Serhiy*, 31, drops by the offi ce of the All-Ukanian Network of People Living with HIV in Kryvy Rih, Ukraine, bearing a broad smile and words of gratitude. While no longer their client, he frequently visits the organization to thank them for the support and care he received. 

Today, he came to share good news. He is employed full-time and earning money legally for the fi rst time in his life. His personal life is on the mend as well: he is back with his girlfriend and talking regularly with his mother. He is happy and proud that people trust him again.

Life was not always this good for Serhiy. He had a number of false starts and many unsuccessful fi nishes on his path to recovery. He started using alcohol and drugs early in life and served time in various prisons. Although he promised himself a fresh start each 10 time he was released from prison, he always went back to his old ways: old friends and drugs.

While serving his fourth term in the Sofi a Correctional Facility located in Kryvy Rih, Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Serhiy volunteered to care for sick inmates. There he was spotted by a social worker who offered him a new start through the Project Start program that was piloted by the Kryvy Rih branch of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV under the grant received from the USAID RESPOND Project.

Project Start is an HIV/sexually transmitted infection/hepatitis risk reduction program for people returning to the community after incarceration. The program begins 60 days before an inmate is released from a correctional facility and continues for three months following their release as they reintegrate into society and settle into a community. The project provides counseling to help ex-convicts address the various challenges they face upon release, including fi nding affordable housing, securing viable employment, and dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Through the program, Serhiy took responsibility for managing his own health, changing his lifestyle and, most importantly, controlling his anger and taking responsibility for his actions. “My attitude began to change right away. Before, I had never thought about planning my future and never had support from anybody. After a few successful steps in the Start program, I felt my life slowly improving,” says Serhiy.

By Andriy Ovsyannikov, Kryviy Rih City Branch of All-Ukrainian Network of PLWH

Photo by Oksana Zhabri