Alla Trokhimenko - director of the "Harmony" orphanage
This is a story of a hero in the true definition of this word. It is said that there are few professions that are more of a calling of consciousness than a job. A teacher is certainly one such profession. Alla Trokhimenko is a teacher, a pedagogue, children’s guide, and a caretaker by her inner calling. Behind her back is a 47-years of experience teaching, out of which she served 37 years in directorial positions. You might be surprised, how could such a young lady have had such a lengthy career, but she will proudly tell you that she was the youngest director of an elementary school at the age of 26.
Since the year 2000, she has served as the director of the Center for Children’s Social and Psychological Rehabilitation “Harmony”. Under Alla’s leadership, the orphanage has amassed number of awards, grants, and prizes for being exemplary not only in Kharkiv but nationwide. Over this period, the establishment brought up two generations of orphans and it had turned into a whole community of “Harmony” families, thus morphing into an organization that supported not only the orphans under their care but the young families of past inhabitants in their challenges of life. It seemed that Alla had fulfilled her self-realization and “Harmony” was destined to live happily ever after and keep doing what it was best at – bringing up orphans and turning them into respectable members of the community.
However, everything turned upside down on February 24th. By that time, “Harmony” had 51 children with ages ranging from 2 months to 17 years. As all hell broke loose over Kharkiv, Alla and the children spent most of days and sleepless nights in the basement. The conditions in the basement were terrible for children, especially for the infants. As the Russian bombing became more and more indiscriminate, and the enemy onslaught intensified, even the basement became unsafe. As she remembers, “everybody, the children and the employees were crying all the time for the horrors happening in our city, above our heads, on our streets and neighborhoods”, but at some point, instead of giving in to shock and sorrow, Alla decided to stop crying and act. Without knowing where they would end up, without any resources to keep the children fed after a week, without any guarantees of safety, without a destination, Alla made the toughest decision in her life, to take all the children and leave the besieged city of Kharkiv, and then hope that kind people would help them find a shelter and survive. Alla’s plan had only one clear objective – “to take the little angels away from the explosions and just keep them alive”.
Alla left her own children and elderly parents in Kharkiv, and together with the children of her orphanage started a hellish ordeal that would keep them stuck at train stations, sleeping in sports gyms, walking long distances, and overcoming a multitude of frustrating obstacles. They made it to the city of Poltava in hopes that it would be safer, but here too rockets started to fall as the local airfield was bombarded. Again, it was fear, tears and crying all over again. They had to continue the journey to the unknown, this time it was Alla and only three employees with her to take care of all the children. That month of March saw lower temperatures than February. Cold winter weather turned already horrible situation even more dreadful. Hardest challenge was to keep the food warm for the infants because days went by without electricity, so Alla and the caretakers had to tie the bottles to their bodies to keep the formula mixture warm for the babies, youngest of whom was only 2 months old. Most of the time they had to stay in non-heated buildings, so the little ones began to get sick, older ones could only cry, not even fully understanding the calamity in. Alla herself also caught cold and had high fever, but she had no time care for herself. “We stood at night for 3 hours near Kiev. I cried and kneeled to ask the Lord for forgiveness and to save my little angels” recalls Alla as tears fill her eyes remembering the experience. With the help of kind people and volunteers they managed to get a ride to Lviv changing different means of transportation. It was a long and difficult journey.
In Lviv, Alla was told that the children could be taken into the local establishments, but there was no room for the adults, and she was free to go to seek her own safety. Sick and with high fever, Alla refused to leave the children and declaimed that even if she had to sleep in the street, she would stay near them. “I felt it would be a betrayal to leave them. I would never do that” says Alla.
It was then, amid the frustration and despair, when Alla was informed by the Kharkiv administration, that there was some Georgian man called George who was helping with evacuations of orphans from Kharkiv, and she was given George’s phone number. Alla recalls: “I'm crying and with a trembling voice dialed the phone number of a person not familiar to me, thinking to myself; can this person, a non-Ukrainian, really help? But I had to try. And I told him everything very long and very detailed. In response, I heard George's words: “Alla, don’t worry, you are not alone, I will find transportation to get you to Ivano-Frankivsk Monterey and I will cover all the costs. And George did everything as he promised, got us to the destination safe and sound, and never left us alone, taking care of every need we had”.
But this story is not about George, it’s about the heroism of a woman, who left her own children and parents in Kharkiv under bombardment to save the orphans who had no one else to care about them. This is a story of a wonderful and powerful lady, who never betrayed her inner calling to be a true caretaker of children – something she has dedicated her life to.
George, who since those cold and dreadful days of early march has been in constant coordination with Alla, calls her a true hero of our times.
On 25 of April, after two months of staying in temporary shelters orphanage “Harmony” found a new home in Bono Fortis.
The horrors of indiscriminate bombings of Kharkiv's civilian quarters
"Harmony" orphanage - long road to safety
Good old days - "Harmony" orphanage celebrates a new year
Alla, George, and Anastasia at Bono Fortis