Many of you have asked about the situation with Russia. We know you’re already praying and we’re so grateful for your support. This message from Director Andrey includes an update about how the situation affects our ministry and our youth, as well as our response and a special invitation to pray.
These are uncertain times. But we are certain of God’s faithfulness, and certain of the ministry He has called us to. Our Shelter and Day Center remain open; our Restoration Project crew keeps renovating; and our staff continues meeting with orphaned youth one-to-one and addressing their physical needs.
We do ask for your prayers for peace at our borders, and for our youth—for their safety, for their day-to-day struggles, and for open hearts to God’s love.
What do orphaned youth need most? Adults who love them, spend time with them, and show up in crises. Good advice about how to have relationships, live in society, and make plans for the future. And they need to hear that God loves them. They’re more likely to accept this message from people who meet their needs, demonstrating human love day in and day out!
Two of orphanage graduates’ most pressing needs are for safe housing and secure work. The Restoration Project meets this challenge in a unique way, through building renovation: a crew of orphaned youth apprentice in the building trade while renovating the homes of fellow orphans. Crew members gain job skills, and orphaned youth gain safe homes.
But the Restoration Project doesn’t limit help to individual houses. Our crew goes wherever orphanage graduates need them.
The crew has a special connection to our Shelter Crisis Housing facility, where they eat breakfast with husband-wife team Sergei (RP foreman) and Anya (Shelter house manager). They also study the Bible together at the Shelter before starting the work day.
The orphaned youth in residence at the Shelter, mostly young moms and their families, often benefit from the crew’s work. Not long ago, they made this little table for the Shelter nursery:
And just last week, they installed a new hood over the Shelter’s oven:
Director Andrey and our staff have developed relationships with many social organizations in our city. Some orphaned youth live in “social dorms” – government housing for those in need, usually with a time limit. The dorms often aren’t in the greatest condition. Earlier this week, the RP crew repaired some dorm walls and built an awning over an outside door.
Many orphaned residents of this social dorm come to our Day Center for help and friendship. This awning was an easy way to say “You are loved and your life matters” – a reminder they will see every day!
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.
“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!
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.
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!
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!
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.