They led us down a long, dark corridor and into a dimly lit room. A room full of over 20 men, staring at a TV on the wall. Some sitting on benches, some on the floor. Many rocking back and forth.
Sitting in an old, battered wheelchair was one of the smallest occupants of the room. His handsome face lit up at the sight of visitors and a big smile appeared. We found out that his name was Vanya and he was 14 years old.
Vanya held onto our hands gently as he spoke. He thanked us for coming and he told us about his recent trip to a hospital where he received some therapy. He said he wants to learn to walk.
We left the dark room and continued with the tour of the institution. The building is very old but care has been taken to make it safe and clean for the residents. On the upper floor, many men are kept behind locked doors for the safety of themselves and others.
Before we leave, we ask if we can see all of those who are under 16 and legally free for adoption. There are only 2. Vanya is one of them. The staff quickly find tidy clothes for Vanya to wear so we can take his photo. They say he is a good boy. They lift him from his wheelchair and put him on a bed. He happily smiles for photos.
It is when we start to leave that he quietly says “Please don’t leave. Stay here with me.” He is reluctant to let go of our hands. He smiles sadly as we leave. “Please come again” he calls. He is then lifted back into his wheelchair by the staff and wheeled back into the dark room.
Written by Keshia Melton, Ukraine Program Manager