Having spent his teenage years on the streets and served time for burglary, a charity worker from Southampton never expected to receive a top police award.

But on the eve of his retirement, the Rev Vic Jackopson MBE has been honoured by the International Police Association for the help he has given to thousands of Ukrainian children.

He said: “I was there last week having a retirement celebration and to my surprise, I was asked to go to the local Governor’s mansion and receive a reward for the work we have done in the Ukraine over the last 18 years.

“But an even bigger surprise was that the head of the International Police Association came and gave me an award for courage and professionalism, which is quite interesting when you consider how I started my life.”

Growing up in an orphanage in Southampton, Mr Jackopson joined the Army at 15 and was kicked out a year later. He lived on the streets until he was 18, when he was caught breaking into a house. He served time in Winchester Prison.

“During that time I became a Christian and that dramatically altered the whole course of my life,” he said. The father-of-two became a Baptist Minister and founded Hope Now with his wife Sue in 1985. The charity has focused on helping homeless children in the Ukraine since Mr Jackopson visited the country 18 years ago and met some street kids.

He said: “One of these little chaps put his hand in mine and looked at me as if to say ‘what are you going to doing about this then?’ “Clearly, if you’re with a homeless child and you remember what it was like to be cold and hungry, it gives you an empathy. Maybe someone else would have been able to ignore it, but I just couldn’t allow a child of that age to be without proper care.”

Mr Jackopson, 70, from Chetwynd Drive, Southampton has since helped thousands of children in the country by building orphanages, rescue shelters and organising foster care.

He’s now retiring as CEO of Hope Now for health reasons and has handed over to his long standing colleague Jon Budgell. Mr Budgell said: “There’s some big shoes to fill and enormous amounts of work to do – there are still families living in sewers and so many children that need help.