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Ukraine: Death Camps, for Children [July 1 UPDATE]
I pleaded with the researcher to allow me to publish the full letter. The full letter, along with what I know and what HRW published in December 1998, would provide three entirely independent sources corroborating the same information. Request was refused on what the team deemed to be "ethical" grounds: they were sworn to secrecy immediately on arrival, and told that staff would fired and charity aid workers would be expelled and prevented from returning. That had already happened before, with aid organizations having been shut out for four years.
I don't know if I'm stretching ethics here or not. On the one hand, I am bound by confidentiality and respect for the Western team's work, as well as legitimate concern that everyone could be shut out entirely via mere mention of this information publicly. At the same time, silence will continue to prolong a deadly situation. What the Western team was told three weeks ago is exactly what the HRW team was told seven years ago. Obviously, perpetrating silence remains the status quo, and therefore nothing has changed. The Western team didn't know about the HRW report until after the fact, when I pointed it out to them last week. They're at least reconsidering their promise of silence, but feel bound by their own word -- unwitting though it may have been -- to keep silent. I hope that they will ultimately recognize that their overriding obligation is to their clients -- kids in concentration camps, as they themselves put it -- above the interests of people keeping their jobs and certain powers-that-be threatening to shut these kids off from any further help from the outside world. In the meantime, I'm trying to strike a fair balance between confidentiality and avoiding being a party to death by silence. I think I have a greater moral obligation to speak than to keep quiet.
There is a big mystery as to exactly why these kids and their Hell holes are being kept secret. There are several possibilities.
In order to understand how to rescue these children, it is first necessary to understand the scope of the problem overall: how many children are in all orphanages in Ukraine?
A 2005 report from EveryChild, "FAMILY MATTERS: A Study of Institutional Childcare in Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union" (4MB PDF file), a UK-based childcare-reform charity organization, explains estimates from 40,000 to 80,000 in 2002. (page 17) Recent anecdotal information to P-CED Ukraine, a UK and Ukraine-based social enterprise, indicates 100,000 to 120,000 children in state institutional care as of 2006. P-CED Ukraine has researchers working to confirm those numbers, and/or to get precise current numbers according to Ukrainian officials. EveryChild also points out the difficulty in getting reliable statistics. (Ibid, page 15)
The purpose of getting an accurate count is to determine budget for rescue and solutions. EveryChild further notes that as of 2002, 600 hryvnia or $120 per month were budgeted for each child in a Ukrainian orphanage. (Ibid, page 34) It is not clear if that amount applied to the most conservative estimate of 40,000 population in orphanages, or the better estimate they propose as 80,000 population in 2002. Sources in south-central Ukraine, who are promoting foster-care as an exit solution for orphans, state that on average depending on a child’s age, the equivalent of $256.50 per month per child is immediately available to Ukrainian foster families from Ukraine’s budget. They further state that this amount is less than the amount Ukraine’s budget per child for keeping children in a state-run orphanage. That in turn puts Ukraine’s expenditure at $260 per month or more per child to keep them in orphanages. The question remains: how many children are officially accounted as living in orphanages to start with?
Based on personal experience of caring for and raising a child in Ukraine, $150 a month is sufficient to cover all but dire emergency needs such as a serious accident or catastrophic medical condition, in most locations in Ukraine. This is roughly in line with the $120 per month per child cited by EveryChild (above) for 2002. $260 per month cited by foster-care advocates above includes a small caretakers salary, yielding an average amount per child to a comfortable $190 per month.
More realistic stimates regarding total number of orphans range between 80,000 (in 2002) from EveryChild’s research, and 100,000 or more from anecdotal evidence in 2006. If any error is to be made in first assessing the size of the population, it is better to estimate too high than too low, given that any budget applications will be on a per child basis as needed rather than one lump sum to be spent no matter what. In other words, it is better to have excess budget than insufficient budget in arranging first measures for nationwide assistance for all orphans.
Going with the $256 per month average amount per child allocated for foster care, and allowing for 100,000 children, that brings immediate budget equivalence of a little over $300 million per year. Going with the lowest numbers of $120 per month and 40,000 children yields about $60 million per year.
Even the lower of those amounts -- $120 per month per child -- is sufficient not only to prevent death camps, but also to keep children in reasonably good physical health albeit without the essential need of a loving family.
Obviously, there is something amiss.
Someone is scaring and intimidating, or have done so in the past, orphanage directors and staff into silence. That much is clear. Possibly it might be attributed to habituated paranoia, a common disorder among older post-Soviets. In that case, it is reasonable to predict that foes are only imaginary, and there is no longer anyone in place anywhere in Ukraine’s government or system willing to harm orphanage staff for allowing public information of facilities.
In any case, we’re talking fairly substantial amounts of funding for these children, on the order of $300 million a year. That amount is sufficient for much more than improving health and living conditions in orphanages. As EveryChild points out (Ibid, page 34), the estimated cost of keeping children in any home-type environment alternatives to orphanages is cheaper than keeping them in orphanages. These alternatives include small group homes, foster care, and adoption. This is not speculation, as the group-home alternative has been tried and proven in Russia’s Samara region. Children were placed in group-home settings with professional caregivers attending to them as substitute parents.
An average amount of $256 per month per child, if accurate as existing budget allowance for foster care, provides sufficient budget to place most children in professionally-staffed group homes as the first interim measure, getting them out of orphanages entirely and rendering the existing orphanage system obsolete. From there, they can be phased into foster families as families become available, into adoptive families within Ukraine and, if necessary, abroad. This measure can be undertaken and implemented immediately, and in full within eighteen months.
The aim absolutely has to be getting orphans into loving, home environments. Group homes with ten children per home and four full-time staffers is a good start. In Samara, a Canadian doctor who monitored the transition told me that children’s lives were turned around after removal to small group homes. In his words, “They bloomed and flourished” by comparison to their existence in orphanages.
In Ukraine, foster care and adoption are still new ideas and practices. It will take time for public attitudes to come to embrace those practices. Transition must therefore include continuation of public education, in order to give children even better family living possibilities beyond group homes. Group homes appear to be the first step logistically, because this can be accomplished fairly quickly and represents great relief from orphanage conditions. Every child needs a family, family structure, a place to call home, and people who can be relied upon to love them and guide them. The existence of death camps instead, presumably because some people feel that these children aren’t worth loving – and possibly that funds intended to care for them are therefore better diverted to unknown private elsewheres-- is the darkest possible statement against any pretense of civilization.
This is what can be done and, indeed, what has to be done, for Ukraine's orphans.
As explained in Part 2, it is unclear how many orphans Ukraine has, and how much is being allocated in the annual national budget for their care. Getting that specific information is not a simple matter. Moreover, getting that information takes time, and results in further delay. Looking at it from the point of view of, God forbid, an uncooperative and intransigent government, merely hiding those statistics could be used as a delay tactic to put off any further action.
Therefore, I'm going with the following information as a start point for action.
I am allowing that there are 120,000 chidren in Ukrainian ophanages. I am further allowing that adequate support per child is in the amount of $150 per month, as indicated in update 1.
That dictates a total budget of $216 million per year solely for the children. Add in another $300 per month on average across Ukraine for one professional caretaker salary (four caregivers per ten children in new group homes of ten children per home/flat, 30,000 total caregivers) adds another $108 million per year, for total annual cost of $324 million per year. Add in 12,000 flats of sufficient size to take in 10 children each, at an average cost across Ukraine of $40,000 per flat (100 square meters), and the total comes to $804 million for year one. That translates to one-time cost of $480 million for flats, and an annual recurring cost of $324 million. These are simply the financial numbers that must be taken into account to give these chidren any possibility for a decent life. Otherwise, Ukraine's government must admit that these children are disposable, and sending them to either death or a life with almost no hope is official government policy.
There is no other way to interpret this situation. This is no longer a time for Ukraine's government to shirk this matter, or to play games with words and numbers.
Excuses won't work, particularly in light of a handful of oligarchs in Ukraine having been allowed to loot Ukraine's economy for tens of billions of dollars. I point specifically to Akhmetov, Pinchuk, Poroshenko, and Kuchma, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. These people can single-handedly finance 100% of all that will ever be needed to save Ukraine's orphans. None of them evidently bother to think past their bank accounts, and seem to have at least tacit blessings at this point from the new regime to keep their loot while no one wants to consider Ukraine's death camps, and the widespread poverty that produced them..
It is to the credit of the new regime that, at least, one of the most glaring and egregious thefts of state property has been reversed vis-a-vis the reprivatization of Kryvorishtal Steel company. I argued on Maidan a year ago that this reprivatization was appropriate if the state could get at least $3 billion for the sale as a one-time windfall, then intake taxes annually on profits. Otherwise, it would be to the state's long-term advantage to hold the property as it produced a steady $600 million a year in profits. Akhmetov and Pinchuk, in an insiders' deal that was clearly rigged in their favor, had managed to pay only $800 million for the company in the initial privatization, a fraction of what it was really worth on the open market. When the reprivatization controversy was coming to a boil a year ago, speculation was that it might bring around $2 billion or maybe even as much as three times the rigged purchase price of $800 million. Nobody seemed to believe it could bring $3 billion dollars that I proposed as a minimum bid price. The actual price under what was widely hailed as an open, honest, and transparent bid and sale process: $4.8 billion, or six times what Akhmetov and Pinchuk paid.
Now Ukraine has an extra $4 billion in national budget just from that one correction alone. Which, in turn, is far more than enough to permanently solve Ukraine's orphanage problems as well as create a nationwide poverty relief program to prevent such problems in the future. Most of these kids come from situations deriving from poverty. This money should be put exactly where it belongs, helping people who have been left with little or nothing due to massive pilfering and looting of Ukraine’s national wealth to start with. $4 billion represents only a small, partial recovery of misappropriated resources, but is enough to bring badly-needed relief. Roughly $800 million in year one is the largest expenditure for childcare reform, with annual recurring costs of about $325 million. If Ukraine’s government gets serious about helping these kids in internats and death camps, it is very likely that large donor organizations will also be willing to help out.
These are secondary means of bringing humanitarian relief. But, the primary reasons why this problem even exists must not be overlooked. Those reasons have names, and a partial listing of those names is above.
In the next part, I will outline a nationwide poverty-relief program that will not only work, but also will for the most part pay for itself in a combination of generated revenues and cost-savings for Ukraine's national budget. Front and center, first and foremost: getting these kids out of Hell holes and into home-style environments..
This update is primarily to outline solutions. At the same time, it is also necessary to at least mention ongoing barriers to those solutions.
From the previous update, the sheer magnitude and scope of orphanage problems becomes apparent: a projected cost of $800 million immediately for year one reform, and an annual recurring cost of about $325 million.
Ukraine has funding in such amounts as a result of only the Kryvorizhshtal sale. The US side has funding in such amounts in its Millennium Challenge Account, for which Ukraine will be soon be eligible in full – pending resolution of corruption issues. MCA has 15 metrics that a qualifying country must satisfy for eligibility, in addition to two primary criteria: democratic progress and bona fide market economy. Without these latter two criteria, the 15 metrics do not come into play. As of November 2005, Ukraine qualified on those two criteria along with most of the 15 metrics. Ukraine came in below median score on the corruption metric, and therefore must satisfy that metric prior to full eligibility for MCA funds. MCA funds, administered by Millennium Challenge Corporation or MCC, are intended for economic development in qualifying countries in order to expand economic growth and reduce poverty.
Further, World Bank has large funding available for development aimed at poverty relief and social benefit. World Bank has been around much longer than MCC, and is therefore much better known.
In both cases, MCC and World Bank, Ukraine needs to define projects that will generate revenue, with that revenue earmarked for further economic development and social benefit. This is assuming that Ukraine’s government is able to satisfy the MCC corruption metric.
At this time, Ukraine alone has more than enough money to turn the orphanage situation around and get these children into family-like environments. However, it appears very unlikely that Ukraine’s children are of such priority for Ukraine’s government. This is perhaps a holdover from previous government, allowing that new government can move only so fast and cannot resolve every single critical issue in Ukraine in only sixteen months since coming to power. That is quite understandable. Furthermore, given widespread poverty in Ukraine and a multitude of social disorders – widespread ignorance and lack of education on HIV/AIDS; lack of corruption remedies and protections for ordinary citizens hit with graft, extortion, and demand for bribes from officials and from mafia; corresponding ongoing tendencies toward demanding that graft; government officials who still refuse to acknowledge problems with orphanages to begin with – it is easy to understand how and why children in death camps are not exactly at the top of governments agenda.
According to Mrs. Yushchenko, the orphanage problems can only be resolved by new legislation. According to people around Mrs. Yanukovich, Mrs. Yanukovich is taking “good care” of all children in orphanages in “her region” (Donetsk.) Which is not true. But, that’s the Yanukovich home base, and that’s where heavy propaganda over the years has persuaded most people to believe that the Yanukovich clan are taking good care of them, even their orphans.
It is not true.
Thus, two of the top political wives are either resigning child care to a legislature that doesn’t seem to have gotten around to caring, or, are engendering public relations indicating that children are already being cared for very well. Yanukovich says nothing. Yushchenko, to his credit, at least chastised and reprimanded several regional governors – including in Kharkiv – recently for not coming up with plans to improve the lives of orphans.
The only significant factor preventing a total overhaul and reform of all orphanages in Ukraine is this: lack of political will, deriving from lack of basic human compassion for the children.
One top official in Lviv, often considered to be one of Ukraine’s more progressive communities, reportedly stated earlier this year in response to foster families in Ukraine offering to take in and care for orphans “Let government take care of these children. Why would you want to burden yourself and your family?” In another region, officials were insulted that anyone would think children in orphanages are receiving anything less than the best of care. This unbridled ignorance and arrogance is, I believe, at the root of the problem for orphans in Ukraine.
Underlying the problem with orphans and children assigned to state institutional care is one main, common factor, which is poverty. Many of these children are in orphanages and similar institutions because their families cannot afford to care for them. (See extensive research from Every Child, cited in prior updates above.) Every Child suggests that as many as 90% of children might be returned to their birth families, if their families receive state support. That support amounts to less than the cost of keeping children in state care. Of all other options available, be it foster care, in-country adoption, or family-like group homes, state care is worst for children and most expensive. ANYthing else is less expensive, and almost always better for the children. Returning children to their birth families would appear to be the first, best option, even ahead of group homes. But, readjustment to home family life may very well be an issue. In that case, getting children into small, family-like group homes may indeed remain to first, best solution. From there, as they adjust to more normal life outside orphanages, they might transition on to their birth families, foster families, or adoptive families, if transition back to birth families aren’t immediately feasible. If transition onward to any of those options are not possible – dysfunctional birth family, no birth family, not enough foster families, not enough adoptive families – small group homes are far better than warehouses (orphanages/internats/state institutions) and pose a healthier and lower costs long-term solution.
Overall, cost-savings alone, over time, will pay for most of the care programs. Thus, Ukraine’s government can simply borrow money from World Bank, or get a large grant from US government (no other governments have this kind of money available in such quantity), implement the better, lower-cost programs, and repay any loans via cost savings from national budget. Ukraine’s national budget and MCC’s budget – after Ukraine becomes eligible for MCC funds – both have more than enough funding to support the transition from orphanages and so on to healthier home environments for Ukraine’s abandoned children.
Additionally, there’s the issue of the 10% of children in internats who do require special care for special needs, such as physical and mental handicaps. This percentage is likely to cost more, not less, due to opening new, specialized facilities to shelter them and adding in new staff with new education and training. That means new education and training programs along with new facilities. Increased costs for this segment will somewhat offset reduced costs for the 90% or so of children who can be transferred to home-style environments, but not nearly enough to offset cost savings entirely.
Thus, cost savings alone will pay for most of the home-style care program, also known as Ukraine’s childcare reform program of 2006. To offset the remaining costs is a fairly simple matter: social enterprise.
Ukraine, at this crossroads in economic development, holds great potential for hundreds of new enterprises that stand to make tremendous profits in undeveloped economic sectors and sub-sectors. The telecom sector, for just one example, is grossly underdeveloped and limited mainly by less than five oligarchs who are preventing development to protect present and future profits only for themselves personally. They employ, pay, and bribe friends and allies as needed to prevent, delay, and control telecom development solely for their own benefit. Social concern and social benefit are nowhere in their equations. This gets back to Ukraine’s corruption climate, which MCC and many other international observers have certainly noted. Further, developing the telecom sector, particularly deployment of high-speed, low-cost Internet that is the norm across Europe, the US, and east Asia (excepting North Korea), is an essential ingredient in Ukraine’s overall economic development. This equation is extraordinarily simple: without such Internet access nationally for Ukraine, Ukraine’s economic future in the Information Age is bleak. Ukraine’s economy can and will develop according to information access for Ukraine’s citizens. Without that access, Ukraine’s economy will be much more limited, but enough to make a few very wealthy oligarch’s even more wealthy. These people have no care or concern for Ukraine, or for ordinary citizens in Ukraine. They certainly do not care about children in orphanages, claims about such as Mrs. Yanukovich’s efforts notwithstanding.
Consequently, the telecom sector and other sectors are wide open for development, with billions of dollars in profits to be had – if Ukraine surpasses its current and ongoing corruption albatross and develops its infant market economy further past its previous mafia/crony economy. Honest players can step in, go to work, invest, make money, and it takes only one or two social entrepreneurs in the mix to work hard in new business development and steer profits first toward the most crucial social benefit needs – such as children in death camps. This satisfies World Bank and MCC criteria, and puts billions of dollars in play for this purpose.
From the first installation:
"There is a big mystery as to exactly why these kids and their Hell holes are being kept secret. There are several possibilities.
"1. Ukraine just can't afford to do more than let a lot of them die. Keeping it all secret prevents pressure for doing more, and avoids major embarrassment and humiliation in the court of international opinion.
2. Knowledge as to how to treat the children medically is sorely lacking (and this is, in fact, a significant factor.)
3. Ukraine is already spending more monies for far better care of these children than is actually being used directly for their care, but it's being diverted by corrupt officials."
Based on private communications since that 27 April post, most of my suspicions have been confirmed. The only exception is the very first sentence of item 1:
"Ukraine just can't afford to do more than let a lot of them die."
In fact, Ukraine CAN afford to do more than let these children die. To date, to this moment, Ukraine has not bothered to try.
That is a fact that I will defend with my life.
The why and wherefore behind that fact is a tale of neglect and horror indefensible in any presumably civilized country.
Unfortunately, by my reckoning to this moment -- or perhaps fortunately by Grand Schemes I am merely incapable of grasping -- I am the only person speaking publicly now who has comprehensive and detailed knowledge of those horrors as detailed multiple times to date, to me, "behind the scenes", said information having been graciously supplied by concerned parties who at this moment flatly refuse that I should make ANY of their information public.
Therefore, innocent children continue to die. How many today? I leave it to those who supplied information, but are too cowardly to go public, to wrestle with your conscience in answering that question. Don't tell me. I don't want to know, and I don't care. It is not my business to be your Father Confessor, your priest, the person to whom you confess your dark secrets to get them off your conscience.
From here forward, anyone who tells me anything must accept that it is the same as telling the world. I will no longer keep your secrets. Don't bother, don't try, don't ask. Your secrecy is contributing to this horror, not solving it. I've listened to every one of you, your defense of your secrecy positions. Most of it is hogwash.
Now, with that being said, we come to what must be done next given that virtually everyone who can help with corroborative detailed information wants to do so secretly, privately, without common knowledge.
I do not believe there are any remaining serious political interests in Ukraine capable or willing of further obstruction of open knowledge, and consequent solutions, for Ukraine's Death Camps For Children. Those include everyone I lambasted earlier, above. I don't think they have the heart or stomach for it, and I believe that the primary problem was of controlling oligarchs being distracted by increasing their own wealth rather than focus on helping Ukrainian citizens. That focus of increasing wealth did, however, serve to set a very negative precedent and example under Kuchma's Ukraine, wherein utterly corrupt officials in Ukraine's orphanage system were merely following the example of Dear Leader(s) from the top down. That was the problem, and that was perfectly acceptable and normal before.
100% of people who have contacted me with sensitive information now live outside Ukraine. Some are Ukrainians working or studying abroad, some are Ukrainian diaspora, none are in Ukraine now. Therefore, none have their finger on Ukraine's political pulse as someone such as myself who lives and works in Ukraine, who has done so for years, and who has an unmistakable, no-nonsense and absolutely uncompromising position against any and all forms of corruption within Ukraine. Active or passive corruption are both exactly the same thing, where the result in either case results in injury to, or death of, fellow human beings. From something I published many years ago, and which has stood the test of time:
"We have only to ask ourselves individually whether or not this is the sort of progress we want, where we accept consciously and intentionally that human progress allows for disposing of other human beings.
“This is a tricky question. Except in the case of self-defense, if for any reason we answer ‘Yes’, regardless of what that reason is, we are in effect agreeing with the proposition of disposing of human beings. Whether disposal be from deprivation or execution, the result is the same for the victim. If we agree that sometimes, for some reasons, it is acceptable and permissible to dispose of human beings, actively or passively, the next question is ‘Which people?’ Of course I will never argue that one of them should be me, though perhaps it should be you. You respond in kind, it cannot be you, but maybe it should be me. Not only can it not be you, it also cannot be your spouse, your children, your mother or father, your friends, your neighbors, but, maybe someone else. Naturally I feel the same way. Maybe we come to an agreement that it shouldn't be either you or me, or our families and friends, that can be disposed of, but perhaps someone else. While we are debating this -- passionately and sincerely, no doubt -- a third party comes along and without warning disposes of the both of us, or our families, or our friends. And there is the trap we have fallen into, because whether or not we approve of our or our families' and friends' demise is irrelevant. It is fair because we accepted the principle of human disposability. We just didn't intend that it be us who are tossed, but if we or our families and friends die, it is in accordance with principles that we ourselves have accepted and so must live -- and die -- by."
There is no room for allowing other human beings to be disposed of, whether actively or passively. Doing so defines anyone, as a person or as a nation, as one who approves and supports that other human beings are disposable and have therefore crossed the line of civilization. It is the passive cooperation in allowing any continuation of Ukraine's Death Camps, even if by well-intended people who simply don't know any better, that I must take exception to now.
I just happen to find myself in a cutting-edge political position in Ukraine now, having taken an absolute anti-corruption stance years ago and which serves quite well now in New Ukraine's political climate for which anti-corruption is the main anchor, and is quite stylish. In Russia, I nearly paid for the same position with my life. Operatives there merely failed in their attempt, and so I am alive now. But, no quieter than ever, no more afraid, and given Russia's courage to grant me a visa, I will return there within 24 hours if only to make the point that I am NOT afraid of their worst operatives. Without such fear, I believe that I am clear-eyed enough to recognize danger where it exists, and danger where it is merely imagined.
In Ukraine, at this moment, such danger is merely imagined, carried over by habituation from the prior regime where corruption throughout Ukraine was practically universal, absolute, and unchecked in all social and economic spheres. Again, there are no political forces in Ukraine who are able and willing to continue Ukraine's Death Camps. Silence among those who have knowledge but are now afraid to speak is a fatal illusion.
What needs to be done and what can be done has already been described in previous updates, above. I am now preparing an updated strategy plan, past the first one delivered to Ukraine's Ministry of Youth, Family, and Sports four months ago. This will be done without photos or any cooperation otherwise from anyone else, because everyone else who knows remains too afraid to speak. Photos would tell far more than my words, and my words alone may or may not be believed by funding organizations within or outside of Ukraine. I am well aware that even regional officials who are responsible for orphans' welfare honestly do not know of some of these death camps, due to silence and secrecy. Thus, if they don't know, how might it be possible to convince major funding to assist something that might just be imaginary for all but those who know from direct experience and observation that death camps are not imaginary, but are real, inhumane, and very deadly?
Nevertheless, I am bound to try, and will do my best to convince major funding to help these children that everyone else is afraid to speak about. It's all I can do.