Victor Malarek is a man of consuming passion. Arguably the most effective and successful investigative journalist that Canada has ever produced, Victor does not dispute that characterization. In fact, he categorically states that the thing that has motivated him the most in his crusading journalistic career has been anger. When he sees people being victimized, oppressed or being taken advantage of, he gets angry, and he spares no time, effort or risk to see that justice is done.
Malarek has always specialized in uncovering crime, corruption and exploitation, starting as a reporter at the Montreal Star in 1970, and continuing on with a stellar career in investigative journalism with The Globe and Mail, the CBC’s Fifth Estate and CTV’s W Five. He has won numerous awards and published seven books covering the major highlights of his life’s work.
I had the pleasure of hearing Victor speak last week in Toronto about the latest of the causes he has become involved with, namely the appalling condition of the orphanage system in Ukraine. There are some 109,000 orphans living in hundreds of state orphanages in Ukraine called Internats. Many have been abandoned by parents that have succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction, have died of HIV, have been killed in the latest conflict with the Russians, or who were simply too poor or dysfunctional to raise children.
The Internats are insufficiently funded and living conditions there leave a lot to be desired. To make matters worse, many of the people running these Internats exploit their helpless charges in unconscionable ways. Some of the already inadequate state funding is diverted into management pockets. Physical and sexual abuse are common. Many of these Internats are used as breeding grounds to feed human trafficking networks. These abysmal conditions have been recognized by the Ukrainian government for decades now, yet efforts to remediate the situation have been painfully slow.
To quote Malarek, “they are vile institutions that cause irreparable psychological, physical and spiritual damage to all those forced to languish in them.” He presented statistics that show that 90% of the teens leaving these institutions are not prepared in the slightest for independent living. Twenty percent of those “graduating” from Internats wind up in prison. Ten percent go on to attempt or commit suicide. Many turn to drugs or alcohol.
Over the last few years, Malarek has been working with a remarkable group of people in Saskatoon that formed a charitable organization called Nashi in 2004 to see if they could in some small way make a dent in this sad situation. Through various fund-raising endeavours they raised sufficient money to buy and renovate a building in the small town of Stoyaniv northeast of Lviv, which they named Maple Leaf House and which is being used currently to take care of thirteen orphan girls rescued from the Internat system.
The children are well taken care of under loving conditions. They are properly fed, clothed and taught the skills that will enable them to lead successful and independent lives once they leave the orphanage. It is not so much an orphanage as a “home” for these girls, the only real home they have ever known. There are plans to extend the facility to accommodate more girls in the near future.
Malarek helped Nashi to produce a documentary film called “One Perogy at a Time” that documents their fund-raising efforts, as well the day to day operation of Maple Leaf House. The folks at Nashi are well aware that what they are doing is but a drop in the bucket when one considers the magnitude of the problem. Yet, these are people that could not just sit idly by and do nothing. If they could help only one or twenty of these innocent victims, then it is worth the effort. Each Ukrainian child is a precious resource that deserves to have a meaningful and productive future.
Ukrainians in the diaspora through their organizational voices as well as through their lobbying efforts with their national governments should strongly press on the Ukrainian authorities to address this troubling issue seriously, and with urgency which has been lacking since Ukraine became independent. In the meantime, we should all support organizations such as Nashi to help them expand their efforts at raising the quality of life of the most neglected sector of Ukrainian society. You can find more information on Nashi at www.nashi.ca, or you can contact them at: Nashi, 535 8th Street, Saskatoon, SA S7H 0P9, Tel. (306) 281-9877, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.