One Woman’s Devotion to the Forgotten Children of Ukraine

After an almost fatal car accident, Sister Mary Bernarda Arkatin, decided to give back to the less fortunate, saying she “wanted to do some good before she left this world.”

With over 70 years devoted to serving God, Sr. Bernarda began helping the orphans of Ukraine. For 18 years, Sister Bernarda has spent the summer months visiting orphanages, clinics, hospitals, homeless shelters and private homes, bringing gifts, food and clothing all across Ukraine. Her father grew up in an orphanage for displaced children after World War I, giving Sr. Bernarda a “natural attraction” to help less fortunate kids.

Last September, I witnessed this inspiring one-woman mission in action. Sr. Bernarda introduced me to our first orphanage, Children’s Internaut of Bila Zerkva, a boys’ institution for the mentally handicapped.

The children’s energy was invigorating. Despite their handicaps, the children proudly proceeded to show me the vegetable garden they had grown, the livestock they care for, and their many talents. The staff’s devotion was evident in every corner of the orphanage. While Children’s Internaut of Bila Zerkva is a state-run facility, the atmosphere is loving. Like most institutions of its kind in Ukraine, the orphanage receives limited funds from the government.

Due to Ukraine’s weak economy, administrators have a greater responsibility keeping orphanages functioning. Other orphanages were not so pleasant. Most were remnants of the Soviet past. We came across an abandoned, dilapidated building, and to our surprise, it was a functioning orphanage filled with children. Three orphanages we visited did not have heat. Children often wear coats and hats to keep warm at school in winter. Many institutions in Ukraine rely on donations. Even so, it is known that corruption is rampant. My duty is to observe and determine which orphanages are in great need and to develop working relationships with trustworthy individuals. I need to be certain that the children will receive the aid we work so hard to send. Each child deserves our help.

One of the highlights from my trip to Ukraine was visiting a home for six children started by the Sisters of St. Basil. Without speaking a word in Ukrainian, I played and laughed so much with the children (ages 7 – 13). We communicated through positive energy and a sense of community and belonging. Those children without parents were loved as much as any children in the world.

Every time I return home to the US, I treasure the memories of the faces, the laughter, the smiles of all the children. These children we help are the sweet reminders of life’s beauty and the inspiration of Maya’s Hope.

My own Ukrainian father was once a forgotten and displaced child after World War II and was given the opportunity of a new life in the United States. Like those same Americans who helped my family, I will not forget these children and will continue to find ways to provide hope for them.

Submitted by Maya Rowencak.

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