This article is one of four vignettes about my weeklong stay at Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage. 
Click here to get the full story.

Vignette 4: Yura

“Oksana loves me!”

Yura smiled from ear to ear and continued, “And I love Oksana!”

A bit later in the class, Yura turned to me, grabbed my hand and said, “I love Barry and Barry loves me.”  He closed his eyes, gave me a big, toothy grin and gave a little squeal of delight.

It seems like Yura is all about love these days. In my time at Romaniv, I’ve heard him exclaim, again and again, with utter certainty, that he is loved.  This volunteer loves him. That teacher loves him.  Over and over…

I’ve thought a lot about why he keeps saying this phrase.  Sure, he might just like saying it.  It’s possible that Yura is simply repeating a slogan that makes everyone around him smile.

But I think something deeper is going on.  I think Yura is speaking from the overflow of his heart. Deep down, he knows that he is loved, and he wants the world to know it too…

Heart Breaking

Perhaps Yura is so vocal about this love because it hasn’t always been the case.

At one point during my stay at Romaniv, I asked Volodymyr Denisovich, the head administrator of Romaniv, about a few of the boys.

Sweet Yura, who wants the world to know he is loved!

What I learned in his office that day is probably the saddest fact I discovered at the orphanage… it’s a fact that reminds me of just how broken the world really is and added a good dose of “bitter” to the sweetness I was encountering.

That fact is this:  Most of the boys at the orphanage have families. In fact, many still have parents. But only a very few have ever been visited by their relatives.

The stories are all the same.  Vitalik, abandoned on the street as a baby, has never been visited by his extended family.  Yura has both a mom and a dad, but they have not once come to see him. Misha’s mom used to visit, but disappeared five years ago, never to return.

Outcast by their communities and abandoned by their families, these boys have been left to suffer alone.

And this is what breaks my heart the most.  The boys at Romaniv haven’t just missed out on education or proper healthcare or stimulating activities.  They’ve missed out on love.

Everything Has Changed

But this heartbreaking fact is unacceptable to the staff and volunteers of Mission to Ukraine.  They have marched into this dark place, bringing abundant love to these boys.

The new gravestones for the boys who have died at Romaniv. A powerful symbol of their new-found dignity.

Where once the only physical touch these boys received was a punishing slap, they now receive handshakes, high fives and hugs.

Where once they were starved for encouragement and support, they now have a whole community rooting for their development.

Where once they spent their days staring at the wall alone, they now have people praying with them, singing with them, playing games with them, dancing with them, teaching them and laughing with them.

Today, these boys are loved.

From the Inside

But this overflow of love isn’t just coming from the outside.  The transformation happening in the lives of the boys is affecting the orphanage staff as well.

The babysitters, who once were absolutely overwhelmed just keeping the boys from running wild, now have the breathing room to actually speak with them, teach them and love them.  In fact, several of the boys have started calling their babysitters “mom.”

The kitchen staff, which used to scrape by with whatever they could find, has now begun to take pride in serving the boys.  Fresh milk, homemade bread and plenty of tasty food…

Two of the “babysitters” with their boys.

And most poignant of all; the director, having witnessed such a profound transformation in the lives of these young men, pulled some strings to have beautiful new gravestones made for the boys who had died in years past.

The love that he has for these boys goes even beyond death.

Not Hyperbole

So now you can see why I think Yura’s repeated comments are coming from an overflowing heart.  He has witnessed a profound change in the 21 years he’s lived at Romaniv.

Today, he is so wonderfully loved that he can hardly contain his excitement.

And now I think he’s starting to understand the true source of this love as well.  When the topic of God came up in class the other day, he shouted from the bottom of his heart:

“God loves everybody and God loves me!”


This brings us to the end of my four “Vignettes” about Romaniv Orphanage.  I hope that by reading them, you have come away with at least a small taste of how “bittersweet” it is in that place.

Me with the boys I’ve written about here (clockwise from top: me, Vitalik, Misha, Vitalik and Yura).

There is still so much work to be done.  The boys are cooped up in their dorms all day long while waiting for the renovation of their new classroom building.  The orphanage is severely understaffed. Physical and Occupational Therapy for the boys has only just begun in earnest.

But even though there is much room for growth, it’s clear that God has been working in powerful ways at Romaniv.  In fact, the orphanage has improved so much that it is becoming a model to many other institutions around the country!

The kingdom of God is moving here in Ukraine and it’s been an absolute privilege to witness this transformation from the inside.

Now, if you’ll excuse me.  I’m going to go put my money where my mouth is and choose which Romaniv boy to sponsor!

What do you say? Want to join me?

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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. David Rodriguez said... 


    November 22nd, 2012 at 2:20 pm  

    I’m in! How can I NOT sponsor one of these incredible boys! I hope one day to meet them but for now gratified to hear their stories. Once again so grateful for MTU and World Next Door!

  2. Kim said... 


    November 27th, 2012 at 11:46 am  

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing these boys. The day we met them my life changed forever. I am so encouraged, so excited about what God is doing. YAY!!!!! GO BOYS GO!!!!

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