Russia – 2 March 2018

Turning around her life to be there for her daughters

At a particularly low point of her life Katharina, a mother of two from Russia, made the decision to ask for support to overcome the challenges she was facing. She was determined to ensure her daughters could have the kind of childhood she was deprived of.

A half-hour drive outside the centre of Saint Petersburg, Russia, in an area of once white-washed townhouses, cracked windows are sealed with pieces of cloth, paint is flaking off the walls and garbage is scattered between the three community playgrounds.

This is where Katharina* lives in a small apartment with her two daughters, two-year-old Alina and seven-year-old Helena. They eat, sleep and play in a 15-square-metre living room. The room is split in two parts. One half is for the children, while Katharina and her husband sleep on the sofa bed. The family shares the kitchen and bathroom with others.

Poorly insulated windows make the rooms almost uninhabitable in winter. Last year, the children had to wear jackets inside because it was so cold.

“On the coldest days, everyone gets together on the sofa bed with extra blankets,” says Katharina. “It’s cramped, but at least it’s warm.”
Katharina's youngest daughter Alina (2) in the staircase of their apartment building

The determination to change

Despite the circumstances, the 29-year-old mother never complains about her situation. She has fought hard to get where she is today. Four years ago, she made the decision to choose her family by giving up alcohol. Since that day, she has not touched a drop.

Her situation was not easy back then. Helena got sick when she was one year old, and Katherina was left with no choice but to end her studies to take care of her. Shortly after, the relationship with Helena’s father ended.

Katharina does not like to speak about the past, but she wants to show that with support and the determination to change, most situations can be turned around.

Reaching out for support

At one point, Katharina even wanted to end her life. This is when she realised she desperately needed to reach out for support. She called her brother for help, who in turn contacted SOS Children’s Villages.

“I grew up without a mother, so I understood what was at stake and how bad things were about to become. Very quickly, I was enrolled in the SOS family strengthening programme, which helped me understand that I did not need alcohol to experience happiness,” she says.

Zinewich Olesya, who is part of the SOS family strengthening team in Saint Petersburg, says that from the first day, Katharina’s entire family received support and and follow-up assistance from a psychologist.

“We mapped out what kind of support the family needed,” she explains. “In this case, it was a matter of creating routines and activities that strengthened them as a family. In addition, we have supported them with warm clothes and food, as well legal advice so that they now know, among other things, how to apply to be put on the waiting list for municipal apartments.”

Although Katharina and her family are still facing challenging living conditions and struggle economically, the situation is better than it used to be. Most importantly, Alina and Helena have their mother back, which gives them a better foundation to build their lives on.

“Our dream in the long run is to have a municipal apartment with some more space. But the most important part is to be a happy family,” Katharina concludes.

*All names changed for privacy protection

Photos by: Nina Ruud 

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