Scot reveals plight of street kids in seaside resort of Odessa, Ukraine Scot photographer Gillanders wins UNICEF photo of the year

Lisa Adams, DailyRecord.co.uk, Glasgow, Scotland,
Fri, Dec 23, 2005

THESE are just some of the forgotten street children who have nothing to celebrate this Christmas. Freezing and homeless, many are dying from Aids after injecting drugs to escape the misery of their lives. There are up to 120 communities of youngsters like this surviving in sewers, heating maintenance tunnels and derelict shelters at the seaside resort of Odessa, in Ukraine.

Their desperate situation is captured here by Scots photographer David Gillanders, pictured below, who has won the Unicef photo of the year for his work with the youngsters.

“It’s unbelievable that all this is going on just a two-hour plane ride from Scotland,” says David, 34. “If I had one wish for this Christmas it would be that these kids had somewhere safe to sleep and someone to care for them.”

Many of these abandoned children are as young as six. Some have escaped orphanages, others were forced on to the streets after their parents died or landed in prison. “They set up home in rat infested manholes to escape the bitter -20 o C Ukrainian winters. They survive on any food they can get from begging or stealing.

“None of these children thinks of a future as they feel they have none,” David explains. “It’s utterly appalling. Children are injecting lethal concoctions of home made drugs, passing out, crying in their sleep and waking up screaming.”

Here dad of two David tells the heartbreaking stories of the children he met during several trips to the region.

BEFORE DYING – David says: “This is 13-year-old Yana, who really got under my skin. She was very ill when I took this picture in August 2004 but, despite all she’d been through, you’d occasionally get a small smile from her.

She was living in a concrete shed in Pioneer Park. Just yards away was one of the main promenades where people with money in Odessa would stroll and sit in the sunshine.

Yana’s father died from TB and her mother was in prison. All she really wanted was to be reunited with her mum but she’d got caught up in drugs and was HIV positive. She had abscesses all over her body. I helped her all I could when I was there bringing food every day. I later discovered she froze to death on the streets in December 2004

HOME – David says: “This is inside the concrete shelter where Yana and Yulia were living. Some of the kids here are as young as 11. You can see the hypodermic needle as they prepare to shoot up.

SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN – Children as young as six sleep huddled together in a concrete enclosure in Pioneer Park in Odessa, where the temperatures can reach -20 o C. Just a short time after David took this photograph the enclosure was destroyed by a petrol bomb.

LIFE IN THE PACK – David says: “Living together in a derelict building, these children are like a tribe or a pack of animals. Sometimes there are fights over food or drugs but mostly they look after each other the best they can. They have to as nobody else will.’

LETHAL – David says: “Yulia was 14 and died in June this year. Here she is being injected with drugs by Andre. The drugs are a lethal combination of trised, essidrene, vinegar and water. The drugs give a head rush and then the user sinks in to a depression. They can also trigger fits.’

UNDERGROUND – David says: “Andre, 14, was living underground with eight or nine street kids. The police launched a campaign to close many of these communities by welding shut manholes like this, sometimes when there were still children sleeping underneath. -30-

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