– March 23 2022
‘We will stay however long it takes’: CEO Ingrid Johansen meets Polish and Ukrainian staff and children
On 18 March 2022, Ingrid Maria Johansen, CEO of SOS Children’s Villages International, met with staff of SOS Children’s Villages Poland and Ukraine, and later with evacuated children and caregivers from Ukraine at the SOS Children’s Village in Siedlce, Poland.
The village in Siedlce cares for 23 children from residential institutions from Kyiv and their caregivers, as well as two foster families who had been living in Ukraine. SOS Children’s Villages Poland has been supporting children and their caregivers from Ukraine since the early days of the war.
Children fleeing the conflict have also found temporary homes in SOS Children’s Villages programmes in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania.
Ms. Johansen praised SOS Children's Villages caregivers and staff in their readiness to support as many children from Ukraine as possible. “The entire SOS Children’s Villages federation is mobilized,” Ms Johansen said during her first stop in Warsaw, telling staff: “I assure you that we are with you, and we will stay however long it takes.”
Aleksandra Granada, national director of SOS Children’s Villages Poland, emphasized the solidarity of SOS Children’s Villages across Europe to respond to the crisis. “We really feel the international spirit and are proud to be part of the global federation in these difficult times. SOS Children’s Villages Poland stands ready to continue the support,” she said.
Ms Johansen drew parallels between our emergency response to the war in Ukraine and the founding of SOS Children’s Villages in 1949.
“Going back to our roots and how Hermann Gmeiner started our organization after World War II, I see our response as our responsibility,” said Ms. Johansen.
“We are here to provide long-term support, which is what we do best as an organization,” she said.
Ms. Johansen and staff discussed the need to evacuate children from institutions and boarding schools. European governments and international organizations need to find further ways to accommodate and provide quality care to unaccompanied children, and families forced to flee the war for other parts of Europe.
Lyudmila Kharchenko, director of the SOS Children’s Villages programmes in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, who has relocated to Poland, said that since starting their work there in 2012, they had only two years of peaceful conditions. Since the Donbas war started in 2014, they have worked in war or war-like circumstances.
“The situation today is much worse than what we witnessed and lived through in 2014. It is simply incomparable. But, we still don’t give up,” she said, noting that they are still operating and hope to expand a programme to help families buy food, essential non-food items and water.
“Our co-workers who stayed in Luhansk region continue their work from bomb-shelters. We have around 100 co-workers in the Luhansk region. Back in 2012, we began with 12 co-workers. We grew, we didn’t give up, and we won’t give up now,” she said.
At the village in Siedlce, Ms. Johansen met with two foster families previously supported by SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine and with children and caretakers from a residential institution from Kyiv.
The foster parents and the residential institution’s director told Ms. Johansen of the hardship they experienced and the challenges that lay ahead.
One of the biggest issues remains to be reunifying the children from residential institutions with their birth parents, as many of these children are not orphans. The residential institution’s director, Natalia, a former co-worker of SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine, expressed her gratitude for the swift response of SOS Children’s Villages Poland in evacuating and sheltering the children. “They feel good here,” she said.
As per 23.03.2022, 351 displaced Ukrainian children have been evacuated and are being sheltered in SOS Children's Villages across Europe.