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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Center Offers Young Moms Hope

ST. PETERSBURG -- Olga Mikkel, 17, doesn't want to have anything to do with the father of her 3-month-old daughter, Alina.

But that wasn't what drove her from her home to seek shelter in Dom Malenkoi Mamy, or the House for Young Mothers, where she and Alina are now living.

"My alcoholic mother and sister often beat me up f even after I called the police f because they were outraged that I was pregnant," Mikkel said. "She [her mother] wanted to destroy my baby."

Safe under the guidance of the teachers and doctors at the House for Young Mothers, Olga and Alina have come to enjoy what they were denied before f a room to themselves, enough food and, most importantly, attention and understanding.

Olga is one of six young mothers at the center on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. The center takes in girls under the age of 18 with young babies who have no other acceptable means of support.

A slim girl in a miniskirt and make-up, Olga looks a like a typical carefree high-school student. She dreams of becoming a model like many of her peers.

But there is plenty of care in her behavior as she bathes Alina in a daily routine of cleanliness and calm that is a welcome contrast to the sullen, invasive atmosphere Olga experienced at her mother's apartment.

A spin-off from a state-owned rehabilitation center for children, the House for Young Mothers was set up in 1998.

Tucked away in a nondescript building that was part of a former kindergarten, the center is all light and comfort inside. The girls live on the second floor in rooms furnished to the standard of an average household. The first floor holds a fitness room, a study, a medical room and administration offices.

On the staff are four teachers, a social worker, a psychologist, a doctor, four nurses and a cook.

Given full board, the young mothers divide their time between caring for their young babies and studying for a profession. The girls are allowed to stay in the house with their babies for up to one year, or until the young mothers turn 18. On leaving the house, monitoring continues for another year. Dom Malenkoi Mamy continues to keep a door open to the girls for help and counseling.

Statistics show that the majority of young mothers have only two options: terminate their pregnancies through abortion or give up their newborns to the care of the state.

According to the national demographic report for 1994 to 1998, as many as seven in 10 pregnancies end in abortion. And every 10th abortion is performed on women under 19 years of age. Over 2,000 abortions are performed annually on girls under 14.

As for children being cared for by the state, as many as 621,115 out of the country's 39.9 million children were registered in orphanages according to the State Statistics Committee's report for last year.

With no official statistics, various related agencies cite anywhere from 2 million to 4 million homeless children across the country. The majority of children living in orphanages or on the streets have living parents, specialists say.

Another resident at the House for Young Mothers, Anna Burakova, 17, knew when giving birth to her daughter, Yelena, that her child would not go to an orphanage. After growing up in such an institution herself, she was only too familiar with life without parental love.

She is confident that she will be a good mother after having learned so much at her new but temporary home.

"I didn't know anything before I came here and was frightened. Now walking the streets [with a baby carriage] I am proud to be a mother," she says.

According to the center's deputy director, Irina Chuprina, the majority of girls who have lived at the center are intent on keeping their babies. Although some give them away to orphanages, it is only for a short time while they find a job.

"As one of them once said to me, for her, the child is a little life preserver. With it, she cannot go back to the life she had," Chuprina said.