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How to help the needy in Odessa

Odessa is a city of contrasts. Many young people in Odessa have mobile phones and chic European clothing. Odessa also has many ongoing construction projects. Many of the people in the restaurants look affluent. BMWs and Mercedes are common sites. You may be mistaken that Odessa is a thriving European city.

But if a person looks a little deeper, this image is slightly tarnished, you cannot help but notice the incredible number of homeless people. Elderly and the disabled beg for food, drug addicts and alcoholics are passed out on the street, large numbers of people hunt through trash cans, and dirty street children sleep in the parks.

The reality is that official unemployment hovers just over 1%, but the International Labor Organization has placed this figure as high as 34% when including workers on unpaid/involuntary leave and unreported separations. A significant part of the Ukrainian labor force has migrated to the shadow economy, taking up service jobs such as taxi drivers, waiters, and traders - anything to ensure economic survival. Wages remain very low by Western standards. In Odessa the average salary is only USD 29-37 per month, or less that $500 a year. Pensions for the elderly are around $15 a month.

There is estimated to be over 5,000 homeless children in Odessa alone. These children are often fleeing physical and sexual abuse at home. Many become drug addicts and prostitutes.

Plagued with corruption
There is no easy way to help the needy of Odessa. For the past two years I have worked in the non-profit community, in several nonprofit organizations in Odessa. The level of corruption and theft is phenomenal.

For example, last year I met a gentleman who had come to Odessa on business. He saw the poverty and wanted to help.

  • First, he gave a retirement home some money and it was embezzled.
  • Next, he then physically gave these elderly pensioners money. Later he found out the staff forcefully stole it from each and every pensioner.
  • Finally, he purchased heaters for the pensioners. They were all stolen and sold.

This story is not uncommon, a religious group had humanitarian aid containers held up in customs and then pillaged. This group never received the containers. Another volunteer gave the money from a grant, over $2,000 to an orphanage director and the director later denied that she ever received it.

But this corruption in no way lessons the need of the people that require this aid the most. It is simply wise to be aware of the epidemic problems that exist in Odessa.

If you want to help
In two years of working with several non-profits, and being in contact with dozens more, there is only one charity that I can guarantee will use any aid honestly:

Kostya Swab
Salvation Army representative in Odessa
Tel: 67-93-10 (home)

Kostya's English translator
Tel: 65-33-04 (home)

Children's Center
Kosmonavtov 68 (Космонавтов) #2

Kostya runs a children's center in the Malinovsky district for neighborhood poor children. These children are some of the poorest in Odessa. The US coast guard and US embassy rebuilt this children's center with Kostya. He is incredibly dedicated to this project, most of his apartment furniture is in the center. In the summer of 2002 he took the children to a summer camp.

Beggars in front of Preobrazhenskaya 70 (Преображенская) by Galen Frysinger

Other charities which I cannot guarantee the honesty simply for lack of knowing the organization well:

Svetly Dom
(not to be confused with the Svetly Dom on Dobrovolskaya)
Bazarnaya 2/1 (Базарная)
Tel: 21-78-62
Email: sdom@farlep.net

Svetly Dom is a famous children's orphanage ran by Father Alexander, a Catholic Priest. His orphanage was the sole beneficiary of a celebrity night on the Ukrainian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". Macdonald's Restaurant remodeled the orphanage lunchroom. The United Sates Navy and US embassy remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms. Although their is a really spirit of love in this orphanage towards the kids, unsubstantiated rumors (sometimes the non-profit world in Odessa can be very backbiting and envious) and questionable accounting practices make me unable to recommend this charity fully.

The losers of capitalism

Center for the Rehabilitation of Invalid Children
Pushkinskaya 51 (Пушкинская)
(Corner of Bazarnaya (Базарная))
Located at the Golden Angel monument on Pushkinskaya Street (Пушкинская).
No personal experience with this organization. Has a good reputation.

Tips for giving:

  • Unless it is Kostya Schwab's children center (above), never give cash. Purchase items to give the needy at a local bazaar.
  • Do a "needs assessment", make sure what you want to give is what the charity really needs.
  • Never promise unless you are ABSOLUTELY certain you WILL deliver. Ukrainians views on verbal agreements, no mater how causal, are much more binding than most western cultures.

Blind woman singing for money


Adoption requirements are available on the United States American Embassy web page at: usinfo.usemb.kiev.ua/amcit_adoptions_eng.html