The socio-economic military crisis in Ukraine, compounded by political restriction, has resulted in cuts for funding for education and health, including combating HIV.
This is despite the fact that Ukraine has the second highest HIV burden in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, accounting for 9% of all new infections in this region in 2016. New infections rose from 9,500 in 2010 to over 15,000 in 2017 (UNAIDS). The primary cause of the pandemic in Ukraine is sexual transmission (70%).
As well as the HIV burden, young people in Ukraine face other serious challenges to health and well-being.
Alcohol consumption by children and young people is the highest in the world, with 40% of 14-18 year olds systematically using alcohol.
Suicide is also the second highest cause of deaths amongst young people.
Social media, which can be a tool for good, has seen a rise in harmful groups and the further isolation of young people. However. ACET Ukraine is passionate about providing support to young people, which includes their acclaimed relationships and sex education programmes.
Through a network of 400 volunteers, over 14,000 young people have been trained in the last year through the ‘University of Healthy Youth’ programme. This consists of 5 core lectures (with an additional 7 optional lectures); addressing issues including HIV and other STIs, relationships, internet safety, drugs and alcohol. This training was rolled out in 10,565 schools in 2017-2018, and the increase in knowledge from participants was remarkable.
Indeed, there was a marked increase of an average of 40% more beneficiaries surveyed demonstrating improved knowledge of HIV transmission, internet safety and improved relationships following the lectures, as pictured in the graph below. These changes resulted in encouraging testimonies of behavioural change.
ACET Ukraine also equips parents and teachers, with 7780 parents and 3,770 teachers benefitting from this training over the past year.
“I now understand that if a girl is pregnant, then there is a real living person inside her, and that the baby has got not just a mother, but also a father. I understand that sex is a responsibility. I choose to be responsible for my behaviour and save sex for a long term relationship.” Student, 14 years old
"Every year it is harder for me to be around my son. He doesn’t listen to me much, and doesn`t help. I think that today I found the answer to the question: “How to improve relationship with my son?” I will try to find out more about his wishes and worries, and will become his friend and not just his mum. I will gain his trust back. And of course I will show my love more.” Maria,* mother of 8th grade student
ACET Ukraine are also conscious of the need for social interaction and activities for young people to help them avoid alcohol and drug abuse. Over the course of the last year, 26 clubs from debating to dance, from social outreach to sports, have reached over 880 young people, with 639 attending clubs regularly.
The clubs provide a fun and safe space for young people to engage with volunteers, learn skills and discuss important topics including relationships, sex and internet safety.
“The club helped me understand the value of my life. After ACET trainings in school I wanted to learn more. I came to this club. ACET changed my life a lot. I don’t smoke anymore, I don’t stay out late at night and I respect my parents.” Maksym* , 14 years old
The clubs also encourage social activism.
As well as 8 specifically social action clubs, teenagers from across the network work alongside volunteers to organise outreach events, awareness raising and community involvement days. Over the course of the last year, ACET Ukraine reached an amazing 92,230 people through community days.
This included a ‘Love Waits’ campaign on Valentine’s Day, a Family Day and a HIV Prevention Day which involved 5,000 people across 7 cities. Teenagers from the clubs handed out flyers with information on how HIV is spread, the importance of getting tested and accessing treatment.
Despite difficult conditions, ACET Ukraine continue to reach out to those in need. Conflict in Ukraine has affected areas like Maryanka, where many families are living in extreme poverty, fearing bombs and high crime rates; and are thus incredibly vulnerable. ACET Ukraine volunteers have worked to specifically target schools and young people in this region, and have seen hope begin to return, with better relationships within families and more confidence and joy in the young people.
*names changed to protect identity