Easter in Ukraine was just a month ago (on the Orthodox calendar) and in May we held a special Easter Stop the Cycle meeting at a local church. These photos, most taken by orphanage graduate Masha P., tell all kinds of stories about our orphan-parented families.
The resurrection of Jesus means the end of sin and death, and His victory promises new life for His children. Stop the Cycle is a whole community blooming with new life!
Some of you were able to take part in a Zoom “visit” at Dasha’s apartment with Ukrainian director Andrey. In case you missed it, here’s the video of that fascinating interview. Please forgive the quality—the bandwidth was poor. But you can hear first-hand from Dasha about her life and see the apartment.
Dasha and her husband Sasha renovated two rooms, but the rest was too costly for Sasha’s Ukrainian salary. After a couple other projects this winter, our Restoration Project crew—all former orphans, apprenticing with foreman Sergei—have begun renovating the Zingel home. Here, they’re laying tile.
For Dasha, these repairs would have been impossible. But your donations made it possible for the Restoration Project to complete the repairs. Thank you for making Dasha’s home safe for her family!
We’re so thankful for you, our giving and praying community, who walk alongside our youth in all circumstances. Because of you, orphanage graduates have support with their children’s health needs.
We begin to pray for Illia
Our Prayer Circle subscribers will remember that a few years ago, we began writing about Stella’s four-year-old, Illia, who was having seizures due to encephalitis. He suffered one setback after another. Plans for surgery in Kyiv were first thwarted by a big seizure that landed him in the local hospital, then a measles outbreak at the Kyiv hospital.
Later, the operation was postponed because Illia had a fever. He couldn’t walk and could barely speak. In late 2019 he developed conjunctivitis, then pneumonia.
Local doctors offer no hope
Stella was told surgery probably wouldn’t help anyway, and she should just “make him comfortable.” The pneumonia dragged on for months.
One medical team said Stella should give her daughter to the orphanage and focus on caring for her son. Another said she should give her son to the orphanage.
In this video, you can see Stella’s patient, sweet attention to her son, and her response to the doctors’ advice. Former Board member Ellen Jackson recorded most of this footage on a trip to Ukraine in 2019, with Oksana and Andrey Pankyeyev translating:
Stella and Illia persevere, and God provides
Stella was determined to keep both her children and take care of her son, with the help of our Stop the Cycle group, which she loves. She had grown up in orphanages from the age of 10 months, and at Stop the Cycle she reconnected with former classmates who share her childhood and parenting experiences.
After years of setbacks, it seemed like Illia was never going to get better. But Stella’s church friends weren’t ready to give up.
Stella’s pastor, Misha G., found a doctor in Vinnitsya—two hours south of Zhytomyr—who prescribed a new therapeutic regimen, including new medications, massage, and a treatment similar to neurofeedback. Stella was ready to try something new for her little boy.
And praise God – the new therapy began to work! Illia is making real improvements. Previously confined to a wheelchair, he’s now beginning to walk. His seizures have decreased and he can speak more easily. He’s off medication, and only returns to Vinnitsya for massage treatment.
Our long-term investment
When staff members Yulia and Sasha went to visit recently, they saw all Illia’s improvement. But Yulia could also see he was tired, and walking was painful. New orthopedic supplies are expensive, so Yulia mentioned the need to another staff member, who tracked down some braces a relative no longer needed. With them, Illia can walk a little longer and with less pain.
We’re so thankful for everyone who prayed for Illia! Now that his health is improving, Stella wants to enroll him in a special school. School would be wonderful for Illia, but getting a placement for him will be difficult. We appreciate your continued prayers about this.
We’re so thankful to God for this corner turned in Illia’s young life, and for your prayers on his behalf!
A community is only whole when it doesn’t leave its most vulnerable members behind.
Nastya, an orphanage graduate with an intellectual disability, attends our life skills lessons at her trade school. At the Day Center, no one makes fun of her, she is accepted for who she is, and she experiences the love and warmth of our staff. She is a warm, caring person.
We’ve known Nastya for five years, and she loves the weekly craft lessons at the Day Center. Recently, after a day of learning macrame, Nastya gave her project as a gift to staff member Lena.
This sweet wall hanging—and the generous heart behind it—is a good reminder of why we help orphanage graduates. It’s not out of pity. Rather, these young people have just as much to offer as those who grew up in families. But without support, their gifts remain hidden. We’re so glad Nastya is part of the Last Bell community!
PS: For many years, our friends atMission to Ukraine have been transforming a post-Soviet culture to make a place for those with disabilities. They are a bright light in our city!
Last Bell Summer Camp is a crash course in joyful belonging where the love and compassion just keep pouring in. When we play, eat, and talk together, day after day, our orphan students and orphan parents grow exponentially.
Oksana is a graduate of Stop the Cycle who volunteered at camp last year. She went to youth camp several times, and Stop the Cycle camp with her husband. At camp Oksana decided to follow Jesus, which she calls “the most true and important choice” in her life.
Oksana’s life always changed after camp, especially at family camp, she said, “where I studied raising a child, building a relationship with one’s husband, and getting to know God.” She was drawn to the lives of our Christian staff. “I received from them a lot of love and warmth, which was unusual for me.”
As a child, Oksana felt like the whole world was against her. But at camp, her heart was softened by the love and attention she received.
For Oksana, volunteering was "a blessing from God... I saw how the girls arrived all loaded up with their problems, and how they flourished at camp and their attitude toward their children changed in a couple of days."
So many other orphaned youth and orphan-parented families experience joyful belonging for the first time at summer camp. And you make it possible!
Oksana: For mothers, these camps are especially important, because those who haven’t had a good example of family life don’t know how to raise a child. In this camp you can learn and understand how to love your children, how to spare the time to help them, how to deal with various problems.
Why is camp important for students?
Oksana: In this place you begin to feel needed, to hear a lot about God and God’s love for you, to meet teenagers who are like you, to learn good advice about how to build your life. And you establish relationships with leaders who support you after camp. There is time to rest and to reevaluate your life.
Orphanage graduates who’ve experienced trauma… who’ve been neglected and abused… who feel alone and uncertain… who need help to raise their young children… everyone belongs. Last Bell summer camp is specially designed for our orphaned youth. They are accepted and loved just as they are.
We recently shared a story about orphanage graduate Vadim, who had eye surgery thanks to Last Bell’s friends. It was at summer camp last year that Vadim began to learn about belonging in Last Bell’s community.
“After evening meetings,” Vadim said, “I had the opportunity to ask the leaders the questions I was interested in… I more and more understood that I needed to change my way of thinking, my environment, my attitude to life and people in general.”
Camp helped Vadim make some important choices. He began working, renting an apartment, and going to church with our staff. In his own words, Vadim “became a more open and happy person.”
The most important thing about camp, Vadim said, was “a friendly atmosphere… where you are appreciated, accepted, and loved as you are… I learned that God loves me not because of what I’ve done, but just because.”
Orphanage graduate Vadim had poor eyesight from childhood. When we met him, his vision was quickly degenerating—really scary for a young man. Without glasses he could see almost nothing.
The generosity of Last Bell friends paid for Vadim’s eye surgery. Afterwards, he looked with delight at all the storefronts, the shop names, even the advertisements. “It’s unreal!” he said. “I see people’s emotions. I never noticed them before!”
That was one month ago. The doctors predicted his vision could reach up to 80% of normal. But last week he tested at 90-100%!
Staff member Lena shared, “I’ve never seen Vadim so happy. We talked about how wonderful the Lord is, the miracles He works… We talked about how the Lord gives people a sacrificial heart—that there are people who’ve never met him, and donated money to make him healthy.
“This is a great opportunity to talk about God and His mercy and love. After such a miracle, all these words sound different!”
Vadim likes going to church and shared his gratitude to God for everything. “Hearts soften,” Lena said, “and they understand how God loves them.” An overflow of love from our staff will keep pointing Vadim toward the One who loves him most.
Jesus declared he had come to bind up the brokenhearted and give sight to the blind. When you make these miracles possible for our youth, you are truly followers of Jesus. Thank you!
God sends us orphaned youth in many different ways. Tolik hit us like a ton of bricks!
At the time, our Restoration Project crew was renovating the home of RP crew member Oleg. Oleg’s and his neighbor’s homes share one wall, and new brick work kept appearing mysteriously next door. Finally we met the young owner behind the bricks: Tolik, Oleg’s cousin, who grew up in the same orphanage.
Tolik had been sending money home from Poland to his wife and baby girl—but while he was away, his wife left him for someone else. The house was abandoned. So he began sending funds both for his family and for brick workers. We met him on his next trip to Zhytomyr, and hired him for the RP crew.
For two years Tolik helped the Restoration Project create safe housing for orphans. One project was Tolik’s own house; the crew fixed the walls and roof and did some vital indoor work. Later, Tolik improved his kitchen, poured a concrete porch, and installed a furnace. His new church friends surprised him with a small refrigerator.
But Tolik needed more than just a safe home. He was also welcomed into a safe, loving community. When he felt his house was presentable, he threw a big party. Staff members came with their kids. Tolik’s godparents came, and said that at first they couldn’t believe any of this good fortune was real, but then their worries all dissolved. Our staff gave God the glory. Everyone laughed and cried together, saying that Tolik has a chance to start a new life in this house.
Just a few weeks ago, at the invitation of another RP graduate, Tolik started a new construction job in Kyiv. We see him in Zhytomyr on weekends, and pray he will be successful in this new chapter of his life!
In 2020, your support ensured that 48 children were not at risk of being taken to an orphanage. This is just one story.
Olya and her siblings always felt unwanted by their mother, and their needs went unmet. At fourteen, Olya left home, and her mother moved to another city.
Olya is a social orphan. Unlike many of our Stop the Cycle moms, she couldn’t request the kind of help given to those with official orphan status.
When she became pregnant, Olya lost her place at a hostel. She moved in with her abusive boyfriend, who later kicked her out into the cold with her baby. After one night with a neighbor, then a maximum stay of three months in a city crisis center, she had no place to go. Without childcare she couldn’t work. She received just enough from the state for diapers and formula.
Olya was desperate. She recently shared about that time:
“Social services offered to send my child to an orphanage for a while until I was on my feet. It was like a terrible sentence for me. It was so painful to imagine that my girl would be in the orphanage while I was improving my life. Then the director of the center told me there is one more little hope…”
Oksana Pankyeyeva took the phone call from the center, and quickly planned to welcome Olya and little Sasha at the Shelter.
“I was so happy that my girl would stay with me and I would have a chance to become the best mother for her. To be better than my biological mom. At the Shelter, they helped me arrange a single mother’s stipend from the state. They’ve supported me in difficult times and continue to always support and teach.”
Olya is hard-working and optimistic, interested in everything, and learning to be a great mom. We got to celebrate Sasha’s 2nd birthday together in December. It’s a gift to witness the blossoming of this little family!
Our new Impact Report is here! Click to read our financial statements, the measurable successes of our youth and families, and personal notes from volunteers and staff. We hope you’ll be encouraged to see the life-changing community your gifts have created, to the glory of God.
Emotional support is the first step in physical healing.
When orphaned youth are in a tight spot, they need more than money or connections. They need emotional support, too—even for their physical needs.
Masha P. was moved from one orphanage to another for eighteen years, so she received little of the loving care a child needs. Soon after we met her, Masha asked our staff to go with her to the doctor because she couldn’t breathe through her nose. The doctor prescribed minor surgery to remove five cysts.
Masha began to cry and panic. She was so afraid! But staff member Lena A. knew that Masha just needed the support she hadn’t received in the past. “I told her how good it would be when her suffering ended,” Lena said. “That you need to be a little patient and then it will be over, you’ll be able to breathe well and enjoy life. That I’ll be there and support her… As a mother to a child, I amused her and talked to her for a long time. Finally she agreed.”
The first surgery was in August 2019, and she had another small procedure recently. Again Lena reassured her. “She would hardly have agreed to it without support,” Lena said.
Masha had a follow-up appointment this Monday. She’s feeling better, and in a few weeks the wounds will heal. Emotional healing takes more time, but Masha is making progress by trusting one caring adult with her medical needs!
One of our Core Values is caring for our youth holistically. This isn’t just an ideal; it’s lived out in our work with orphan students every day.
At eleven years old, both Valera’s parents were deceased. He and his siblings were moved from one relative to another, then into orphanages, then into an adoptive home in a village. Valera began studying at a trade school in Zhytomyr, where we met him. He’d been having seizures since he was seventeen, so he needed very practical and urgent help. Staff member Sasha T. began meeting his needs:
Documents: Valera had lost his passport, the standard form of ID for Ukrainians. Sasha went with Valera to the required government offices, helping him make payments, collect documents, and write applications.
Basic needs: After trade school, Valera had trouble finding a job because of his seizures. During this time we helped him with groceries, hygiene kits, medications, clothes, and shoes.
Health care: Because of Valera’s epileptic seizures, we often accompanied him to different doctors and helped him order the medication he needs.
Housing: In 2020, Last Bell helped Valera receive disability status, then to apply for social benefits for which he’d become eligible. Right now, he lives in a social dorm, but we helped him register on a wait list for a better housing situation.
Education: We helped Valera apply to a technical school (which feeds an architecture university in Kyiv), studying forestry. He began classes on a scholarship. In November, when classes went online, Valera couldn’t attend or do his work because he didn’t have a mobile phone. He was almost expelled. But we helped him acquire a phone, and he’s been working hard to catch up.
Financial skills: Valera had fallen prey to a private loan office that charged extraordinary interest rates. We helped cover his debts, and at his request taught him how to manage his money.
In everything, Sasha T. and our other staff share the good news about Jesus.
Valera’s life is just getting started, and with the help of our staff, he has a strong foundation. Our holistic approach is vital for his well-being now and in the future!
Valera (back) and fellow orphan student Sasha (front) buying shoes with the help of staff member Sasha T.