The Ukrainian Orphan Project (UOP) was an orphan-hosting program run between 2004 and 2014. Since the project’s inception, for approximately three weeks each summer and winter, groups of 25-30 orphans were given a chance to travel to the USA for a trip they only dreamed about. They traveled for 40+ hours by bus, train, and plane from Kharkiv County of Ukraine. Kharkiv is the second biggest city in Northeastern Ukraine, located in an area near Russia’s southwestern border.
One of the goals of this cultural exchange project was to give underprivileged Ukrainian children a hope for the future. Alarmingly, early-2000s statistics showed that up to 40% of orphaned kids were abandoned at birth and the other 60% were removed from their homes due to parental neglect or abuse. Just the Kharkiv County itself was accommodating approximately 7,000 orphans in 30+ orphanages at the time. We felt that providing those children with the opportunity to experience American culture, language, and lifestyle was a marvelous way of motivating and inspiring them. In addition, the program was providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the orphans by allowing them to spend precious time within a family setting, receiving attention and love that they lacked back home in their orphanages.
A side benefit of this project was the exciting opportunity for local Americans, who interacted with the hosted foreign children, to experience the pleasure and fulfillment of participating in international, cross-cultural relationships. In most cases, enriching and endearing life-long friendships had been formed. Many of the young visitors even found their permanent homes here.
The cultural portion of the hosting program included lots of sightseeing and excursions, cultural and sports activities, potlucks and socials, etc. As an example, children hosted in California were able to visit Monterey Aquarium, Universal Studios and Disneyland in Los Angeles, Discovery Museum in San Jose, Six Flags Marine World, the U.S. Coast Guard Base in Alameda with a top to bottom tour of the Coast Guard Vessel, Jelly Belly Factory, Hillar Aviation Museum, the U.S. State Capitol and the Governor’s Office in Sacramento, and much more.
By 2014, the number of institutionalized kids in Ukraine dropped drastically, due to a nation-wide campaign promoting foster care. The orphan-hosting program was concluded on this positive note, wrapping up meaningful decade-long work. Looking back, we are very proud of our all-volunteer team, which was able to arrange the dream-come-true visits to America for the hundreds of underprivileged Ukrainian kids. Before its conclusion, the UOP operated as a multi-state project, and the orphaned kids were founding their temporary American families in the many states around the country including AL, TN, GA, OH, NC, MN, SC, MA, NY, IL, NJ, PA, CT, MO, and CA.