Pavel is currently one of the activists in a harm reduction program in the Ukraine, and was a drug user for about 30 years. He is a co-founder and leader of the Ukrainian foundation for injection drug users called Drop-In Center.
Here is his story:
I got a phone call early in the morning…”Who could it be so early?” I wondered, looking at my watch. It is 7:15… Then I hear the cheerful voice of an elderly woman: “Good morning, Pavel! I know I woke you up, but you said I could call any time, especially if we are talking about the orphanage.” “Oh yes…I remember,” I lied, but immediately recalled that this woman had already called a few times …
“My name is Natalia Ivanovna.” It seemed she has read my thoughts and I bet she was smiling.
“Oh yes, sorry for this Natalia Ivanovna.” I lit a cigarette and recalled that some time ago I had promised a woman who had introduced herself as a director of an orphanage to visit her school and to talk to the children.
“They are in their 8th to 10th year of study; they need something non-typical, not boring, something that would touch them,” she said.
At first I said no, I remember. I told her that our community is very specific, we are not young and have lived with the drug addiction for many years and prevention is not our field.
“Well, there are so many organization in Kiev,” Natalia Ivanovna sighed. “But when I ask them to come and talk to our kids about this problem, nobody has time, everybody is busy with something more important…By the way, this is the third time I am calling you.”
“Really?” I felt cold in my stomach and decided that I MUST go there. “I am really sorry, I promise I’ll come”…
Then I realized that I was in trouble. Oh my God! What can I tell these youngsters who by age could be my grandchildren!?
“Just do not panic,” my wife tried to calm me down. “Take a laptop with you, ask them to make some tea, sit with them around a table and start talking about life. After all, why do people put themselves through various troubles?”
“Because they are stupid” I said.
“See! Then show them pictures from our booklets and newspapers. Then, turn on quiet music and show the pictures we made on the other side of life…Really, just make a slide show. Just let them see. Show them the girls serving strangers in the bushes next to a highway just to get a shot. Let them see decaying sores or how they take shots in the groin or neck…Show them pictures of Kirill, Zheka, Lekha, Ira, Tim and the pictures from their funerals…When you are done ask these kids whether they want to become drug addicts.”
I do not want to describe the eyes of the kids when they watched the pictures, where their peers in a year or two looked 20 years old, where they got crazy, remote…
I wanted to hear from at least a few of those kids who had listened to me. I asked, “What feeling do you have toward the people you have just seen on the screen? Do you feel contempt or indifference or sympathy?”
Twelve out of twenty told me what I very much wanted to hear. They felt sympathy.
We parted like good friends. The director, Natalia Ivanovna, told us that she had never heard such a sincere conversation with her kids. Some pictures even affected her, she who had served as a military medical surgeon for 11 years right on a battlefield in Afghanistan.
I do not know why, but that night I did not feel tired, even though I came home very late…..
P.S. The address of Boarding School #7 is Ukraine, Kiev, vul .Beletskayam 55