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Local adoption in Ukraine:"The attempt to adopt a child has nearly led to criminal proceedings against both my wife and myself"

January 25, 2007, 0:00 5492 Author: Lyudmila Trebushnaya, Kherson, Ukraine (translated for deti.zp.ua by Anna Helen Large, UK) The Ukranian newspaper “The facts”

However, this has not stopped the Herson [the name of a city in the Ukraine] priest, as now seven orphans are being brought up in his family while he is still fighting with the local red tape for the right to adopt two more children.

“It looks like we’ll have to close down,” the director of Herson Orphanage says jokingly. “Father Anatoliy will soon take away all the children from us. He started off with one, and finds it hard to stop. Had we had more people like him, who are not indifferent to the children’s fates, the orphanage would cease to exist.”

The father says: “Any mother can look after many children.”

Father Anatoliy and his wife Lena have two of their own teenaged daughters. Also, the parents themselves are still young, as the head of the family is still 32 years old.

“When our girls were born, the doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to become a mother the third time,” recalls the priest’s wife, Lena. But then the fate brought us together with a young couple. Those two hadn’t got married by then when the 17-year old fell pregnant. Everyone at that stage wanted to get rid of the off-spring: both parents and the future grandparents. All of them had made a decision that the child should not be born.

Having found that out, we offered them not to terminate the pregnancy as we would take the baby straight from the hospital. We went to the adoption agency to legalise the situation. That’s where it all started! “You what? We have not heard anything like this!” said the bureaucrats indignantly. “This is a criminal matter! We are going to report you to the prosecutor’s office immediately! You are going to answer for this!” And although there were only some 6 weeks left before the baby was born, the frightened mother-to-be rushed off to have a saline abortion done, so the baby was murdered, and we were put off adoption for quite a while.

Anatoliy and Lena returned to the adoption idea in the autumn of 2004. “We then had just bought a new house,” father Anatoliy says. And then suddenly, Lena says: “It’s a little quite here! Wouldn’t it be nice to fill the house with pitter-patter of tiny feet?”

“The carers at the Sunday School, which is run by the church where my husband was serving at the time, used to bring kids from the local orphanage,” Elena has picked up. “Once, the head of the school jokingly asked: “Father Anatoliy! One of the boys from the orphanage is your twin! Is he one yours? So we went to the school.

“I remember how a man in a cassock with a cross came into my office,” is reminiscing the director of the Herson’s orphanage, Nikolay Rudya.

“I am neither rich, nor poor,” he says, “but I can feed one more boy.”

The conversation was about a 10-year-old Seryozha. “This child,” I am clarifying, “has two younger sisters.”

“I’ll take all three,” the visitor agrees without stumbling. Then Seryozha asked to have his best friend, Kolya, adopted. That’s how we started to fill in the papers for all four.

Anatoliy and Lena’s daughters were looking forfard to meeting their new brothers and sisters. They had prepared presents for them and laid the table beautifully? But as soon as a four-year-old Vlada hugged her new mother, the jealousy boiled up. She’s OUR mother!” said Luba and Luda, declaring their rights to their mother.

“I had to explain to them for quite a long time that they had to learn to share their mother,” he said frowning.

To start with, the “orphans” were keeping to themselves. But as soon as Lyubasha or Luda [the priest’s daughters] asked to see their Grandparents, the “new” members of the family got very interested in joining the sisters.

“We knew that the main thing was not just to see the Grandparents,” stated Elena confidently. “The main issue was that “we are like them so we can do the same then. The children, one by one, stayed at the grandparents and calmed down.”

But there were situations that puzzled both Mum and Dad.

“One of our kids, when we were taking him from the orphanage, had a visa to Italy,” Father Anatoliy is reminiscing. “Would he ever have another chance to go abroad? So we sent him to an Italian family for a month. We met him four weeks later but he didn’t seem to be too pleased to see us. He didn’t want to leave his suitcase with presents anywhere. For days, I couldn’t quite understand what was wrong. Then he suddenly said: “Take me back to my Mum and Dad in Italy.” I explained to him that I wouldn’t keep him if the Italians came back for him. On the contrary, I’d do anything so that his dream came true. The guy waited for a year, was anxious all the time, but there was no news from Italy. And only when other Italians came to Herson and brought them souvenirs to the orphans from the people where they had stayed some time ago, but ours didn’t get a thing, he stopped waiting. Either he was promised something, or simply didn’t understand the interpreter, but this “Italian” story made us worry quite a lot.

Anatoliy’s daughters go to one of the best schools in the area so we started to apply for the places for the adopted children as well. But we found out that Kolya can’t cope with the school’s syllabus so has to go a special school. They decided to help him with his studies. Firstly, it was Dad who helped him, then private tutors. The family has a tradition – whoever ends the academic year well, will get a mobile phone as a present. Kolya has already got one.

Vlada, who is the youngest (she’s 5), was missing her friend, Anya, from the orphanage. The girls visited each other until the family decided to adopt her as well. Started the paperwork and found out that Anya has a 6-year-old brother Yura. In order not to separate them, we adopted both of them.

Bit by bit, it became one big family so the Belozerskiy Local Council has awarded the new big family of father Anatoliy with an official status of a Children’s Community. And immediately after that, the family was accused of not adopting the children from the local area, where they received the financial help. That’s why, soon after that, “local” Vanyushka [-shka/-chka endings in proper nouns are diminutive] appeared in the family. The 6-year old boy hadn’t even had a birth certificate (he used to live with his drinking mother and ran to have something to eat to a nearby village to his auntie’s. When his mother died, it was decided to give him a better kick-start in life.

“Vanya only asked for soup,” Lena is reminiscing. “He didn’t know any other food. Gradually, he started to eat a second course and for quite a while he didn’t touch dessert. He was so unused to the taste of a cake or a pie that only some months later he decided to eat his first piece.

And…immediately, the adoptive parents were reproached for not adopting children from other areas, not from where they live and get financial support.

“I love making pies,” says Father Anatoliy with a smile. “Usually I prepare the dough from the night before, then get up at 5 in the morning and start making buns, strudels, and when the children wake up, their rooms are filled with the smell of fresh bread. However many I bake, there’s never any bread left for dinner.”

“The real help is when a person doesn’t need help.”

“ Every time I when I start the legal process of adopting yet another child, they ask me apprehensively whether I’m going to force children to pray and fast,” Father Anatoliy is saying. “I don’t consider fasting an integral part of the orthodox religion as it does not form the basis of church statutes and customs. But the kids must be aware of this tradition.”

Not so long ago, Father Anatoliy, after having worked for 13 years as a priest, left the church to build “the internal temple.”

“I’m needed here more now, at home,” he explains. “To save one soul is actually the same as to build a temple. Man IS a temple, but made out of flesh and blood. Sometimes you walk into a church, so what? You can guild the domes of the church, but gossip, rebuking and jealousy will remain under its roof. I’m creating our little temple where in each one of them there’s happiness and peace. And the actual help is to create a situation where a person no longer needs it.”

Sometimes helping someone is very hard. Little Lubochka [diminuative of Luba] – is an extremely talented and musical child but she was only interested in playing the piano for a month. Father Anatoliy patiently sat down with her and they played the scales, five minutes today, ten minutes tomorrow. Soon Luba started to improve and she loved the instrument, the notes and the lessons, too.

Though the parents have noticed that all the “state” children have a very similar streak in them: they are a little lazy and aren’t used to working hard because they fulfil society’s expectations of orphans.

“One of our girls, having come back from school, complained that: “One of the older pupils is going to the pioneer’s camp, “Artek”, so why aren’t we going?” says their mother Lena. “But why should YOU go?” I say with surprise. “But we are orphans!” To which my reply is: “You have both Mum and Dad so why are you calling yourselves orphans?”

“I walk into a room and it’s untidy – felt-tips are lying where they shouldn’t – so we start to tidy up,” Father Anatoliy is sharing his pedagogical experience with us. “You shouldn’t allow chaos into your home. How can you explain to others that everything’s around us is a sort of home, too, so whatever you make it to be, that’s what it’ll be. If half a million population of Herson took 10 children into their family, then the orphanages here would close down! Only ten children! ..I don’t quite understand why it doesn’t happen!..

The status of the Children’s Community that Father Anatoliy has obtained allows him to take one more orphaned child. He started the legal process of adoption but it turned out that this girl also had a sister. They had to adopt two of them. This is not a problem for the family but it is one for the red-tape officials as financing of the eleventh child in such cases isn’t allowed. Lena and Anatoliy offered to take on the “extra” girl and bring her up without any financial help from the local government.

Alas, the situation has been looked into by both the officials of the Ministry and local officials, and it was concluded that they couldn’t get any financial help by law.

“The two girls aren’t aware of this and are counting days waiting for us to pick them up,” Lena sighs. “The problem is that in the girl’s medical book, it says that the girl has enuresis. With such a diagnosis noone wants to adopt them and the girl is destined not to ever be adopted. Maybe you can help us in any way?” she said.

“I tried but everywhere I asked I was told the same thing – no financial help was provided by law. We have strange laws here, we do!”

“They are humiliating people,” agrees Father Anatoliy. “We are used to living in humiliation. We need to suffer. If you are weak, you’ll give up. But we won’t give up, believe me! I don’t know how but we’ll adopt those girls because we promised them.

My interviewee confessed that he’s already ordered a huge 3-metre oak dining table at a local furniture factory with those in mind who aren’t supposed to get any financial help by law!

Many of the kids that got into the house of the Herson priest have their own Grandmas, Granddads, Mums and Dads, but the children think of them very rarely. Sometimes, the relatives do visit the children though.

“One of our girls, when helping Lena in the kitchen, keeps saying: “My Mom also does it in this way,” says Father Anatoliy. “I don’t stop to repeat that “if your parents come to take you back, we’ll be quite happy for you. You are here only because you life has worked out like this… One of my parishioners has been looking after two orphans at the weekends but hasn’t had the guts to adopt them as their biological mother comes to visit them. But why should this matter that the mother visits them? She gave birth to them! And if she made a mistake today, you should be the first one to offer them a helping hand. By supporting her, you are helping her children. If you do not have such a feeling, then you should not be taking these children even for half a day as it fools them. You are only traumatising them. Neither you, nor they have that inner peace. This is a sin.

I was leaving the warm and happy home of a young priest with a wonderful feeling that I should immediately leave work, go to an orphanage, grab a bunch of kids and start bringing them up. It seems so easy to find peace and happiness. So simple, only if…

And as if the words of Father Anatoliy were pursuing me: “None of this “if only…” business! You want to do it? Then do it!”

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