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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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!
This year, our Stop the Cycle camp was attended mostly by young families we’d just met. Because of quarantine, it had been difficult to build relationships with them, so camp offered a special opportunity.
Staff couple Yuliana and Sasha shared these stories about drastic changes in the young families who spent camp week with us. Thank you for your part in making it all possible, and praise God for the fruit we see already!
Yuliana told a story about one young dad who wanted to leave camp on the second day. So Director Andrey took him to the train station. But the staff prayed, and God answered: he returned to camp. At the end of camp, he thanked everyone, and shared that he’d gotten to know his wife better, realized he needed to change his life, and was open to hearing more about God.
Another dad shared with Yuliana that at the age of 22, this was the first time he’d been to the sea. He’d never imagined the sea was so beautiful and pleasant!
On the last day he sat near the shore and looked into the distance for a long time. When Yuliana asked, “What are you thinking about?” he replied, “I think my life will definitely change. I’ve rethought a lot of things here.”
Sasha shared a story about Tatyana* and her family. Earlier this summer, at a camp hosted by the organization Young Moms, Tatyana become a Christian. She was worried about how her husband would react. During a home visit, Tatyana talked about how Oleg’s overnight job was hurting his mental health and their relationship.
Then, Tatyana was offered a job at a kindergarten nearby, with a placement for her son—but accepting the job would mean turning down family camp. She chose camp.
Sasha and Yuliana prayed that God would soften Oleg’s heart. At first, he was vehemently against family camp and came up with a lot of excuses not to go. But Tatyana prayed every day and kept asking our staff to pray. Finally, in the last days before camp began, he agreed to go.
Oleg was very inspired by his camp experience. When they returned home, the whole family began attending Word of Love church where many of our staff go. Oleg also left the job that was causing such problems, and he’s now actively looking for another one. Please pray for provision for this young family as they prioritize their marriage and health!
*Tatyana and her family’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Thank you so much to all our friends who gave to Last Bell’s camps this summer! You provided warm afternoons at the sea, honest conversations during evening gatherings, meals together, parents and children playing together, games in the sand… We’re so thankful for you.
We held two special camps for two special groups of orphanage graduates: our Stop the Cycle families and our Educational Outreach youth.
Educational Outreach Camp: Learning Forgiveness
Many of our orphaned students are still raw from the way their parents or caregivers treated them—filled with grief, resentment, loss, and loneliness. In this story, shared by staff member Katya T., it’s easy to see how thedays and hours at camp draw our youth into trust relationships that bring healing.
Olya’s mother blamed her little girl for all the family problems. Even before camp, Olya had begun to share with the staff that she couldn’t forget these terrible feelings or forgive her mother.
Then, toward the end of camp, one of our staff spoke to the group about love and the power of forgiveness. Olya burst into tears. That evening Katya and Olya talked for a long time. Olya poured out her heart. She had tried to forgive her mother, writing all her pain in a letter, but she never finished writing it.
“I had the opportunity to share my story,” Katya said, “and how God helped me to forgive my dad. We talked about important decisions in her life, and the power of forgiveness—that only God can help, and He wants to help her and loves her very much.” At the end of the conversation, Katya prayed for her.
After camp, Olya told Katya that she felt like a changed person. She starts her morning with prayer. She expressed her gratitude to Last Bell for her very first trip to the sea—made possible by you!
On our 15th anniversary (wow!), we’re looking back at 15 years of guidance from God, help from compassionate friends, and the growth of a beautiful community of orphanage graduates! This photo from 2006 includes youth, early staff members, friends from other ministries, and one founding board member. Even before the Shelter opened, Last Bell relationships were beginning. See any familiar faces?
2007 was a big year for Last Bell! We officially opened the doors of the Shelter, which for fourteen years has welcomed orphaned youth in many wonderful ways. We also hired Andrey (now Director Andrey) Pankyeyev and Oksana Pankyeyeva. And it was our first year of camp!
Last Bell was named after “last bell” ceremonies like this one at the end of the Ukrainian schoolyear. For orphans, the final last bell ceremony means aging out into a scary and unpredictable world with no support system. By 2008, Last Bell was consistently serving the graduates of the city orphanage and making sure youth knew they would not be alone after graduation.
In 2009, we took youth on this first “family vacation” (youth camp). We also added staff and a second small drop-in location to accommodate the many young people aging out of the city orphanage. Activities at both locations included Bible Study, English tutoring, independent living skills lessons, and shared meals. On the US side, we received the long-awaited 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, retroactive to 2006.
By 2010, a handful of our youth were moms. Without family support, these young moms needed a lot of practical help and parenting advice. We casually called this ministry “moms and babies,” which later became Stop the Cycle. A recent Stop the Cycle meeting was attended by 58 moms, 92 kids, and several dads!
2011 was a year of building relationships with youth and our community, and planning for the future. Our staff taught life skills lessons right in the city orphanage. And we began planning renovation on the Shelter building for residential care. So many of our youth needed housing!
2012 was another big year! In January, we opened the doors of our first Support Center, home to staff offices, legal help, and counseling. Then, the city orphanage (known as Orphanage #4) closed, and kids were moved to regional orphanages. Our intrepid staff, determined to keep meeting and mentoring new youth, began the work that would later become Educational Outreach. And the Shelter got a makeover!
In 2013, renovation was finally finished, and the Shelter became a residential facility. For the first three years, it was occupied by house parents and many recent orphanage graduates; later it would become crisis housing, primarily for Stop the Cycle moms. We’re so thankful for this warm, welcoming home – provided by the generosity of God’s people – where so many orphaned youth and moms have found a place to belong.
In 2014, a few of our youth studied for and received hairdressing/nail art certificates; we strengthened our relationship with a local moms’ organization, I Am Mom, which hosts our Stop the Cycle meetings; and our staff continued to mentor many orphanage graduates. So much was overshadowed, though, by the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the fighting at the Russian border. At least one of our young men was called to active duty, and many of our youth and staff knew they could be called up anytime. We appreciate your prayers about the ongoing conflict.
It’s hard to believe it was only six years ago, in 2015, that we officially introduced Educational Outreach! It’s become our primary way to connect with new orphanage graduates. Our staff offer life skills lessons at trade schools, then invite orphaned youth to the Day Center and youth activities, where they’re drawn into our caring community.
2016 was another big year at Last Bell! Our newest program, the Restoration Project, really took off, with our first crew of orphaned young men learning the building trade while they repaired the homes of their fellow orphans. Our youth “graduated” from the Shelter, which transitioned into crisis housing. Right away, staff member Yulia S. met a mom who was a perfect candidate for the Shelter. She needed immediate, substantial help to keep her family together, and the Shelter provided it.
By 2017, our facilities were bursting at the seams! We met over 150 new orphaned youth in 2017 alone. So we moved our support services into a new facility, the Day Center, with lots of room for offices and for bigger gatherings. As soon as our youth became comfortable with the new location, the rooms filled up.
In 2018, Last Bell hired Anya H. part-time. Anya was our second former orphan on staff, following the first, Yulia S., who came on board in 2017. That means over 10% of our staff is drawn from the community we serve, which is so important! We need the skills these women bring – Anya is a doctor, Yulia a nurse – and we value their voices and their vision for the future of orphaned youth in our city.
In 2019, after thirteen years of serving orphaned youth in Zhytomyr, we published our first Impact Report. We love showing off our staff’s hard work, and the lifelong work of our youth as they take hold of opportunities, change their own lives, and create new paths for their families. Our second Impact Report came out in 2021. It featured our new data-gathering on the impact of our programs. The data matched the stories: our model of long-term mentorship and practical help really works. 2018/19 report 2020/21 report
Nobody had planned for 2020! Like nonprofits everywhere, we quickly learned how to get creative about meeting needs. In January we rolled out our new Stop the Cycle mobile unit, which was perfect timing: even in the midst of a pandemic, we were able to meet the needs of orphan moms who live in the villages outside Zhytomyr.
That brings us to 2021 – and the future! We look forward to continuing to serve orphanage graduates in Zhytomyr for the next fifteen years and beyond. Thanks for walking alongside us with your support and prayers!
In late July, Last Bell Ukraine hosted a training for orphan care leaders on mentorship and basic orphan care principles. Our five newest staff attended (Sasha, Katya, Vitaliy, Sasha, and Lilly), plus friends from Next Generation and Samaritan Ministries, and a few individuals who plan to serve orphans personally. A training like this helps us serve our youth better; according to Director Andrey, it also reinforces our relationships with social services, associates Last Bell with “a higher level of expertise,” and “makes our voice louder” nationally.
Our very newest staff member, Katya, said, “Thanks to this training, I can better understand our youth and look deeper… Three days passed in a single breath. There was a lot of practice, communication, and important information.”
Lilly, another new staff member, was deeply moved by the stories she heard. The training “had a significant impact on our worldview and our real assessment of the situation in Ukraine… This teaching gave us the impetus to keep learning more and to love these special young people!”