December 23, 2007
By Anne Linden
News and Views
Nestled in the shadow of the famed Bykovel Ski Resort in the Yaremcha Region of Ukraine sits the Mykolychin Internat, a boarding school for 106 children. But proximity is the only condition this institution shares with its affluent neighbors. Years of neglect compounded by heavy rain over the past several weeks have turned the facility’s grounds into a large pond.
But the grounds are not alone in being water soaked. The kitchen and dining center are as well. Cooks, who must still prepare meals for this group of 7-15 year olds, devote free minutes to bailing out what must be the country’s largest wading pool. Activities normally scheduled for the dining center — the only space large enough to accommodate all of the students — have also had to be cancelled. The dining room furniture was removed in order for it not to be damaged. But dampness has already ruined the recently refinished posts. And the floor, like the floor in the kitchen, needs bailing out.
Recently donated athletic equipment goes unused as children are forced to get their exercise indoors. Even getting from classroom buildings to dorms has become an exercise better suited to ducks. Finding suitable indoor activities for such a large group of academically challenged kids, especially when the dining center is not usable, is particularly difficult. The Mykolychin internat is one of five in the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast for children suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome.
Stephan Severylov, the internat’s 28-year-old director, has headed the internat for just two years. Thanks largely to his efforts, the facility is in considerably better condition today than it was when he took over. But as he’s learned, turning a dilapidated warehouse for unwanted children into a successful training facility is an expensive and time consuming proposition. As he explained the day I met him, “During my first winter here, trying to keep the children warm demanded 100% of our effort.” Throughout the school, not a single radiator had worked and even windows that were not broken let in a strong enough breeze to sail a boat. “We had no choice but to cancel classes until the weather improved.”
In 2006 thanks to a change in directors, to a shift in the government’s priorities and to a tightening of fiscal controls, money intended for repairs was actually spent for repairs. Many of the internat’s radiators and windows were replaced. And later, thanks to a major windstorm, the State had no choice but to replace the dining’s center’s roof.
I met Director Severylov shortly before students were due to return in the fall of 2006. A Peace Corps volunteer preparing to return to the States at the end of her two-year commitment, had asked me to follow up with several of her unfinished projects. I was told the Mykolychin Internat should be my top priority. The school’s septic system was grossly inadequate and needed immediate updating. She’d been shown the children’s shower room after one storm; the septic system had backed up and she could see feces floating on the still water-covered floor. The stench, she told me, was unimaginable.
After doing some checking, I learned upgrading the septic system would cost around $50,000 — clearly nothing a small NGO such as UkraineWorks could tackle. But as the director and I began a tour of the grounds, I noticed shards of glass covering a large area adjacent to the dining center. When questioned, he explained that for years Mykolychin had had no trash collectors — so anything that did not burn was buried. But he went on to say that Mykolychin now had such a service but without a dumpster, the school couldn’t take advantage of it. “We’ll buy one,” I told him and within ten minutes, he, my interpreter and I we were on a bus heading For Yaremcha. Four days later, the internat had not one but two new dumpsters. That marked the beginning of what has turned into a most rewarding partnership, one based on mutual trust, good communication, and commitment to improve the facility.
Director Severylov and I sit down regularly to discuss problems and possible solutions. I always leave with a long list of the school’s needs — and a clear understanding of which are the most pressing. This director’s priorities are clear; his first was three climbing walls and other equipment needed for a small exercise room. His second was a karaoke with two microphones and his third money so one child could go to Odesa for surgery. We met this challenge during the fall of 2006. Next on the director’s list were nine sets of hand tools used in wood carving, material for sewing, a loom, yarn and knitting needles, instruction manuals translated into Ukrainian plus additional athletic equipment: a basketball, volleyball and net, a ping pong table, paddles and balls; additional musical instruments and finally four computers. Director Severylov’s interest is always the same: how best to train the children in his care.
Although we have been able to meet many of his needs, we’ve so far been unable to raise enough money to buy computers, a ping-pong table, a Yamaha electric piano, a large loom and two showerheads. But right now, Mr. Severylov has a more pressing concern: eliminating the water. Dredging the small river flowing through the school’s grounds and installing drainage pipes so the facility no longer floods every time there’s a heavy rain has become a top priority — along with updating the school’s antiquated septic system before more children get sick.