With the beginning of Russian aggression, the entire population of Ukraine became vulnerable in an instant. An estimated 3.2 million people have fled the country as refugees and millions more are internally displaced seeking safety from Russian attacks. Among those, an estimated 200,000 orphans are infinitely more unshielded today than ever before.
Child welfare in Ukraine
It’s impossible to keep that many kids safe during a war. They’re already missing thousands of children, and authorities worry they’ve fallen into the hands of human traffickers. The thought of Ukrainian orphans being trafficked and victimized breaks my heart. All three of my own children were born there, and I’ve devoted much of my life’s work to helping vulnerable Ukrainian children. These numbers — the hundreds of thousands of children being transported out of their war-torn home country, the thousands potentially lost to trafficking — aren’t just numbers to me. They shouldn’t just be numbers to you.
Even during peacetime, vulnerable Ukrainian children face steep odds and a bleak future. Though Ukraine has sought to improve child welfare in the past 15 years, the majority of vulnerable children, or 60-70%, turn to prostitution or crime after aging out of the orphanages at 16 years old. An estimated 20% get imprisoned, and 10% attempt suicide. Children with special needs get shipped far outside Ukraine’s cities to grow up in isolation and developmental deprivation.
If Russia gains regional dominance, child welfare in Ukraine will take a huge step backward. International adoption and ministry services will no longer be possible for the hardest-to-place children, and domestic adoption and foster care will no longer be an option. These children will have no chance at a future with a loving family near home or in America.
Russia has already used its own orphans as a geopolitical bargaining chip: Russia banned United States adoption back in 2013, a retaliation against American sanctions. Ukrainian orphans could be next.
How we should respond
Our calling as Christians is to pray for, minister and witness to these children. We must support them — and Ukraine — in any way possible. We can’t turn a blind eye to their needs. Our calling as Americans is to advocate relentlessly for their protection. We have the benefit of being part of a democracy, where the political system responds to our demands. So, make demands. Speak, as I am speaking. Call your representatives and senators. Donate to and amplify the organizations doing the dangerous, on-the-ground work that will save these children’s lives.
From afar, wars are just headlines and statistics. Maybe they increase the price of consumer goods or delay shipping times. Maybe they dominate the news for a few days before eventually fading into the background again. But it is morally essential that we remember the terrible human cost of war. Families have been destroyed; children have been lost to traffickers. More parents will fall into poverty after the war and have their children taken from them. If Russia manages to cut Ukraine off from international ministry and adoption, these families and children will be lost to a cycle of poverty and despair.
But every one of these children deserves a loving, stable home. Whether they’re children who have been evacuated as refugees or they’re children who remain trapped in the Ukrainian war zone, they need our prayers, our support, and our advocacy. Let’s keep all Ukrainian children safe — whatever it takes.