Former Hostage Describes Horrors of Childhood in Former Soviet Republic

Since his release from captivity at the hands of rebel forces, Dmitri Penkovsky, who together with fellow humanitarian aid worker Dimitri Petrov were kidnapped in September 1997 while delivering essential provisions to refugees from the Chechen conflict, continues to monitor the plight of orphans living in children’s homes in the Republic of Northern Ossetia-Alaniy.

Penkovsky and Petrov had been employed by International Orthodox Christian Charities [IOCC], the Baltimore, MD-based inter-Orthodox humanitarian aid agency, at the time of their kidnapping. Penkovsky continues to serve IOCC as an advisor.

In a recent fax sent to the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America here, Penkovsky describes the situation of some 520 children ages one through 18 years in six childrens homes throughout the republic.

“The Mozdok childrens home, which is experiencing the most complicated situation, was established in 1995 because of the large influx of children and orphans during the fighting in Chechnya,” Penkovsky writes. “Many children had been abandoned by their parents and were half-dressed or even barefoot when they arrived in Mozdok during the winter of 1995-1996. As of October 19, 1998 eighty children, mainly Russians, resided at the home, which was designed to accommodate only three-dozen children. Overcrowding is a problem, but there is nowhere else for the children to go.”

A major concern is the critical lack of food which, according to Penkovsky has forced many children to steal.

“One boy was convicted for robbing a grocery store, explaining his actions by saying he stole food and money from the store to feed and clothe the younger children in the childrens home,” relates Penkovsky.

“Two girls were detained for prostitution on several occasions in order to obtain food and a little money for clothing, while several children have been seen begging for food.”

Medical treatment is also in short supply for the children, fifteen of whom require medical treatment.

“One boy, Sergei Bolov, age seven, requires a heart operation,” reports Penkovsky. “Another boy is registered at the tuberculosis dispensary, while several children are in need of psychiatric treatment. And most of the children are pale and thin because they have poor nourishment.”

The Mozdok homes most critical needs are rice, buckwheat, sugar, sunflower oil, potatoes, macaroni, condensed milk, and tea. Soap, detergent, school supplies, bedding, clothing, and footwear are also urgently needed.

The current financial woes plaguing the former Soviet republics has further complicated the situation, and Penkovsky reports that “there is no money to pay for electricity and water at the children’s home.

“In October the staff received their salary for July 1998,” he adds. “The average monthly salary for the homes staff is 120-140 rubles—less than $10.00—while teachers receive 300-500 rubles monthly.”

Conditions at five children’s homes in Vladikavkaz, where some 440 orphans are housed, are equally bleak.

Located 120 kilometers from Mozdok, the Vladikavkaz childrens home, which now houses over 150 children, was once located in the Prigorodniy region of Northern Ossetia. After the home had been plundered and burned in 1992, Ingusheti soldiers drove out the children and took the homes teachers hostage. Penkovsky describes in vivid detail how the home was hastily moved to a dilapidated building in Vladikavkaz. Faced with a cruel winter and a lack of deliveries, the children in Vladikavkaz also are in desperate need of food, footwear, clothing, medical and hygienic items, bedding, and school supplies.

“Taking into account these situations and the approaching winter, I ask that emergency humanitarian aid be provided for the 520 children inhabiting Northern Ossetias six children’s homes,” writes Penkovsky.

“The childrens parents have lost all custody rights, which only adds to the horrors being experienced throughout the region.”

In response to Penkovskys report, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, has promised assistance from the OCA’s annual charity appeal.

“The plight of these children is almost beyond our comprehension,” notes Father Kondratick. “The thought of hundreds of abandoned children warehoused under cruel conditions, combined with the need for basic food, clothing, and medical attention, is a call for action on the part of our faithful throughout North America, who will be asked to contribute more generously than ever to this years appeal.”

Based on IOCCs calculations, a one-month ration for a child includes 2 kg of rice, 1 kg each of macaroni and sugar, 1 liter of sunflower oil, 3 cans of condensed milk, one package of tea, two pieces of soap, and one tube of toothpaste. Also included in the monthly calculation are a variety of school supplies. In addition, IOCC recommends that each child receive annually one blanket, one mattress and set of linens, one towel, one pair of boots, two pairs of socks, one set of underwear, one jacket, one sweater, and one pair of pants or one skirt.

“The rations provide the bare minimum required for day-to-day survival,” adds Father Kondratick. “We hope to provide rations for as many of the 520 children as we can.”

Parishes, Church-affiliated organizations, and individuals wishing to earmark special donations to help the hundreds of orphaned children of whom Penkovsky speaks are urged to contact the Orthodox Church in America, Office of Humanitarian Aid, PO Box 675, Route 25A, Syosset, NY 11791, tel +1.516.922.0550, fax +1.516.922.0954