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They might not have understood the language, but the fire horn got their attention.
The blast from Gainesville Fire Rescue's fire engine provoked shrieks of delight from the small group of Ukrainian orphans, who got a tour Wednesday of Fire Station 1 on S. Main Street.
The children toured the firehouse as part of a 21-day visit to the United States as cultural exchange students. Friends of Our Orphanages, a Gainesville-based organization that aids and supports orphanages throughout the former Soviet Union, brought over 11 children from Krivoy Rog, Ukraine; eight stayed with host families in Gainesville while three stayed in Alabama.
During the past few weeks, the children have received a small taste of American life as they toured various locations in Florida, from theme parks to beaches on both coasts. Highlights for 11-year-old Anya Pavliv included the Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo and the many swimming pools throughout the state.
"I just really love it. It's so nice," she said through an interpreter. "I'm in love with Busch Gardens, and it's been a great experience. The people here are always smiling and polite."
Friends of Our Orphanages helped raise money for Orphanage 9 in the Ukraine. The money that was used to buy furniture, books, clothing, lamps and games, since the Ukrainian government focuses mostly on education funding. The nonprofit organization relies entirely on donations.
For Carlton Boyd, vice president of the organization, the benefit of the cultural exchange was twofold. Not only does it raise awareness of Ukrainian orphanages, he said, but it gives the children a chance to experience life in a family home.
"It's good to take them from living with 300 people (in the orphanage) and let them be with a mother and a father," Boyd said. "We're only allowed 21 days, but it still helps their self-esteem and self-worth, so they can have goals and aspirations. We want to expand their minds."
The fire station marks one of the last stops for the orphans, who will return to Ukraine on Friday. They'll have a farewell party at Ashley's restaurant, in Butler Plaza, this afternoon.
Zhenya Statov, 13, summed up his American experience in halting English. "(All of) America, I don't know, but Florida I like," he said. "Fishing, beach . . . I like all."