Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Children of Leningradsky Train Station

Recently, one of my blog entries on an orphanage ministry in B E l A R U S was picked up by Shepherd's Purse, an American aid organization which helps street kids (most of them abandoned rather than technically orphaned) on the streets. I like to focus on Christian ministries that work abroad from time to time, in order to to call attention to the plight of the kids they are helping.

Michael Wetzel is the director of the organization, which operates in the Ukraine. You can check out their website and specific projects at their web page, here:

Please take a half hour to watch the following documentary, "The Children of Leningradsky". It was filmed in 2004, on the streets of Moscow. This video follows a group of youngsters who beg in the city's central train station by day and sleep in the sewers on hot water pipes by night. (It's in Russian, but subtitled - uses some raw language). The music is haunting and beautiful in parts, but the film will bring you to tears.

Here are some interesting facts to consider.

Moscow is now home to more millionaires than any other city in the world. Notwithstanding this, Russia and the former Soviet republics are plagued by poverty and a wide disparity of haves and have-nots. (Many elderly are also on the street or close to it, living at a lower standard than they were during World War II). However, children in these societies do not wind up on the streets because their parents are too poor to take care of them. Sometimes poverty will drive desperate parents to leave their newborns in orphanages, but not put their 8, 9, and 10-year-olds out on the street.

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons why kids in Eastern Europe beg, sniff glue and sleep on the streets:

- organized "mafia" of adults who abuse and force kids into stealing and prostitution, pocketing the money (trafficking). This is sometimes, but not always, the case with groups of Gypsy (Roma) children who "work" certain sections of a city.

- alcoholism and/or drug addiction. Long the scourge of Russian society, this is the #1 cause of misery, poverty, and abused and abandoned children in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states. None of the children in the Moscow footage were Gypsies or connected to any mafia-type trafficking ring. Across the board, all of them had been abused by parents who loved vodka more than they loved their kids. Sadly, this is very common. Most of the street kids and institutionalized "orphans" are not actually orphans at all, but have drug or alcohol addicted parents.

Another interesting fact: Western aid organizations are the only ones doing anything about it. There is, essentially, no social safety net for these children, who are either ignored or seen as discarded refuse by their own countries. (There is footage of a policeman brutally beating up an 8-year-old boy in the video.) Shelters are non-existent. If it weren't for the American Christian ministries helping them, the situation would be even worse. Many of them perish on the streets.

The population of Russia is imploding, and they are destroying their most valuable resource: their children. Besides the spiritually unhealthy, excessively materialistic society in which they live, even the lucky ones in "stable" families grow up amidst the allure of drugs, alcohol and corruption. Seven out of every ten children never makes it out of the womb - 70% of all pregnancies in Russia end in abortion. (In the US, it's 30% - Bulgaria, about 50%). In a country with a negative birthrate, ten percent of all Russian women is sterile due to repeated abortions.

The crisis is not simply economic, but spiritual, and the young are most affected. The Christian missions tirelessly serving and teaching the children about their Savior are a true ray of light in a very dark, cold world. These children, and their parents, desperately need to know Christ.


Hadassah said...

Those statistics are staggering! 70% of all pregnancies aborted! It is almost unbelieveable!

I did not watch the video, but I have seen similar ones made by other mission organizations. It is so hard to watch, and the only response I can muster is 'Come soon, Lord, come soon.'

I think MTW (Mission to the World, it is the sending agency that my parents used to be part of) has a whole division devoted to reaching street children all over the world. Unfortunately, it is not a problem unique to Russia. But still, those ministries only amount to a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming numbers of children living on the streets. The problem is huge.

Come soon, Lord, come soon.

Don Kimrey said...

I continue to admire our compassion and courage. You know, of course, if you'd been doing this kind of thing in Germany you'd have been risking your life. You make me think and pray in ways that make me hurt. I read once about one of God's choice servants who prayed: "Let my heart be broken by the things which break the heart of God." This (your work) is certainly that. Stay close to Christ. Keep up your good work.