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Perth football fan joins Annie Lennox on medal list after his charity evacuates Ukrainian orphans

In an exclusive interview, the Perth councillor, businessman and Hibernian football fan reflects on the 19-year roots of his Dnipro Kids charity as he's honoured by the Perth-based Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Steven Carr on the Easter road pitch with the Dnipro Kids not long after they were evacuated from Ukraine in 2022. Image: Steven Carr
Steven Carr on the Easter road pitch with the Dnipro Kids not long after they were evacuated from Ukraine in 2022. Image: Steven Carr

What inspired a Perth alarm engineer to mastermind and run the evacuation of more than 50 orphans from the city of Dnipro following the full Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022?

Detailed insight has been given by Perth local Steven Carr as the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) announces they are to present him with a prestigious medal in honour of Dnipro Kids, the charity he founded during a football trip to Ukraine.

The Perth & Kinross councillor, who represents the Strathallan ward for the SNP, is being presented with the prestigious RSGS Livingstone Medal for his humanitarian work.

He joins an impressive list of previous recipients who include Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Captain Roald Amundsen, Sir Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and Michael Palin.

Steven Carr. Image: Steven Carr

In an interview with The Courier, Steven said: “It’s quite amazing a daft alarm engineer from Perth is on the same list as Annie Lennox or Chris Bonington.

“It’s quite surreal!”

How ‘moving’ football away game led to establishment of Dnipro Kids

Dnipro Kids was set up by Hibernian FC fans when the Edinburgh club played a UEFA tie against Dnipropetrovsk in 2005.

Some fans took time out to visit a state orphanage.

Moved by what he saw, Steven set up the charity and is its chairman.

He had been going back to Ukraine at least twice a year ever since, visiting the kids, organising holidays and excursions, and delivering gifts.

But when the Russians invaded on February 24, 2022, the story that made headlines around the world was the efforts by Steven and his volunteer colleagues to get a group of care-residing orphans out of Ukraine at a time when the world was still struggling to come to terms with what was happening.

Dnipro Kids were taken on excursions before evacuation from Ukraine in 2022. Image: Steven Carr

They managed to get six extended groups – young orphans aged two to 20 in groups headed by “house parents” – into the UK.

They were the first group from Ukraine to arrive in Scotland and they remain the only group of cared-for youngsters fleeing war in Ukraine who are here in the UK.

Needs of Dnipro Kids as important as ever

Speaking with The Courier as the RSGS confirmed it hopes to present Steven with his medal at a half time game at Hibs, Steven said the work of the charity continues, including the settlement of several families into Perth.

However, as the war rages on, the needs of the young people and others like them still in Ukraine, continues.

The charity is being increasingly called upon to assist with their ongoing educational and developmental needs.

Describing himself as a “huge Hibs fan” who also supports Newcastle United thanks to his “Geordie” parents, Steven explained how it all began.

“We got drawn against FC Dnipro in a UEFA football match in 2005,” recalls Steven, 58, who was born on an army base in Cyprus, brought up in Edinburgh and has stayed in Perth since 1991 when he set up his alarm business Active Security.

“After watching the draw, seeing FC Dnipro come out and the initial ‘who?’, ‘where?’ a number of supporters had the idea of doing something for a local school or orphanage.

“In a similar way to when Scotland travel away, the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal usually do something for a local school or centre.

“We said ‘let’s carry on that tradition’.

“There were a lot of good ideas floating about but not really anyone taking the lead on it. So I decided to put myself forward as the focus point for the idea.”

Establishing links with Ukraine

Steven got in touch with an American missionary who was in Dnipro at the time.

They were doing work at a TB sanatorium in the city.

Flying out the day before on a charter flight, they took crates of Irn Bru, macaroon bars, football strips and lots of things donated by supporters, as well as £2,000 collected during a turnstile collection at Easter Road.

Meeting the church missionary in his van, they did a “supermarket sweep”, buying everything – and more – on the sanatorium’s original wish list.

Relations have developed between Dnipro and Scotland since 2005. Image: Steven Carr

When they visited the sanatorium on the morning of the match, there were “emotional scenes” as the children put on a show for the guests and they handed over toys and other items.

Hibs were duly “gubbed” 5-1 and knocked out of the cup. This left Steven and his colleagues to think that it was a “one off”.

But Steven feels that “fate” intervened.

Firstly, with the Ukrainian currency hryvnia virtually un-exchangeable outside of Ukraine at that time, numerous supporters got in touch to ask if they could donate the money they’d brought home.

This led to a second trip being arranged in winter 2005 when Steven and several colleagues put on a Christmas party.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr, founder of the Dnipro Kids charity.

When fans saw media coverage and got in touch asking if they could sponsor Dnipro kids, it led Steven and his colleagues to realise they had the support to establish a formal Dnipro Kids charity.

Thanks to the generosity of Hibs supporters, that has continued ever since with Steven making 30 trips between 2005 and 2021.

The ethos of the charity became about creating memories. They organised excursions to all corners of Ukraine – including Crimea in 2013 – just four months before the Russian annexation.

But when the full-scale Russian invasion happened in February 2022, everything changed.

What impact did the full Russian invasion have on Dnipro Kids?

Early on, Steven became worried that the Dnipro orphans they were supporting could find themselves in a warzone.

After communicating with Dnipro families, and telling them they needed to evacuate but being told they couldn’t because they had nowhere to go, Steven decided to travel over.

“What I did was I flew to Poland and I travelled to the border to check I’d be able to take a bus in and out,” he recalls.

“I organised a bus in Poland to take me into Ukraine.

Steven (back left) with the first 29 orphans he helped rescue in Lviv in 2022.

“It’s a family-type children’s home, so there would be a ‘house mother’ and nine to 10 children in each house. We had seven of these we supported in Dnipro.

“We got three to evacuate. Then, I’d no sooner got back into Poland that I got notification that another three families were ready to be taken out.

“I asked the Polish bus driver if he’d be willing to go in and get these other three families. He sighed which was a worry for me. Then he turned with a big smile on his face and said ‘of course I will’.”

Challenge getting the Dnipro Kids into UK

Steven said it was a “real battle” to get the 52 children and eight adults visas for the UK. But eventually they succeeded.

“It was quite a pivotal moment because it was the first group of displaced Ukrainians to come to the UK after the Russian invasion,” says Steven.

Of course, it’s not been without its challenges.

These are children who’d been through the Ukraine care system.

Some of the children after being rescued from Ukraine in 2022. Image: Steven Carr

Their parents have lost parental rights through drink, drugs or domestic abuse or been in prison.

There have been social care and language barriers to overcome.

Dnipro Kids volunteers also went from organising three “memories” trips per year to now being responsible for these young people full-time.

“Having to deal with things on a day-to-day basis has been a real step up – almost like a full-time job for committee members,” says Steven.

But it’s all been worth it.

Steven Carr received an award for exceptional service from then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in August 2022. Image: Steven Carr

Steven adds: “I feel I’ve been very lucky to have been part of these children’s lives, to be a part of creating memories for them. I feel honoured to have been able to have done that for them.”

His efforts were also recognised in August 2022 when he received an award for exceptional service from then Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Memorable moment at Hibs versus St Johnstone game

A particularly memorable occasion took place on May 15 2022 when the Dnipro Kids who had been brought over attended their first game at Easter Road between Hibs and St Johnstone.

The Saints, of course, had travelled from Steven’s home town of Perth.

There are two families in Dnipro they still keep in touch with.

Dnipro Kids at Hampden. Image: Steven Carr

While Dnipro experiences some missile attacks, it’s an almost surreal situation where life has to carry on while there’s a war on just 50 miles from the city.

The RSGS says it is talking to Hibs FC to coordinate a suitable presentation of the medal which celebrates Steven’s contribution and also acknowledges the backing of the wider club and fans to the success of Dnipro Kids.