How in the world am I going to write this article?  Where will I even begin?

I just spent an entire week living at Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage and I have no idea what to write about.

Sometimes when I think about what I experienced there I want to burst into tears. Other times I want to jump up and down with a huge smile on my face. How do I capture that on a page?

Some things at Romaniv are so unfathomably terrible and unjust that I have trouble even articulating them.  Other things are so remarkably hope-filled and uplifting that I fear coming across as trite and saccharine.

The boys eating lunch. Vitalik (wearing the blue shirt) chooses to stand.

In the end, I’m left with a jumbled mess of completely contradictory images and ideas. Unrestrained laughter and deep emotional scars. A loving family and abandonment.  The darkness of a broken world and the healing light of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to simply introduce you to a few of the boys I spent time with and let you see these contradictions for yourself.  Maybe after reading these four vignettes, you’ll agree:

Life at Romaniv is bittersweet…


Vignette 1: Vitalik

Every day at mealtime, I heard the sound of talking and shuffling feet.  I looked out the window of my room and saw the source of the sound.  The boys were headed to the cafeteria to eat.

Several of them always came over to say hello.  They knocked on my window and shouted to remind me (in Ukrainian) that it was time to eat.

But not Vitalik.  He never banged on the window.  He simply looked over as he walked by, nodded his head and waved.

It’s refreshing to see that Vitalik has a sense of humor.

31-year-old Vitalik is the oldest boy at Romaniv orphanage.  The very first time I met him I knew he was unique. He carries himself differently than the other boys. He is very alert and engaged.  Frankly, he seems quite intelligent.

He’s also a leader.

During the meals I shared with the boys, he ate standing up. At first I thought this was kind of strange, but I soon realized why he did it. Vitalik ate standing up so he could float between tables and help other boys with their meals.

He kept an eye out for unruly behavior. He helped the staff collect dishes. Once, he scolded a younger boy for taking someone else’s bread.

Throughout the week, Vitalik and I developed something of a mutual respect for one another.  Whenever he and I saw each other across the lunch room or while walking between buildings, we would nod our heads as if to say, “Good day to you, sir.” It always made me smile.


Vitalik is a great example of how much the Romaniv boys stand to benefit from all the new education they are receiving.

A decade ago, there was literally no structured teaching at Romaniv. The boys ate, slept and sat around, but did little else with their time. Year after year the boys’ would grow in their bodies, but not in their minds.

They were treated like animals, so that is how they behaved.

It broke my heart to learn that this was the environment in which Vitalik was raised.  You see, he has been living at Romaniv since 1988.  He has spent decades in the system.

I can only imagine where he would be today if he had had access to an education during his most formative years.

Thanks to Mission to Ukraine, the boys now have access to an education.

Vitalik clearly has a huge capacity for growth and improvement.  I believe that, with the right training, Vitalik could have learned long ago how to live and take care of himself.

But after more than twenty wasted years in the orphanage, that chance has largely slipped away.

When he turns 35 in a few years, he will reach the absolute maximum age for boys at the orphanage and will be turned over to a government mental institution to live out the rest of his days.

The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  But it’s not without a hint of sweetness.

Changing the System

You see, Mission to Ukraine has been visiting Romaniv for four years now and the entire system is starting to change.

Because of MTU, the orphanage administration saw such tremendous improvements in the behavior of the boys that they decided to hire not one, but two full-time teachers.

Now, the boys have lessons every day, life-skills classes, and weekly visits from the Mission to Ukraine team and others on Tuesdays and Fridays.

During my stay, I got to sit in class after class with the boys, watching as they eagerly soaked up knowledge about colors, about seasons, about good manners… I was thrilled to see such progress.

The boys are receiving the education that Vitalik never had.

And although there are still massive hurdles to overcome in the development of these boys, they finally have a chance…

Every one of these boys can now be sponsored!

Even Vitalik, who may have missed the window of opportunity for development, is not without hope. Mission to Ukraine is looking into alternatives to keep him out of the government institution when his time at Romaniv is up.


And get this. Now, you and I can be a part of this transformation in a concrete way.  Mission to Ukraine, through Hands of Hope, actually has a child sponsorship program in place for the Romaniv boys.

You read that right!  We can now sponsor boys like Vitalik for $30 a month and know that 100% of the money will go directly to MTU’s Romaniv ministry.  It’s rare to find a sponsorship program with this much bang for your buck.  Zero overhead??? Wow.

The program is very new, so they only have 8 of the 80 boys sponsored. But how cool would it be if we could close that gap and get the program fully funded?

I would encourage you to take a look at the sponsorship page and consider signing up.

If you do, you’ll be playing a significant part in making the life of boys like Vitalik a little less bitter and a little more sweet…


Click here to read Vignette 2

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Next Steps
    • Consider sponsoring one of the Romaniv boys through Hands of Hope (click here). 100% of the money will go towards food, medicine, clothing and equipment for these wonderful young men.
    • Buy your coffee from Furnace Hills Coffee Company. A dollar of every pound they sell of Bolivian Organic, South American Decaf and Erin’s Breakfast Blend goes to support Mission to Ukraine.
    • Pray for MTU. You can sign up for their wonderful monthly prayer guide to stay up to date with their prayer needs by clicking here.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Amy Sorrells said... 


    November 19th, 2012 at 1:50 pm  

    a little less bitter.

    a little more sweet.

    a lot more God.


  2. Sandie Flannery said... 


    November 19th, 2012 at 9:35 pm  

    Barry, I have a dentist who will go work on the boys teeth. We need approximately $1,000 for their expenses. I love y our posts!!! God Bless! Sandie

  3. Tyler said... 


    November 20th, 2012 at 1:29 pm  

    Vitalik is the man. He was a constant source of joy and inspiration at camp this summer.

  4. Dave Rodriguez said... 


    November 20th, 2012 at 3:18 pm  

    Yes, bittersweet…and I feel like my life is the lesser for having not met these remarkable young men.

    My goodness…what on earth have the MTU people NOT done?!

  5. Tanya B said... 


    November 27th, 2012 at 11:07 am  

    My heart breaks for these guys. What a difference a loving family could have made in their lives. And yet, I am amazed at dignity and chivalry that Vitalik owns regardless of circumstances.

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