Dnipro Kids Chairman, Steven Carr, shared his inspirational story on how the charity has helped evacuate 48 children from Ukraine into Poland.
In September 2005, Hibs travelled to Dnipro for their second leg of the UEFA Cup play-off round against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. After a goalless first-leg at Easter Road, Tony Mowbray’s talented, young side that included Gary Caldwell, Guillaume Beuzelin and Garry O’Connor – were well beaten on the night in Ukraine.
After going behind inside the first 60 seconds, Derek Riordan equalised for the Hibees after 10 minutes. However, unfortunately the Ukrainian side were too strong for Hibs and they ran out comfortable winners in the end.
Whilst the match won’t go down as a classic in Hibernian history, the trip to Ukraine will be fondly remembered for reasons off the pitch. That reason – Dnipro Kids.
In 2005, Hibernian supporter Steven Carr travelled with a group of friends to Dnipro to support the team. Little did he know, that particular away day would be the start of an inspirational new charity, Dnipro Kids.
Speaking to hibernianfc.co.uk Steven explains how the charity was founded.
“We were heading out to Ukraine for the match and a bunch of supporters and I got together and decided to do something for one of the local orphanages. This was at a time when they were institutional orphanages so there was between 80-100 kids in one building. We bought lots of clothes for the kids, did a turnstile collection and donated the money.
“It was meant to be a one-off to be honest. We were going to go out for a game of football, do something for a local orphanage, watch the football and have a few beers. It turns out when we came back, supporters had a lot of the local currency still on them. We couldn’t exchange it when we were back here so we pulled together all the money and flew back out at Christmas time to spend the money on Christmas presents and a party for the kids.
“We thought that would be the end of it, but supporters were really taken by it and wanted to help. They were asking if they could make donations and sponsor the kids. That is when we became an official charity and it has just grown from there."
Since then, Steven and other members of the charity of Dnipro Kids have been keenly devoted in helping the upbringing of the children in the orphanage. Whether it is organising Christmas parties, birthday events, excursions and days out for the children (including a trip to Easter Road), the charity has been invested in helping the kids for many years.
“We like to think that we make a big difference to their lives", Steven explains.
“There is a lot of love between the kids in Ukraine and everyone involved between Dnipro Kids. Dnipro Kids is 100% all about the kids and the Hibernian supporters. We wouldn’t have managed to keep going for as long as we have and been able to do as much as we have if it wasn’t for the Hibs supporters.
“The supporters have taken Dnipro Kids into their heart and view it as their charity. The kids in Dnipro have taken the Hibs supporters into their hearts as they have given them some unforgettable memories.”
Now, the situation in the city of Dnipro is extremely harrowing. The city is under attack from the Russian invasion and civilians are desperately trying to flee the country.
In the last month, Steven has made two trips to Ukraine to attempt to evacuate the kids out of Dnipro. Along with his team committed team at Dnipro Kids, Steven has been helping to organise transport and accommodation for the kids in orphanages across the city to secure safe passage out of Ukraine.
Steven shared with us his story of how managed to help evacuate 48 children out of Ukraine and safely into Poland.
“I decided at the start of March that I was going to go over. I didn’t really tell anyone to be honest, only a few close friends. I didn’t want to worry anyone as essentially I was intending to go into a war zone.
“When I was out there the first time a few weeks ago I managed to get to the border and have a look at the situation there. That gave me a good idea of what the situation was like and allowed me to make sure I had the resolve to make sure we got the kids out.
“I was watching Ukrainians, it was only mothers and small children and they were just walking across the border with virtually nothing. Only a small suitcase or a plastic bag – they have got up and left their house and being forced to move. It was quite unbelievable. We were trying to get kids on trains and buses but it just wasn’t happening so I had to come back to the UK.
“On the flight back, we found out that the kids had managed to get on the train to Lviv, so at the first opportunity I got I was straight back over as soon as I could."
Steven was back in Edinburgh briefly and made a quick stop at Easter Road to deliver the match ball before our cinch Premiership tie with St Johnstone. Before heading back to Ukraine for part two of the evacuation.
“I flew back out to Poland on Wednesday night and arrived in Katowice in the Central/West Region of Poland. An organisation in Poland had managed to get us some transport to get from Poland into Ukraine to try and get some children out. We heard on Wednesday morning that some of our orphanage kids had managed to get on a bus heading out from Dnipro to Lviv.
“We got to Lviv in the morning and managed to get the 29 children and five adults onto the bus and get them safely out of Lviv and through the border crossing.
“While we were on the bus we got a notification that another 19 children and two adults had managed to get on a train and were needing picked up the next day.
“It was extremely emotional, everyone was in tears. The orphanage mothers were in tears and hugging me. The kids were giving everyone big hugs, it was very emotional.
“The last time we were able to see the children was in 2019. It is amazing how quickly they have grown up since then, and given the circumstances, it was a very emotional reunion.”
The support for Steven and Dnipro Kids has been overwhelming with the charity's selfless heroics receiving wide media coverage and praise from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and in the House of Commons.
The Hibs family have come together to support the charity in recent days, with the Hanlon Stevenson foundation raising over £50,000 in donations. That amount includes £2,500 from Edinburgh rivals Hearts and healthy contributions from the online message board Hibs.net and various other supporter groups.
Steven has been overwhelmed by the support the charity has received in recent days and attributes the success of the charity to the hard working team of volunteers.
“The response from the Hibs supporters and the financial support we have received has been incredible. At the end of the day, we are just a small charity.
"But now, we are able to support the kids through this difficult time and provide a level of support to make sure they feel safe.
“One thing I would say is that this has completely been a team effort. I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this by myself, it would have been impossible for one person to do all this.
“We have only been able to help because we have a fantastic committed committee at Dnipro Kids. We have supporters who regularly contribute funds and support the charity logistically. There have been so many people that have done so much for this project.
“I could have never managed to do any of this myself. So often people will put their hands up to volunteer and step up – that is how we get things done.
"It is kind of like a football team, it is a total team effort from everybody involved.”
You can find out more about Dnipro Kids and donate to their Dnipro Appeal by CLICKING HERE!