Two weeks ago hundred percent winter came to Ukraine - snow piles, ice-slick and piercing cold. For the majority of people such weather is a temporary inconvenience in the form of extra sweaters and traffic jams, while for others this period is a proper struggle for survival. Homeless people are the most vulnerable layer of population, as they risk freezing to death right on the street if they fail to find a warming center in time.  ForUm decided to find out how the homeless survive his winter.

More than a thousand Ukrainians became victims of frostbites last year, and the death toll was 30-40 people per day. As of December 21 of this year, already 83 people died of hyperthermia. More than 60% of them, mostly homeless, froze to death right on the street. The homeless often get kicked out of public places, like stations or shops, mainly because of bad smell and drunken state.

However, this problem has a solution, not every homeless knows about, unfortunately. This year the Emergencies Ministry has opened 210 warming centers all over Ukraine. Ten of them are located in the capital, one per each district. Warming centers offer shelter, hot tea and snacks.

The warming center on Dovzhenko Street 12B is receiving its first visitors.

The warming center on Pevcheske pole welcomes not only homeless, but also ordinary citizens, who came there for skiing or sledding.

According to the deputy head of Kyiv Emergencies Ministry department press office Andriy Onishchenko, the Ministry plans to open more warming centers.

"For the moment there are only ten centers in Kyiv, one per each district, but we plan to open more. They proved to be efficient last year, and the homeless already know the location. Moreover, caring citizens help us with food and warm clothes."

Moreover, there is another place in Kyiv where homeless people can get warm, can eat, sleep and clean themselves - the social shelter on Suzdalska street 4/6. However, it has its conditions.

According to the deputy director of the Kyiv social shelter Victoria Seliverstova, the shelter is open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. During the rest of the time, the premises undergo sanitary cleaning. Any person can find shelter here, but only having an ID document. 

"If a comer does not have an ID document, we send him to a closest Interior Ministry department to get a relevant certificate, which is free of charge. However, for one night, especially in winter, we take everyone. Lodging costs 4 hryvnias, but we charge people only to motivate them to adapt socially. We make individual adaptation plan for every comer. We restore documents and register them to be residing at the shelter. With these documents the homeless can register at employment center, can apply for a disability group or pension."

According to Victoria, an ID document is required to establish that a person asking for shelter is not wanted or not a registered mental patient.

There are 150 places in the shelter, and additional 20 places can be arranged at any time. According to Victoria, it is a sufficient number - unfortunately, when a homeless faces a dilemma to spend 4 hryvnias for a drink or for an overnight accommodation, he often chooses the first option. It is prohibited to drink alcoholic drinks in the shelter and visitors are obliged to wash up. Not everyone likes that, so the shelter does not have many regular clients. Moreover, the shelter has a social hotel department, costing 12 hryvnias and aimed at homeless, who already have documents and a job or a pension.

To accommodate one homeless costs the shelter 20 hryvnias per day, including food and communal services.

The menu of the shelter's canteen varies, but most of the times it is porridge with canned meat or fish, vegetable marrow paste, bread, butter and tea.

A worker of the shelter Natalia Sukha tells that working with the homeless is difficult and sometimes dangerous (there were cases when the shelter had to call the police).

"40-45% of people asking for shelter are former prisoners. However, even if they are difficult to deal with we try to help anyway."

There is a wall with thank-you letters from former clients, who have managed to come back to normal life.

As ForUm learned, shelter workers patrol the streets regularly to bring homeless to a hospital or warming center, if needed, or to distribute warm clothes, donated by caring citizens.

Every day, at lunch time, a vehicle with free of charge hot food and tea leaves Suzdalska street and follows the same route, known to every homeless.
Volunteers of "Red Cross" feed the homeless near the central railroad station every day at 2 p.m.

According to the volunteers, there are up to 200 people coming to eat every day there. Many of them ask for two or three portions at once.

Andriy, a homeless, told us that he has seen all kinds of attitude.

"It happens that other people tolerate us without problems when we come to get warm, but yesterday, for example, the guards of the station kicked us all out in the street. I brought back three frozen people, saying like 'Hey, guys, what you doing?"  

It turns out 'children of the street' have places to find shelter in the period of severe frosts. However, many homeless complain that these places and shelters are distant and difficult to reach in the moment of need. A warming center near the central railway stations would be a perfect solution for them, however the Emergencies Ministry would hardly place it there, considering the station itself as a warming center.  And in this case the homeless have no choice but to rely on human compassion and understanding that anyone may appear in similar situation.

Anastasia Pika, photos by Maxim Trebukhov


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