Hidden Angels: American Families Saving Children With Down Syndrome


At the girls' institutions, most of the girls and women have shorn hair. Their teeth are decaying or have fallen out. Most are covered in bug bites and scratches. Vasilieva explains that they often see the girls in the same outfit visit after visit.

They bathe about once a week.

One little girl with Down syndrome, named Masha, clings to her visitors. She looks to be about 3 years old, but is actually 7. Experts say this is a type of emotional dwarfism when a child neglected at a young age fails to thrive physically as well as emotionally.

But the conditions at the girls' orphanage were better than the boys' facilities ABC News visited.

There, the conditions ranged from bad to heartbreaking.

At one institution, where the smell of mold permeated some of the rooms and hallways, the boys sat and listened to Glazov and his ministry volunteers sing and tell Bible stories.

A 23-year-old man -- whose reason for being institutionalized wasn't immediately obvious -- told ABC News through a translator that he had been there for 15 years. When asked about his dreams for the rest of his life, he said he'd like a house and a family.

At this institution, an administrator spoke with ABC News about her attempts to get more money from the Ukrainian government for better food, more clothes and repairs to fix a building that used to house older boys but now sits vacant after the ceiling fell in.

She then cried, saying simply that it was hard for her to want more for the children she oversees, knowing the help may never come.

At a third institution, again for boys and men ages 5 to 35, the reason so many Americans were rushing to file adoptions papers for children with Down syndrome became shockingly apparent.

One step into the main institution was met with a wall of sickening odor, the smell of urine and feces. Several boys were left to sit in a sparse room that consisted only of wooden benches lining the walls and thin blankets spread across the floor.

This, ABC News was told, was where the boys typically spend their days. They did not read or look at books. They did not watch TV or play with toys.

They sit, day in and day out.

Just next door in a building not seen from the street was what's known as the izolaytor, or infirmary. In the other institutions, the izolaytor was reserved for sick children who would stay to recover before rejoining the general population. But in this izolaytor, a group of about 20 men and boys lived permanently.

One older boy with Down syndrome stared at his group of visitors from his bed, a thin mattress on wood planks. He began hitting himself in the head with a closed fist. This same boy had been known to bang his head against the wall.

Other young men were covered in sores and frighteningly thin. One young man looked distrustingly as one of his visitors reached out to touch his shoulder. His legs and arms were covered in angry red bed sores.

And then, there was Misha, a young boy with Down syndrome. It was unclear why he had been chosen to live alongside the most severely mentally ill in the institution.

He did not speak but did make attempts to console his fellow patients when they screamed or rocked. He sat nearby as Boris, a 12-year-old boy, repeatedly hit himself in the face so hard that his head was covered in angry bruises and welts. The nurse standing in the doorway simply watched.

Boris was later removed to his room and to his crib where, even as a preteen, he still sleeps.

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