The Ukraine is a country bordering Russia in Eastern Europe, geographically, the largest country within Europe. The Ukraine has survived many wars, including German occupation during World Wars 1 and 2. Today it is still at war with Russia, fighting over the Crimean Peninsula regularly makes headlines on evening newscasts.
Families in the United States adopt children from the Ukraine each year. Since 1999, 10,847 children have moved to the United States.
Recently, I spoke with Joan and Tatiana Levenar, mother and daughter, about their Ukraine experiences.
In 2006 Howard and Joan Levenar applied to adopt a child from the Ukraine. The paperwork was “tough” according to Joan. The couple had to wait a year afterward to be “invited” to come to the former Soviet Bloc country.
When Joan and Howard arrived, they were allowed to look at books with children’s photos in an orphanage. The first picture Joan saw was Tatiana’s, who was ten years old. On the back was her younger brother’s picture, Michael, aged five, who was living in a separate orphanage.
Tatiana was called by the head administrator, a rough woman, to meet the Levenars. “Some people want to adopt you.” Tatiana remembers, “That was the best feeling I ever felt.”
Tatiana’s biological mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol. She had several children by different men, leaving them in the care of her own mother, Tatiana’s grandmother. When the grandmother passed away, Tatiana recalls, “My mother was there, but she chose not to keep me. She gave us to the government. In the orphanage there were days when I didn’t feel loved, my own family didn’t want me. I felt like no one wanted me.”
Joan and Howard spent six weeks in the Ukraine. They went back and forth between orphanages visiting with both Tatiana and Michael. Wherever they went they were asked to pay in U.S. dollars for every little service, even taking gifts. In court, Tatiana was required to state whether or not she agreed to go with the Levenars to the United States. Michael too had to agree.
Tatiana’s overbearing orphanage caretaker told her, “Don’t go to America; they’re going to kill you there.”
The final ten days of their stay were allotted to the birth mother to be given an opportunity to change her mind and keep the children. She never did. But Joan found the experience horrifying stating, “I knew they were mine, but I couldn’t have them.”
The Levenars purchased new clothing for their children, who were required to strip off every article of orphanage wear, even the underwear, leaving it behind for other children.
In 2007 Tatiana and Michael Levenar arrived in their new home.
Joan warns other prospective parents, “Be prepared for a culture shock. You don’t appreciate our country until you go overseas. There wasn’t even running water in the areas outside Kiev. Water was still being drawn up from a well. Horses were the transportation. The orphanages had mold all over. We went to the U.S. embassy while in the Ukraine. I cried when I saw the United States flag.”
Tatiana has excelled. She is a graduate of Jensen Beach High School. An all “A” student, she now holds a job and is enrolled at the Police Academy at Indian River State College. Her goal is to be a Sheriff’s Deputy.
Tatiana is not like other young people her age. She has known suffering as a child. Like all the children in orphanages and without permanent homes they were starved for love and attention. Tatiana has gotten beyond her past. She says, “I am blessed.” In her mind, belonging to the Levenars was like “being born again.” She appreciates and loves her mother and her father, Howard, now deceased.
To other children, Tatiana says this, “Don’t ever give up hope.” Tears ran out of her eyes. Joan’s too. God heard that little girl’s cry.
Contact Kelly Jadon at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(C) 2018 Kelly Jadon