UKRAINIAN HUMANITARIAN ______INITIATIVE
Charitable Nonprofit Organization
Kiev, 03047 Ukraine phone +38-096-33393
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Sarah Kirbi, 27, United Kingdom
I have wanted to take a trip like this for many years, so it’s a dream come true to be in Ukraine. The children have been so welcoming and clearly very excited to have foreign visitors. I wish I could have stayed longer, to visit more orphanages and work with more kids. The host, Zena, has been perfect – we could not have asked for a better home-stay. It’s 5–Stars! So I hope to be back in Ukraine often and hopefully one day I will adopt from here. It’s a beautiful way to grow a family.
Thank you for everything! Sarah Kirby
Sandy Kost-Sterner, 44, USA
It has been a dream of mine to help children in an orphanage. This program allowed me the opportunity to achieve this dream and also visit Ukraine and learn about the people and culture. Our host family made the trip even more special. It has been a very rewarding experience for me. Sandy Kost-Sterner
Five children: Katerina, 17, and her brother, Sasha, 13; Lydia, 14; and Svetlana, 11, and her brother, Johnny, 9, have come from orphanages in the Ukraine to live in Barbara’s quaintly gabled, frosting-pink, almost fairy-tale house in Baltimore, MD.
Theirs is an odyssey filled with courage, great faith, and joy and also with heartbreak.
Barbara had longed for children for a long time, but after 20 years of marriage, she and her husband Walt were still childless.
Although she was more than willing to adopt a child, "My husband had a hard time with the idea of adoption", she recalls.
When Walt’s father died in 1991, Barbara, a Catholic, in support of her husband, began to attend his and his father’s orthodox church in Baltimore.
I looked at the altar until my eyes were burning she says. I said, Jesus, please give us a family!
The same year that her father-in-law died, the Iron Curtain crumbled, and the Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union and open to the Western world.
Barbara told Walt, why not to go to the Ukraine to adopt a child, this would be a great thing for your father’s memory I was hoping the Lord would open his heart.
In the church the Gavers met Alex from the Ukraine.
"He was the kind of person for whom anything is possible", says Barbara. "I said, do you think you could help us find a child? He said, no problem!"
In December, 1992, Walt left for the Ukraine to find a child. Barbara, grateful that his reluctance to adopt had thawed, promised him fervently, Whoever you choose, I will love!
The following March, Barbara followed him over to sign adoption papers in Cherkasy, an oblast (similar to an American state) about 2 hours from the capital, Kiev.
Walt, with Alex’s help, had found 2 -year-old Sasha (a nickname for Alexander) in the neighborhood orphanage.
The police had rescued Sasha, then 1 year old, and his 5-year-old sister, Katerina, found locked alone in a run-down house in the cold of winter, with no heat save for the body heat from some animals.
Katrina's mother had died, her father was in jail, and she and Sasha had been left in the care of her stepmother, who drank, beat her with a stick, and often left the two children locked alone in the house for days at a time.
The neighbors had heard cries coming from the house and called the police, who broke down the door and found Katerina holding her tow-headed baby brother in her arms.
The only food in the house was a small barrel of apples.
She was chewing the apples and then feeding them to Sasha, because he was too young to chew them, says Barbara. He was half-dead when the police found them.
Katerina was placed in another orphanage, about 100 miles from Sasha’s orphanage. Barbara wanted to adopt her, and a little girl in Sasha’s orphanage named Lydia as well.
The authorities would let her and Walt have Sasha because he was a special needs child, but not the two girls.
The superintendent in charge warned her, You had better take Sasha while you can, because our country is in political turmoil, and the adoption laws are going to change soon. Come back in a year for Katerina and Lydia, she advised.
So Sasha, this little pumpkin Barbara calls him affectionately arrived in America on April 30, 1993.
In 1994, Barbara was ready to go back for Katerina and Lydia, but that year, she went through the shattering experience of splitting up with her husband.
She underwent a deep conversion experience she says. I got down on my knees. I said, Jesus, I need a husband; will you marry me? (Barbara said it with a smile).
He said, You can cry for a week, but then you need to go back and get Katerina and Lydia I said, How can I do this? I’m a single mom, and I don’t know the language.
Despite her qualms, Barbara tried to go to the Ukraine that year, but because there was changing in the adoption process, the government banned all adoptions. The ban was not lifted until 1997.
"On December 14, 1997, I was on a plane to the Ukraine", says Barbara.
With the help of her old friend, Alex, who acted as an interpreter, Barbara shuttled back and forth between Katrina's orphanage in and Lydia's orphanage. She met Katerina for the first time in the orphanage library.
"Not able to communicate with words", says Barbara, "I hugged her. I felt her hug me back just a little bit. I thought, Oh, what a beautiful child! Is there hope here? Will she love me?"
Barbara had to go through a separate court hearing, in different courts, for each girl. During the long process, she and the two girls often stayed in Alex two-bedroom apartment, along with his two children.
After the judges ruled in her favor, Barbara, Katerina and Lydia traveled by train from Kiev to the American embassy in Warsaw, Poland, to get the girl’s immigrant visas.
At the Polish border, they watched in fascination as their train was jacked up beneath them and new wheels put on to fit the different-sized rails in Poland.
Frustration awaited them in Warsaw. During the time Barbara had been in the Ukraine, the U.S. regulations had changed.
The authorities at the embassy would not accept Barbara’s bank statements as proof of income; they now required her tax returns for the last three years.
Barbara’s long-distance attempts to get her returns faxed over failed.
Alex had to take the kids back to the orphanages. I came back to the U.S., my senator had to write a letter to the embassy, and I faxed all my returns over.
Barbara went back in March. On May 3, 1998, Katerina and Lydia finally arrived in America.
On the same day, our cat had three kittens, says Barbara with a grin. Each child had a kitten. This was a real icebreaker!
Even when she left the Ukraine, though, Barbara knew that she would come back.
I felt that Jesus had a plan for me, she explains.
She thought that that plan was to adopt Lydia’s older sister, Oksana, and brother, Andri.
But by the time she got there in 2002, Oksana had run away from the orphanage.
Lydia’s 15-year-old brother, Andri, was still there.
But the orphanage director had delayed to register him on the national databank, effectively blocking his adoption. Director's negligence unenabled his adoption, says Barbara.
She was disappointed and confused. I said, Jesus, I thought you wanted me to adopt Lydia's brother and sister. But, I said, your will be done.
Alex took her back to Katherine’s orphanage, where she met Johnny and his sister, Svetlana.
Both children were suffering from rickets, due to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies in their diets.
At the orphanage, they didn’t get milk or juices. They gave us tea and water, says Johnny. They gave me fish with bones in them. I choked on them. I had to go to the hospital. We were fighting a lot with the other kids. I’m glad I'm out of there.
The adoption process went more smoothly this time. I said more Rosaries when I was over there! exclaims Barbara.
She brought Johnny and Svetlana (she shortened her name to Lana) back to the U.S. on August 3, 2002.
Lana and Johnny attend a School in Hamilton.
Katrina’s schooling in the Ukraine had been sketchy, says Barbara. She had only three years of schooling, and missed a lot of time due to illness. In America, however, she caught on quickly; she was very bright.
Barbara placed her at the school, where she began in the sixth grade. Academically, the school was good, says Barbara, But I didn’t like the moral influence of some of the kids in her group.
Katerina transferred to Baltimore Lutheran, where she is on partial scholarship. Her brother Sasha goes to St. Elizabeth’s, a school for children with special needs.
He may have only a second grade reading level, but he is virtuous; he is very devout in church, says Barbara.
Every night, Sasha and I would pray for a reunion with Katerina. I consecrated him to Christ in Mary. I have consecrated all of them, but mostly him.
Lydia began at Mt. Washington School. She picked up the language so fast, they bumped her from the first grade to the third. But she had no first or second grade concepts; she couldn’t handle the work says Barbara. Lydia was hospitalized for severe illness. She has undergone many hospitalizations, and has been treated with different medications. For the past year, she has been institutionalized at Good Shepherd School, where Barbara is allowed to visit her twice a week.
After much heartfelt prayer, Barbara was recently elated to receive a warm and affectionate letter for Lydia from her sister, Oksana. We have been trying to contact her for six years says Barbara.
When she took the letter and enclosed photos to Lydia, she smiled like I haven’t seen her smile for a long time Barbara recalls happily.
Barbara hopes that hearing from her sister will give Lydia a new lease on life. I don’t know if she’ll ever come home, she muses.
I think of St. Monica, how she prayed for her son for 20 years. I don’t know her future. But none of us knows our future.