For many former communist countries, the painful transition to a free market economy can be seen in the explosion of its homeless children. In Ukraine, a staggering 10% of the population consists of abandoned children. Many of these 800,000 children face abuse by the system, the mafia or each other.
Artyom, 9, has been living in this sewer in Kiev for over three years and has never attended school. His emotionally and physically scared brother refuses to contemplate returning home to their abusive alcoholic father.
Suffering from morning sickness, Natasha Dzhuley, 16, wakes up after a night of prostitution. Though clearly pregnant, a nervous Natasha claims that her abortion worked. Fearful of her pimps’ reaction to her pregnancy she drank several bottles of red wine and took a ‘very hot bath in which she bled.’ Natasha, like other girls work out of a mafia controlled flat where they are given clean clothes and instructed to bathe regularly.
For most children inhaling glue not only kills the pain of their sad existence but their hunger pains. Inhaling in ‘the box’ where the rancid fumes of the glue stays trapped longer decreases the amount of glue needed and keeps them high longer.
Denise Selivanov, 13, inhales glue while his younger brother Artyom Selivanov, 9, watches. After suffering years of abuse at the hands of their alcoholic father, Denise made the decision that life on the streets would be far easier than the misery they experienced at home.
Emotionally scared, Ruslana, 13, lives in constant fear of being dragged back into prostitution. She hopes that older boys like Sasha, 21, will protect her from the pimps that stalk the streets. Though there are no estimates for street children - over 120,000 young Ukrainian women were trafficked last year alone into the sex slave eclipsing Latin America as the leading source of trafficked women.
Sasha, 16, breaks the everyday monotony to enjoy a few minutes on a ‘borrowed’ scooter. The punishment for stealing varies from beatings and arrest, to having the sewers set alight where they become unsuitable for the other children to live in.
A train underpass provides some shelter from the elements as the boys play cards and kill their hunger.
The glue takes its affect as Denise stumbles around in the near pitch darkness of where he is sleeping for the night.
Suffering from a broken nose and bruised ribs Natasha whimpers in pain from the beatings she received from her pimp's men. Ruslana believes her beatings were a warning to other prostitutes to stay in line. Several days later the children watched helplessly as Natasha was dragged away by six men. Her boyfriend has not seen or heard from her since.
While the children are asleep Ruslana, 13, collects hidden bottles that are to be exchanged for cash. Originally from the Carpathians, Ruslana and her two siblings were abandoned at a rail station in Kiev three years ago as the family was moving to Russia. The children have been secretly saving money in hopes of traveling to Russia to find their sister.
For the children depicted here, their chances of escaping this situation is quite grim. Several children are no longer alive (Sasha and Ruslan). The toll on their bodies from the glue not only destroys their lungs and internal organs but leads to terrible mental issues, overdoses and death. Natasha pictured earlier in this series had a baby boy and was last seen living near the area where she was pictured. She is supporting her son and her new boyfriend by prostitution. For many of the other children their fate is unknown.