Torez Orphanage: Enquiry called yet journalist sacked?
There are contradictory reports about the Torez Orphanage for children and young adults with special needs, and the impact of recent media reports alleging shocking conditions in an institutions housing very vulnerable children. They need more than a shocking article or two.
The human rights organization Postup (Progress) has reported the dismissal of a Donetsk journalist working for a municipal newspaper for material about alleged infringements in the Torez Orphanage for Children with Special Needs
According to the information received, Olena Dovzhenko’s dismissal was directly linked with the publication of her article entitled “They’re starving to death in the orphanage”. Postup writes that confirmation is seen in the fact that the material has been removed from the website of the publication “Zhyttya” [“Life”]. Postup has demanded an explanation from the Prosecutor’s Office.
So what is going on at the Orphanage?
On 13 February the UK based Sunday Times apparently published shocking photos of the Torez Orphanage in the Donetsk region in an article also claiming that children were seriously malnourished. There is no free access to this material, so most Ukrainians learned of it through material posted on a service monitoring the foreign media Inopressa. This, however, quoted also an article apparently in response to the first by Martin Nunn and Martin Foley (“Orphanage children unprotected from abuse, neglect”). The claims directly aimed at one specific orphanage with children and young adults in need of protection remained largely unaddressed.
More or less coinciding with the report of Olena Dovzhenko’s dismissal came a report on the website “Torez Alternative” which seems to be quoting the Sunday Times, but without a URL.
This report is entitled: Ukraine stung into inquiry over ‘starving’ orphans and states:
“An investigation is launched into one of the Ukraine's worst orphanages after The Sunday Times publishes images of starving children
An inquiry has been launched into a Ukrainian orphanage accused of being among the worst in the country after "starving” children were discovered there.
The investigation into Torez orphanage for invalids was opened by the state prosecutor of Donetsk region after The Sunday Times published photographs of shrunken children who, western medical experts said, appeared to be suffering from malnutrition.
Among the children at Torez, one boy, Anatoly, weighed the same as a toddler despite being nearly 11 years old. Another, Maxim, 7, was a similar size.
A spokesman for the prosecutor said experts had been sent to inspect the orphanage. "Once these specialists provide their findings, we will then be able to make a legal assessment for further action, ” he said.
The director of a charity that gives aid to the orphanage said she had been shocked by the condition of some of the children and did not believe they were being adequately fed.
Teresa Fillmon, director of His Kids Too!, an American-based charity, said: "I’m pleased to see that someone is looking into this situation, as it has been a concern of ours for many years.” Fillmon spoke out after seeing children deteriorate and die in an institution said to have an annual death rate of about 12%.
Photographs taken by Fillmon of a boy named Artum over several years chart his decline, including his leg being broken in circumstances that were unclear to her. When she last saw him more than two years ago, she said, his body resembled a skeleton.
She said: "When he arrived he could walk and sit up but at the end he was so frail. Eventually he wasn’t there any more and they told me he died. I asked why, but they just shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Children die; they get sick and die’.”
Young people who have left Torez have subsequently grown greatly in weight. Sasha was so small at the age of 19 — he weighed slightly more than 2½ stone — that he was transferred to another orphanage in a cardboard box. Seven years later he has nearly doubled his bodyweight and can now walk.
Many of the approximately 100 children at Torez have cerebral palsy, which can lead to feeding difficulties. In severe cases a child may need to be fed specialist preparations by tube.
Staff indicated that there were insufficient funds to buy the necessary foods for these children, although the orphanage’s director, Alexander Vasyakin, denied any of the youngsters were starving.
Whistleblowers and campaigners say staff at some institutions siphon off funds intended for the children. A government inquiry has begun.
Natasha Gorpinchenko, 29, an adult resident at Torez until last year, said the food was poor.
Elena Gorgadse of Martin-Club, a civil rights group, agreed with the criticisms of Torez. "Unfortunately, we feel there’s now likely to be a cover-up by the authorities, ” she said.
Additional reporting: Julia Lyubova, the Sunday Times.
During the week a network of children’s groups in Ukraine also addressed an appeal to the Prosecutor to look into the investigations.