifts:

Time with aunts and uncles…

A quiet place where Mom can take a sleeping baby, or a grandma who helps when Mom is busy…

Learning about Jesus and praying together…

A place to move and play with friends…

And be part of the show…

Presents from people who care about you (thanks to Samaritan’s Purse for the shoeboxes!)…

Hugs and laughter for everybody, including Mom and single friends…

And always a place where you belong…

We were thrilled to see 50 families with 100 children at our gathering. But the support doesn’t end with the holidays. All year these young moms receive practical help like groceries, diapers, medical advocacy, and more, plus parenting classes and mentorship to help them become good parents.

Every day they’re stopping the cycle of abuse and abandonment in their families, and making a better life for their children – a hard job! Thank you for praying and supporting them. 

Lift orphaned youth out of poverty

In 2021, your support blessed more than 600 orphanage graduates. 

You helped us serve young moms through a Young Lives group, and maintain a full Shelter program, launching several moms into independence where they live out the Christian parenting values that were nurtured in them. 

You provided supplies for our Restoration Project, and gave our crew a livable wage and marketable skills for the future. 

You held open the doors of our Day Center, which filled up with trade school youth desperate not just for help with urgent needs but to belong in a joyful community.

And all that investment does make an impact! When we evaluated 36 of our incoming students in 2018, 29 were unable to support themselves and at risk of abject poverty. Only seven had reached economic “sustainable wellness.” Just three years later, 24 are economically stable. Those numbers represent real young men and women who can be hopeful about the future, thanks to your support.

What about the other students who are still struggling? Our vision is to see the END of the generational orphan cycle in our city! So, in the next three years, we plan to begin addressing the complex gaps our youth experience in vocation and housing, increase the number of students graduating from Educational Outreach, and provide safe housing for every Shelter graduate. 

Your compassionate partnership makes all of this possible!

Your faithfulness changed Natasha’s heart

Dear friends,

At Last Bell’s beginning, there was no guarantee of success, just high hopes and assurance from God. But after fifteen years, I see many orphanage graduates in Zhytomyr responding to God’s love and changing the path of their lives.

It was through years of friendship that Natasha Kalchuk’s heart was changed. “While living the life of an abandoned orphan,” she shared, “I got pregnant and had a daughter, Arina. In the fall of 2016 Last Bell offered a place at the Shelter, since my home was in a state of emergency…” 

Her only income was child support from the government – $30/month. 

“I started hearing about God, about how He cares for us… I didn’t want to get into that,” Natasha said. But slowly her eyes were opened. “I thought, this is not just an accident! I realized that the Lord had plans for me, and I didn’t have the right to ruin them.” In 2017, Natasha became a Christian and was baptized. 

Arina (left) with a Christmas backpack last year

Soon, her old life called her back. She returned to her family’s house and drinking with old friends. But she felt empty, and worried she would die there. Praise God, she returned to the Shelter! 

Then she really began to grow. Now she teaches preschool at church and assists with an orphanage soccer ministry. She repaired many family relationships. “I talk to [my brother] about devoting his life to Christ, since He has changed the path of my life so dramatically… I am so thankful for everyone who was patient with me!”

This wouldn’t be possible without our faithfulness and your faithfulness. This long-term ministry requires long-term relationships. For sure this fruit wouldn’t become real without you, dear friends, your prayers and financial support. Will you make a gift to help orphanage graduates before the end of the year?

Let’s press on in the good work of God! More good fruit is ahead of us, even more than we dream about! 

Andrey Pankyeyev

Last Bell Director, Ukraine

Hope for orphanage graduates at Christmas and all year long

Dear friends,

I hear so many stories about the impact of your gifts on former orphans in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. You can hear the joy in Director Andrey’s voice as he talks about the fruit of fifteen years of ministry:

Just this year we’ve shared about students who received beds and pillows, tuition for dental assistant school, and help with eye surgery; about young men learning to be dads at Stop the Cycle camp, and young moms welcomed into the safety of Shelter Crisis Housing. You might even remember hearing about a young man who was so happy with his new job and home that he threw a “thank you” party for his Last Bell friends. 

I know your generous hearts have been touched by stories of hope in Zhytomyr’s orphan community. Will you make a gift to help orphaned youth before the end of the year?

I’ll add my voice to Andrey’s: Together, let’s help these young people thrive.

Your generosity makes an eternal impact on orphaned youth who are hungry for God’s rich kindness and love. Thank you!

Megan Hershey
Executive Director

When a new balcony means you have family

Ira (right) with Last Bell friends, 2006

Even grown-up kids need family support.

Last Bell was founded after a couple of board members formed close relationships with a group of teenage girls at Orphanage #4 in Zhytomyr (now closed). Ira Didukh was one of those girls, so we’ve known her for a long time! Now Ira is married and has a daughter. But she still needs extended family support. 

Recently, there was a fire in the apartment building where Ira’s family lives. Thankfully, it was several floors below her apartment. But after the fire, the firefighters informed Ira that her balcony was unsafe. If it collapsed and hurt people, her family would be responsible. At the time, Ira’s husband (also an orphan) was left without a regular job, only earning enough to pay utilities and buy groceries. So Ira turned to director Andrey. 

Ira’s balcony, before and after renovation.

Our Restoration Project crew was ready to help! Thanks to your generosity, we we were able to pay for supplies as well as the hours of our crew’s labor. Besides being safer, the new balcony will be better for storage, which is how most Ukrainians use balcony space.

As the crew worked, foreman Sergei noticed that Ira was doing some other repairs in the apartment. She had watched videos online about how to remove tiles, clean ceilings, and paste wallpaper correctly, and she had taken the first steps. But due to her family’s finances – and the lack of an extended family to help – these projects would have taken years. 

Ira at the Day Center office with Director Andrey

Our staff was so pleased to see Ira working to improve her own situation, and decided to help her out. When we called Ira to give her the news, she was moved to tears! She said it would have taken her a long time to do this work on her own. Later she wrote a note to the staff saying she couldn’t believe they were helping her, since she’d graduated so long ago, and to say thank you.

We’re able to make long-term commitments to orphanage graduates thanks to YOUR support and your prayers. It takes all of us to make a loving community for our youth. Thanks for being a part of it!

Photos: A trade school in Zhytomyr

On a recent visit with some of our orphaned youth, staff member Lena Voznyuk was able to photograph the trade school where they live and study. These photos tell an interesting story: a mix of beautiful Ukrainian art with outdated Soviet-era living conditions. 

The kitchen and bathroom above are shared by many students. Our youth are often living on very little, so we help with bags of groceries and hygiene kits. Still, orphaned students love to spend time at the Day Center, where everything is clean, comfortable, and the rooms (along with the people, of course) make them feel welcome.

In Ukraine, it’s common to hang laundry out on the balcony. But many homes and buildings don’t have laundry facilities, and our students often do laundry at the Day Center or the Shelter. Learning to cook is also an important part of life skills lessons! Students often age out of the orphanage without even the most basic food skills. 

Our guys had added personal touches to make their rooms in the trade school a little more homey. Each of these young men and woman are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by our loving God. It’s a privilege to be part of the support system that allows their many gifts and passionate interests to blossom!

Your gifts build homes for orphans in 2022

As we celebrate our Restoration Project crew, and all the opportunities apprenticeship gives them, we’re also celebrating the great work they do! In 2021, the crew helped create safe housing for six fellow orphanage graduates. We’re looking forward to similar projects in 2022.

One potential project is the final room in Kiril’s apartment. You might remember that three years ago our crew renovated Kiril’s bedroom, after he spent his own savings fixing the bedroom where his sister and niece live along with their shared kitchen. Now Kiril is ready to face the prospect of repairing his deceased mother’s room, which is in terrible condition. He will provide materials if we can help with labor.

Also on the list is a home for orphanage graduate Marina and her family; she’s a talented artist who’s been part of the Last Bell community for many years. She and her husband have purchased land, and will finish the foundation and walls; we’d like to help with the roof and some inside work. 

A group of older orphanage graduates presenting a gift to staff
at our 15th anniversary party; Marina is 2nd from the right.

And it’s great to have an in-house renovation team! Thanks to generous friends, our students have a computer lab at the Day Center for studying and job searching. But the previous furnishings weren’t stable enough for such important equipment. Right now our crew is renovating that area. In 2022, our facilities’ repair needs will provide further training opportunities for the RP crew. 

Since safe housing is so often out of reach for orphanage graduates, they struggle to complete their education, find work, and raise families. But through your gifts to the Restoration Project, orphanage graduates can secure the housing they need for a good future. Your gifts also give us the resources to meet the many urgent housing needs that arise.  

Tolik & Slavik beat the odds through apprenticeship

The Challenge

Orphaned youth face incredible challenges as they search for jobs:

  • A likely unemployment rate of 20% or higher, according to Director Andrey (officially it’s about 10%). The few openings are shared through family and community networks, which orphans don’t have. 
  • Rampant payroll fraud, especially in security and construction jobs. It’s common for employers to promise a paycheck at the end of the month, but never pay anything. 
  • A broken post-Soviet educational system where very few degree programs lead to jobs.

Plus, orphaned youth often don’t know basic employment expectations, or how to advocate for themselves on the job.

Job success and community care for our crew

That’s where the Restoration Project comes in! Slavik and Tolik are the two most recent program graduates. Foreman Sergei mentored them spiritually and trained them in many different skills as they restored the homes of their fellow orphans. Our big community welcomed them. In fact, when Slavik was new, Tolik brought him to church and made sure he got to know different staff members.

Both young men worked hard and learned well. Thanks to his apprenticeship, after graduation Slavik found an opportunity welding in Czechoslovakia. He needed to practice welding skills before leaving the country, so he requested and received the loan of Last Bell’s expensive welding machine, which he cared for and returned on time.

Tolik’s apprenticeship led to a good construction job in Kyiv. He returned some weekends for church and time with Last Bell friends, but living far away was difficult. So he moved back to Zhytomyr permanently, into the home the crew had helped him “rescue.” Tolik is ready for his future, maybe even a future family! He’s in church every Sunday, meets with our staff for biblical counseling and relationship advice, and was recently baptized. And, thanks to his construction experience, he found a good job right here in Zhytomyr. 

Tolik (white shirt) and others at their baptism

Who’s next?

By God’s grace, apprenticeship through the Restoration Project is sending orphaned youth out in the world with job skills and maturity. Our two newest crew members, Oleg and Sasha, are partway through their apprenticeship, and we’re seeking a third crew member. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for these young men!

When you designate your gift to the Restoration Project, it provides salaries for our current crew—and any newcomers God sends to the team—while they learn and grow.

Your gifts turn into jobs and homes through the Restoration Project

Over the last few years, our Restoration Project crew has created many safe homes for orphanage graduates and their families – the Varss sistersthe Kaplun family, and the Zingels to name just a few highlights.

But this program is about more than housing. It also provides orphaned youth with the chance to earn a good wage and learn marketable skills right on the job. Plus, our staff offer the practical help and mentorship our crew needs to make those job skills part of a stable, healthy life.

From students to staff, orphanage graduates light up their community

Earlier this year, we shared a story about Masha, who was having trouble breathing through her nose. Thanks to your generosity and lots of reassuring support from our staff, she was able to face the prospect of surgery and is breathing much better. As a student in our Educational Outreach program, Masha also receives clothes, counseling, and other help.

A few months after her last surgery, we see Masha blossoming. She has a kind, caring heart. At her social dorm, she’s been given many responsibilities and handles them well. She knows the loving community of Last Bell will offer support with any problem, and she offers support to others, too.

For example, some of her peers needed to buy tickets to study in another city. She found out all the details, collected the funds, and bought them tickets for the bus to Kyiv and the train.

Masha (right) with a friend at our 15th Anniversary celebration

In another case, a fellow orphan, Sasha, had an inflammation in his leg and couldn’t walk. Masha called staff member Lena and advocated for him, speaking compassionately about the pain he was in. Lena and Masha took Sasha to the hospital, and Masha went out to buy the medications Sasha needed. In Lena’s words, Masha “always tries to be close to those who need help.” 

Masha spent years in an orphanage for disabled students; now she’s studying to be a social worker. She exemplifies the Apostle Paul’s teaching to “be devoted to one another in love” and to “practice hospitality.” We can’t wait to see how she will be a light in her community in the years to come! 

Staff Corner

In our newsletters, we often share about one of our staff members. In this particular letter, the Staff Corner was an important part of the story, since the staff member highlighted, Anya Hrobust, was formerly an orphan herself.

Anya joined our staff in 2018. After her day job as a doctor, Anya works closely with our Shelter moms on the night shift. Here’s what Anya’s colleagues had to say about her:

“Anya is very smart and understanding.”

“You can turn to Anya for advice… she understands orphans and their needs well.”

“I admire how the Lord changed and directed her life, how much she has achieved for the glory of God! Anya is my doctor. She is always attentive and approaches treatment with wisdom. Despite her success as a doctor, Anya tries very hard to humbly and lovingly serve the girls at the Shelter.”

“Anya is very sincere and open. She’s always smiling and able to offer a warm hug when someone is sad.”

Special Report: Restoration Project Update

Zingel Home Completed

Many of you generously gave toward two renovation projects last year: Dasha Z.’s apartment, and Natasha K.’s childhood home.

Earlier in 2021, our Restoration Project crew worked hard to restore Dasha’s apartment, and we shared some in-process photos. Now renovation is complete, and the Zingels have a beautiful, safe apartment for their family! Here are a few more photos from the completed project:

Many thanks for your investment in the Zingel family’s future! Safe homes help our Stop the Cycle moms and dads transform patterns of poverty and abandonment into patterns of wholeness and health. 

In Ukraine, All Plans are Flexible

As many of you know, the one rule when visiting Ukraine is that plans will and do change at any time. This holds true for our housing projects too! 

The situation with Natasha’s home has grown more complicated. If she and her two siblings all registered their inheritance, together they would own one room. Other family members have a claim as well. Natasha’s sister hasn’t registered yet due to various personal and family problems, and her brother tried to register but ran into complications. We also discovered that their old house might not hold up under repair work.

We had a backup plan as well. One of Natasha’s relatives had offered a barn to renovate. But he’s now withdrawn the offer.

Registration would still give Natasha the right to use her family property. So our plan is to proceed with helping Natasha and her siblings register, opening up a totally new possibility: building a mobile “tiny house.” 

Our Restoration Project crew has no experience with this kind of project. But we’re excited about the possibilities. A mobile home doesn’t require the same extensive (and expensive) documentation as a standard home, plus it can be relocated if Natasha needs to move. After practicing with Natasha’s home, our crew would be able to replicate the model for other orphanage graduates.

our Restoration Project crew at work on a recent project

This idea comes with many challenges, such as how to decide whose situations require a new tiny home rather than “merely” repair work. And we’re still discerning the wisest way to proceed. We appreciate your prayers for Natasha’s whole situation, which is more complicated than we can explain here! We have set aside the funds you all gave for this project, and will use them for Natasha’s home when we make a final plan.

Natasha is still living at the Shelter, growing spiritually and taking responsibility for her life. She’s studying at a local Bible school for church leaders. Her exam will be speaking in two churches, and she’s preparing a message about parenting from Ephesians 6:1. Thank you for walking alongside this young Christian as she becomes a leader in her community!

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Last Bell Ministries

Loving and restoring orphanage graduates toward life and community.

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PO Box 30671
Indianapolis, IN 46230
info@lastbell.org

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