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Inside a Ukrainian orphanage where American donations are helping build "a new life" for vulnerable kids

American donations help Ukrainian orphanage
Ukrainian orphanage changes operations to care for influx of children since war broke out 04:13

Chernivtsi, Ukraine — U.S. military support has been vital in Ukraine's fight to defend itself from Russian aggression, but Americans have also stepped up to protect some of the most vulnerable Ukrainians. Some of the children who've lost their parents or been separated from their families amid the war have turned to a safe haven called the "City of Goodness," which has managed to cope with soaring demand thanks to help from the United States.

CBS News visited the facility that has become a safe place to call home for around 200 children, from infants to older children with disabilities and other serious health concerns.

Marta Levchenko, top right, and workers at the City of Goodness facility that Levchenko founded, watches as children play at the charity in Chernivtsi, western Ukraine.  CBS News

Marta Levchenko founded the facility three years ago as a refuge for women and children escaping domestic abuse. It still does that work, but Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion changed everything.

Virtually overnight, the "city" went from being a shelter, to being an orphanage.

"The war changed all of us," Levchenko told CBS News. "I never dreamed that within the City of Goodness' walls there would be orphans… but suddenly, we had one orphanage come to us for help, then the second, then the third."

She said she questioned her organization's ability to cope with the sudden influx.

"Every day I worried, 'What if we can't make lunch? Or what if we can't buy medication or pay our staff,'" she said. "But every day there are so many wonders happening around us. We receive donations from Americans and people here in Ukraine, who make sure that our children are taken care of, well fed and protected."

Marta Levchenko cuddles a child at the City of Goodness facility in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, which she founded as a shelter for women and children escaping domestic abuse, but which Russia's war forced her to turn into an orphanage. CBS News

The donations, particularly from Americans, have been nothing short of transformative. Since the start of the war more than a year ago, The City of Goodness has been able to build two new buildings, and there's a third under construction.

One building in the "city" that was paid for by American donors was constructed not only to house orphaned children, but also to keep them safe from Russia's relentless aerial attacks.

"This is a bomb shelter made with love," explained Levchenko, showing CBS News around a room with bright green walls, tropical bird murals and a slide. "Our kids love this place a lot. They are not scared. They say, 'Oooh, great, we are going to the bomb shelter!'"

One U.S. sponsor even donated a fire engine. All the funds received by the organization go toward helping Ukraine's orphans, including helping them to find new, permanent homes.

That's what Alexiie and Irina hope to give little Masha. We were there as the husband and wife — a soldier and a schoolteacher — met the young girl for the first time.

Irina, left, and her husband Alexiie meet Masha, a young girl they are about to adopt, for the first time at the City of Goodness orphanage in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. CBS News

"I cannot express my feelings with words," Irina told CBS News.

"We have an older girl who really wants a sister," said the mother, explaining that she and Alexiie had discussed adoption for a couple years, even before the war started.

The couple said Russia's assault — and knowing how many kids in the eastern part of the country in particular were being left alone — made them determined to welcome another child into their home as soon as possible.

For Levchenko, seeing one of the children she's come to know and love leave her care is always difficult, but she calls it "a miracle."

"It's the start of a new story. It's the start of a new life and it's the start of a new fate," she said. "It also a great joy, because it's almost like they were born on that day, like it's their birthday."

Levchenko hopes to find homes for all 200 orphaned children at the facility, and she has plans to welcome at least 150 more kids through the doors.

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