|Barbara A.Gaver, Baltimore, MD, USA
The article from "The Baltimore Sun", Baltimore, Maryland
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,
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"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 for older children, about 100 miles from Sasha’s orphanage for babies. 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", officer 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 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
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
local clerk had delayed to register him on the national
databank, effectively blocking his adoption. Bureaucrat'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
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,
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.
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.