Contributed by Hugh Mc Enaney, Educator and Coach and social justice advocate.

It was summer 1985. My father had just collected me from boarding school and, as we were driving back to our home in Dublin, he suddenly stopped the car and got out in such a rage I was dumbfounded. I genuinely thought it was about my exam results, which he still hadn’t received. As wise as he is, his foretelling the future skills were never that well honed. He had just seen a young man hit a girl repeatedly on the pavement of a small town and he got out and marched over to the couple and broke them up and checked to see if the young girl was alright. He got back into the car and drove off back to home as if nothing had happened. I asked him about it and he brushed it aside and didn’t dwell on it, if memory serves. That was my first encounter with relational violence first-hand.

Years later, in my mid thirties, when I was working as a volunteer in Dublin with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I came across this issue again. My primary role was to visit lower income families, young and old, and listen. The role over time morphed into one of counselor, mediator, legal and financial adviser as well as the ‘go to’ guy whether it was looking for work or appearing in court on behalf of my ‘clients’. I used to call on one particular young family with six (yes six) children and from the outside looking in, all seemed as fine as could be. Of course, there was significant financial pressure and general stress and alcohol imbibing did not lower the tension. I remember visiting the home on one occasion and the young matriarch was with her youngest and crying and head was lowered in what turned out to be shame. She had been beaten by her partner and he was in the local pub. I sat and had some tea and listened as she told me what a great guy he was and “he was under so much pressure” and “I love him” and “he’s never done this before”. My initial reaction was to call the police but then the children would have been separated from their father, the mother would have been alone and I was scared to intervene because of any repercussions to the charity itself. The father had some friends in low places too so this made reporting even more difficult.

I hadn’t had any contact with this theme until earlier this year, Edith from Sweden got on Facebook and posted a notice seeking some support. We met and had coffee and visited a charity shop and discussed the work she is doing with an organization called Kitezh.

Kitezh was established by Alena Sadikova after she herself had seen firsthand the effects of domestic violence. This is an issue that, for years, has been swept under the carpet and not given enough attention by the State. Having decided there and then to take some action, I asked people to help with donations of clothes, toys for children and anything which could be helpful for this charity. I took the time to visit the shelter which has been provided by an Orthodox monk on his parish territory outside Moscow. Alena has practically single handedly set up a refuge for women and their children to come and find shelter, food and a safe place to be after having endured domestic violence. I knew little or nothing about this issue in Russia until recently and having been educated by media reports and Edith who is on an internship for a year here.

Selection_043Kitezh is located in a recently renovated home which can cater for up to 8 – 12 women and their children. A psychologist is on site three times a week and sessions are mandatory according to the house charter which all visitors must abide by – short and long term. Some women stay for a month and some for three. The maximum period is six months and, to date, over 80 women and 100 children have been assisted by Alena and Kitezh. Skills acquisition is an integral part of the program and volunteers have visited to train the tenants in jewelry making. All are obliged to maintain hygiene and take responsibility for the home and surrounding areas.

Violence in the home is an issue I feel strongly about and one which affects the victims directly and other family members indirectly in so many ways. In some of the stories I asked Alena for about the clients Kitezh has supported, she tells me of women arriving with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and children crying and kicking and screaming for, ultimately, a safe place and love. In some of the cases, the women tolerated the abuse and violence for extended periods and when the abuser threatened and beat the children, this was the final straw for the women and they plucked up the courage and contracted Kitezh. After speaking with Alena many times, this is the issue many women have – how can they leave? It is, undoubtedly, a brave step to move from the security – albeit fragile – of a home and food on the table and clothes on their backs to living on donations and starting over. In many cases the police have been contacted and arrive and are paid off to turn a blind eye to the situation. I’ve heard stories of women’s families ready to help and then the abuser finds the home and the process starts again with a new target. There are many stories too numerous to tell here and now it is the untold stories Kitezh wants to be there for.

Statistics suggest that 14,000 women die every year which is 2 every hour. People may find this an alarming and even bloated figure but, after hearing some stories from hospitals in the Moscow region, there is an average of three women each week presenting themselves at emergency clinics after ‘falls’ and ‘scrapes’ and if they have the courage to tell the truth, they can be helped. Alena has started to develop a similar model in Rostov where she worked for many years and the donations for Kitezh are also being used here. Volunteers have come forward to assist and many have contacted me through my network and social media with donations of clothes, toys, books, games and toiletries. Rostelecom has been fundamental in providing funding for building works at Kitezh and their support has been superb. Many groups such as Leeds University, Anglo American School, MPC Social Services and a broad spectrum of individuals have been very generous with their support and donations to date. A lot has been done and there is a lot more to do.

‘Kitezh is an independent, non-religious and non-profit shelter for victims of domestic violence. It is the first and only non-governmental shelter in Moscow region, with capacity for 8-12 residents. At the shelter, women and children are provided with medical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as broader help and support from social workers. The shelter is located outside Moscow, providing a peaceful environment for women to heal physically and psychologically as they gain the necessary skills to live independently.’

You can find Kitezh on facebook with a search – Китеж кризисный центр для женщин. I collect and deliver items monthly and you can contact me here on [email protected]