Ex-Convicts Get a New Start in Ukraine

Serhiy (left) and Andriy Ovsyannikov, a Start Project coordinator from Kryvi Rih.
Serhiy, left, and Andriy Ovsyannikov, a START project coordinator from Kryvyi Rih
Oksana Zhabri
Counseling helps newly released prisoners successfully re-enter society
“My attitude began to change right away. Before, I had never thought about planning my future and never had support from anybody.”

March 2015—Serhiy*, 31, drops by the office of the Network of People Living with HIV in Kryvyy Rih, Ukraine, bearing a broad smile and words of gratitude. While no longer their client, he frequently visits the organization to thank them for the support and care he received.

Today, he came to share good news. He is employed full-time and earning money legally for the first time in his life. His personal life is on the mend as well: He is back with his girlfriend and talking regularly with his mother. He is happy and proud that people trust him again.

Life was not always this good for Serhiy. He had a number of false starts and many unsuccessful finishes on his path to recovery. He started using alcohol and drugs early in life and served time in various prisons. Although he promised himself a fresh start each time he was released from prison, he always went back to his old ways: old friends and drugs followed by another prison sentence.

While serving his fourth term in the Sofia Correctional Facility located in Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk oblast, he volunteered to care for sick inmates. There he was spotted by a social worker who offered him a new start through the USAID START project, a program implemented by the Kryvyi Rih branch of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV.

The USAID START initiative is an HIV/sexually transmitted infection/hepatitis risk reduction program for people returning to the community after incarceration. The program begins 60 days before an inmate is released from a correctional facility and continues for three months following their release as they reintegrate into society and settle into a community. The project provides counseling to help ex-convicts address the various challenges they face upon release, including finding affordable housing, securing viable employment, and dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Through the program, Serhiy took responsibility for managing his own health, changing his lifestyle and, most importantly, controlling his anger and taking responsibility for his actions.

“My attitude began to change right away. Before, I had never thought about planning my future and never had support from anybody. After a few successful steps in the START program, I felt my life slowly improving,” says Serhiy.

The START initiative is part of USAID’s RESPOND project, which is funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. START is designed to help reduce levels of HIV transmission among key populations and their sexual partners through sustainable country-led programs that increase the quality of HIV/AIDS services. Launched in October 2013, the START project has provided services to over 300 inmates in four correctional facilities in Ukraine to protect them and their partners from risky behaviors.

*Full name withheld to protect identity.

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