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How to Survive After Orphanage

August 6, 2012, 12:00 3420 Author: Ljudmila Fomina, translated by Alexandra Latypova www.deti.zp.ua Nastya Shevchenko Has Hit a Wall

I met Nastya back in 2004, when she was one of the students of the orphanage #3 in Zaporizhzhia. I had a faculty position at the Criminal Process department at Zapirizhzhia Law Institute of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, and visited the orphanage during holidays as a sponsor-volunteer. I noticed that Nastya already stood apart from other pupils having a strong, goal-oriented personality and serious approach to life. She felt sorry for orphaned kids, and was dreaming about adopting kids once she is grown up and with a family of her own. She still believes that she will eventually accomplish her goals in life if she tries hard enough, but her resolve is being tested.

Nastya has some property rights – for half of the house, where her mother used to live, but she cannot obtain the living space, since the relatives who took over the house simply do not want to acknowledge her. They believe – without any legal grounds – that since Nastya’s mother lost parental rights, that means that Nastya lost her property rights. They just took the house, renovated it, made additions. They could not care less about Nastya. “You were at the orphange? – Go back there”, - told her aunt.

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t exist at all”, - it is hard to hear these words from this confident, intelligent and good looking young woman.

-Nastya, please tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you end up in the orphanage?

I was born on October 20, 1992. I lived with my parents on the Right Bank in Zaporizhzhia. My father was an electrician, and my mother – a nurse. When I was 7, my father died and mom started drinking. She stopped paying for my school – I went to school #61 then. Then my teacher started noticing that I was missing school a lot, and sometimes came to school with scratches and bruises. My mother beat me, and once wanted to strangle me, but thankfully my relatives interfered. Mom’s brother and his wife sometimes took me to their house, but they also beat my mother when she was drunk. I did not want to live with them, but I didn’t have a choice.

When I was 8 or 9, I was sent to an orphanage for the first time. The teacher came to our house and saw the bad situation – mom was drinking, the place was in complete disorder, there was no food. First she took me to her place for 2 weeks, and after that I went to the orphanage.

I stayed there for two years – from 8 to 10 I spent some time in the orphanage and some – at home. No one wanted to take away the parental rights from my mother without giving an opportunity to improve the home situation. She continued drinking, sometimes she would not come home, but she still managed to beat and humiliate me for bad grades. Her brother, who lived in the other half of the house, demanded utility payments from her several times a month, he also beat her, and spread rumors about her. She was depressed, and in turn took it out on me.

In the orphanage, all kids had shaved heads, and I was so upset – I had long hair which I liked very much. A teacher, Tatiana Yur’evna interfered, and I was left with my hair. Later she started asking me questions about my family and started an inquiry about my future, and even paid for my schooling for some time.

When my mom took me from the orphanage for some time, aunt Lena, her brother’s wife told me to go to the regional administration [child protective services] and explain my situation. I did, and I was asked where I went to school, an inquiry was initiated and I was taken back to the orphanage. After that my mother was deprived of the parental rights, even though she was against it. However, she could not quit vodka either. Mom wanted Tatiana Yur’evna to take me, but she did not have the sufficient housing conditions. She visited me often though, and took to her place for visits as well.

Sometimes, mom visited me as well, but I was disappointed that she was not better, she did not quit drinking.

The relatives initially wanted to adopt me, but later said that it is too much hassle and money, and they had their own troubles to take care of.

-Please tell us about your life at the orphanage

- First year was very difficult. Everything is common property, not like at home, there is a big difference. There were a lot of troubled kids who bullied me because I was “too good”, I was not drinking or smoking. I wanted to go home so much, but…

- Eventually you got used to it?

- Yes, I just got used to it, and tried to ignore bullying, aggression. There were a lot of conflicts – because Tatiana Yur’evna and Yura Gorev (volunteer from Christ Church) helped me with new clothes, and because I would not smoke. I made friends with some boys, and fewer girls.

-Please tell us how the kids cope with growing without a family?

- Some kids hate their parents because they ended up in the orphanage. Some kids hope that their parents will straighten out their lives and take them home, and that everything will be alright, but this never happens. Many kids leave the system only to end up in prison or become drunkards because they have no support.

-Do kids dream of finding a family?

- Of course. I think that each child would love to have a family. But once they become teenagers, in 8th-9th grade, they no longer see a sense in it. They are used to living alone in the orphanage and they no longer want anyone. They think: “I am independent, it’s fine”, but in fact when they leave the school, they realize that no one is waiting for them anywhere, and no one will feed them anymore. They don’t have their own place, their own bed anymore. It is very hard. You have yourself only to rely on, to struggle in this life, to try to do something, achieve something, show what you are worth.

-Are you staying in touch with your classmates? Where are they now?

- Many are in prison, very few have families. Many were kicked out or dropped out of school.

- Where do you find support in life?

- From friends, acquaintances. I am in touch with Tatiana Yur’evna’s family. I attend Christ Church. I asked God for a family, and even though I was not adopted, I was not left alone.

-What happened to your mother?

- I was angry at her and did not want to see her when I ended up at the orphanage. She visited me very rarely, and I always panicked when I saw her, I was afraid to find out that she did not change. Since 7th grade, I started visiting her more often. She found a job at a local market. She also started visiting me more, and sometimes sent presents or money. In 2008 she was in the hospital, she had a surgery and cancer was suspected. She could hardly walk. In about 2 weeks she left the hospital, refused treatment because she understood that it was hopeless. I came and asked her why she left the hospital, and she told me that she was going to die soon. For about a month I visited her very often, she said good bye, said that she was ready to go and that I would be ok. She complained about the relatives and said that they were cruel to her. In early September she left home. My relatives did not say anything about it. She did not come to my school, she was not seen at work for a week, then two weeks. Once I called home and the relatives said that they had not seen her for almost a month. I couldn’t declare her missing, I was looking around the city in all the shelters for homeless. She was seen around the city for about 6 months, she sent messages through other people that she loves me. She left home because the relatives were beating her.

-Does anyone know that she was beaten by her relatives?

– All of this happened behind closed doors. She was often seen with bruises but no one knows for sure. The uncle’s wife often kicked her out of the house. Once my uncle’s wife came to the orphanage and told me that something needs to be done with the house. She said that I would not be able to maintain it, she called me names, she said that I will not achieve anything, and I will be nothing, trying to say that I was my mother’s daughter.

-What is the situation with the house now?

After my mother left the house, the relatives took it over and do not want to know me. I came and they would not even let me inside. They called me names and said that I was nobody. I started the paperwork for inheritance. The case is now in court, and I do have a lawyer. So do my relatives who want to take the entire house. My hope is only with the court.

I honestly don’t know what to do. Everyone says something, everyone is so smart, and I don’t know what to do, everyone stays with their agenda. Property originally belonged to my grandparents and the only two heirs are my mother and her brother. I am really tired and I don’t know who to trust. I really don’t know.

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