Sunday, March 31, 2013

Monday March 31, 2003 - Pictures in an album

Natalie has a runny nose today (again) so nurse Ratchet won’t let her go outside (45-50 degree weather) and enjoy the sun. The sanitation inspectors are here visiting today, so we won’t get to mingle with her groupa or go into their privet room. We are told to keep quiet about all of our special treatment and mixing with the children from yesterday. 

We present nurse Natasha with some cute clothes for our Natalie to wear. She is adorable. During our two-hour morning visit, it’s back to Marin’s room for playtime. Georgiy is in the hallway talking someone’s ear off while we play. Her favorite type of activity is taking apart and putting away anything. Kris is always thinking. She has thoughts to get some pictures developed here and to add them to Natalie’s photo album of our family. This is the first time I’ve tried writing while during out time together. Natalie seems to be doing better the less we smother her. 

She is not much into coloring. She loves to dump out the crayons, turn the page, watch us color, gather up the crayons, and then put the back into the box. She extremely meticulous and finds comfort in the order of things. It’s so wonderful to see her search our eyes for responses.

We visit the same café for lunch (dinner) enjoying liver and onions. If you think that’s bad, Kris Coca-Cola Light, fish from the Azor Sea, and ice cream.  “Dinner” was a bit more expensive today!  $8.00 USD for the 4 of us. We visit our typical Internet café, and keep in touch with our family and friends. Though the laptop is heavy, we are so glad to have it.  It gives us instantly developed pictures to view and more computer storage memory than we need.

We headed back to the orphanage.  During our 9th visit, we were able to insert our newly developed print of Natalie into her little album.  Now, she can view herself as one of our family.  She continually surprised us with a gasp or excitement and raising of her eyebrows.  Every time something catches her eye, she is excited, or surprised herself. Her eyes are so bright and pleasant, words cannot describe the shear joy she transmits with her facial expressions.

It is this communication that keeps us spell bound. She is intelligent and even verbally responsive to her caretakers. However, to us, there are very few words. Natalie is enjoying her sudden rise to fame amongst her fellow orphans. She knows that we represent something special for her. Each time we meet, she is so happy to come to us. We have broken the bribery barrier by giving her sweet crackers at this visit. It’s almost unfair, because these children could easily be tempted by any food much less sweets.

Our treats to her are few and controlled. They have added to the simple pleasure that she is so grateful to receive. Each time I engage in a playful game of teasing her about taking some of her crackers, she shows her wit more and more. She is quite the teaser herself and loves to play back. She has now elevated (with my help) the game to the point of me tackling her, and she refusing to clean up anything. She is laughing and giggling very loud, and lets me smoother her. She is now extremely ornery, and not listening at all.

 She is displaying 100% normal 3 years old behavior. 

It is not frustrating, but rather refreshing to see. I finally squeeze her against the wall, while starting to pick up her last spilled puzzle. Almost ignoring her, she cannot resist to help me finish putting it away. She is still feeling wild, but is confronted by Kris’s firm voice and another cracker. In a flash, our previous Natalie is returns. 

Sasha enters the neighboring room and she gasps, and grabs her new yellow coat. (Thinking that she is now leaving for??? something other than here!) She can hardly walk while holding her new hat, coat, album and doll. She is on the top of the world! (And so are we) However, we are still guarded, we have many obstacles to overcome. 

Our stay in Lugansk is starting to seem long. Tomorrow is our 6th day, and we don’t have a court date set yet.

We go to the market again for dinner/supper, and home to cook. Natalie has given her cold to Kris and she is quite run down. Kris wants pizza tonight, and so we try Ukrainian frozen pizza. 

Sounds good…Huh! 

Time for my prayer, daily refection and to bed I go.


Sasha (our driver), let me describe him to you. 1st of all, he always gets the closest parking spot! He usually parks on the sidewalks! It is so funny. I think I have figured out that honking here in Lugansk is a friendly gesture. Sasha is very concerned for our safety and comfort. Right now he is accompanying Clarke while Clarke is taking some photos of some bricklayers. Sasha has a wife and 2 sons. He would like to move to Texas for 2 years to be a truck driver. He wants to earn enough money for his family back in Ukraine. 

This country is very poor and has no opportunity. You really can’t make a living by doing an honest days work. There is so much ”black” market stuff that dollars for is about 3 years ago. He is friends with a man from USA, Leroy is his name.  Leroy does missionary work in Ukraine. We actually had a chance to meet him when we were at the market. Sasha had a brain tumor a couple of years ago and Leroy paid for him to have it removed! What a miracle. 

Woke up all stuffed up! I think I am sick from spending so much time at the orphanage. 

I think it is ground hog day again!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sunday March 30, 2003 - Natalie stealing our hearts

Our first outing with little Natalie - March 30, 2003
I have retreated to our bedroom and am laughing because our hosts are rubbing vodka on the outside of Kris’ nose to help her from sneezing. Our day (Sunday) was good because we were able to take Natalie out for the first time. Nurse Natasha, Georgiy and Sasha joined us. This and 5 thousand flea market shoppers kept Natalie at bay. She won’t even mutter a word in Russian. Nurse Natasha is very much in command, so we only buy necessities before returning to the orphanage. The other reason for our outing is to take passport pictures, and she quietly complies. We return to the market without both Nurse Natasha and Natalie to finish our shopping. Sasha burst out ‘Karumba Mama” as we bargain for another purchase.

There are so many people I want to photograph, but almost all decline when I respectfully ask. Id like to take a picture of bag lady selling her fiber reinforced plastic bags, which everyone seems to have. She smiles, and we flashed with gold galore. She patiently holds her sixty or more bags in the middle of the crowd of people, till a passer by (like ourselves) forks out the equivalent of $1.00 USD for a bag. We’d also like to photograph our potato lady who sits on the same corner every day with about 4 bushels of potatoes for sale. She looks like she’s trying out for a role in the next “Oliver” movie. We’ve not seen one customer in 5 days with perhaps 30 passes. We pass by at about 30 miles an hour, just feet from the curb.

We wish we could photograph all of the people with their strange jobs. There is the lady who by the Xerox copy machine to help you make a copy. There is the KGB grocery store police who look so fiercely important talking some special walkie-talkie code to each other. There are orphanage workers who would all make for a wonderful picture. These old ladies labor so hard to carry their metal buckets for cleaning and feeding. All of the women are clad in multiple layers of wool and cotton. But finally, covered in a white cloth apron. Much of their cloths are tattered as bad as the children’s clothes. There are also the opposite extremes of black leather with bright red hair, leopard skin collars, and high heel 3.5 inches tall! The experience are all so rich we want to take them all in at once and not forget what we see.
Sasha, Kris and George in front of the orphanage
Natasha the nurse spent most of her life immediately across from Alaska in Eastern Russia. She has noticed our photos of snow in Natalie’s album that we have given to Natalie and wants to hare with us some picture books fro hr life near the wildlife preserve. The books smell of mold, but we take them anyway to show our interest. Kris can’t stop sneezing and sniffing since we took these books. We’ll have to return them immediately tomorrow. Meanwhile, we have spoken to Amanda and Alex twice since our arrival in Lugansk. This has helped our feelings of being homesick. The Internet has become vital to our staying in touch with our friends and family. We are so happy to have brought our laptop for the sake of viewing pictures. Everyday we return to the flat to organize our thoughts and review for the day’s pictures.

Tomorrow we will receive important news about the acceptance of our petition to adopt at the NAC. It is interesting to note how upset Valery was with Georgiy for allowing a mistake on our request. Humorously, the local typewriter (not having Ukrainian alphabet) causes the mistake he is referring to. The error was noted, stamped and justified, but may still be rejected y the National Adoption Center in Kyiv.

Natalie and Kris - it was so bright out for Natalie
I have not had a lot of time to write lately. Today we were late for picking up Natalie for our shopping trip. We did not know it was daylight savings time. The caretakers said Natalie cried when we didn’t show up.

Georgiy gave me a little history lesson this morning on Russia. It was very interesting! He loves life and lives it to the fullest! He is very deep in his thoughts and expresses them clearly.

When we arrived at the orphanage, Natalie was all bundled up. She was ready to go shopping! In a little car we all squeezed in; Clarke, Georgiy, Sasha, Natalie, Nurse Natasha and my self. It was a very tight fit! We drove 1st to get her passport pictures taken. Then, we went to an open market shop (kind of like a flea market). They had a lot of cute clothes for her! It was fun to pick, although Nurse Natasha definitely wanted her say. That’s ok though, I think she will miss Natalie. Natalie was very quiet with so many adults and so much action and attention. We took her back by noon. 

You are my sunshine
Then Sasha drove us back to the market, because I wanted to shop without Natalie and Nurse Natasha. We picked out several outfits for the trip home. Natalie will come with nothing, so we have to bring the new clothes to her. We bought 2 pairs of shoes, 3dresses, underwear, tights and some turtlenecks. Then, we went to a very fancy restaurant. The food was ok, but a little greasy. 

After lunch, Sasha took us back to the orphanage. We had purchased some fruit for the Groupa. It was so joyful to watch the kids eat fruit like it was the sweetest thing ever! 

It was one of the best feelings I have had on this trip! 

I wanted to bring all of the kids home! All the children are so cute and of course, I think Natalie is the cutest. She is the tallest in her groupa.  She is very quiet with all hr friends. The other kids were saying “banana” after I would say it and “orange” and apple.” It was very precious!

For our visit with Natalie, we were able to take her out de for a change. It was very muddy, but we found a dry wooden platform to play on. She was very shy around Georgiy and Sasha. After the two of them left, she was still very quiet and shy and did not want to interact and play ball with us. Clarke and I did not pay much attention to her and played our own game. We have figured out that if you concentrate 100% on Natalie, that she goes into a shell.  She has to be the one to initiate the interaction. After a while, she started to warm up to our game of ball. We gave her a cookie and she would not take it. We set it besides her and eventually she grabbed it and put it in her pocket. Then, after a while, she ate it. After about 15 minutes of her being shy and quiet, she started to open up. We played bubbles, ball, ate Starbursts and cookies! She is already testing our boundaries. She tries to go for my purse to get another cookie. We say “nyet” and she looks and then listens very well! She still tries to get to it when she thinks we are not looking, she is very smart.

Worlds collide
Natalie, not only stealing candy, but our hearts.

After our visit at the orphanage we went to the Internet café to do our emails. I think I am starting to get a cold. After our time at the café, we head back to the flat. 

Nikoli gave me some vodka to make my sneezing stop. I told him I did not want to drink the vodka! He said I was to rub it on the outside of my nose. I obliged, although it did not help. I tried to act like it did to make them feel good.


Natalie and her friends from her group
Little Luba
Natalie was proud to bring her friends fruit


Natalie's Groupa enjoyed fruit for dinner, what it treat it was.

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 29, 2003 Ground hog day

Natalie Anne Stoesz 3 yrs old

Ground hog day again.  We rise, shower, eat and zip off as if in a go-cart race.  We arrive at the orphanage cramped, having picked up two more passengers on the way.  It is the director’s husband and their granddaughter.  He reeks of alcohol.  It is probably from the night before and quite acceptable here.  Today we have our fourth and fifth visits with Natalie.  Our routine is almost the same, with new variations and improvements each day.  Our Russian is more than laughable but not enough to get thru to Natalie.  She understands and is understood, but seldom speaks.  Kris and I are quite confident that this will be overcome in time.  We say our good-byes and notice that she is reluctant to join her groupa.  Still, our hugs are a bit forced, but getting better each time.

I think we are speaking to her in a language far greater than Russian. 

Afterwards, we go shopping and chuckle at the 11 people standing behind the deli counter.  Funnier still are the four KGB looking guards speaking to each other on walki-talkies in a grocery store the size of a tiny Walgreens’s store.

When we arrive back at the flat, Nikoli and Nadia’s granddaughter is there for a visit.  She is so sweet and is eating up every ounce of affection we give her.  With both of her parents working in Moscow since she was 2, this seven year old is cared for by two sets of grandparents.  Her care is good, but she responds as though a bit deprived from “play-full” attention.  I’m’ not sure who is getting better therapy, the gran-daughter or Kris, who gobbles up the hugs and kisses from Ira.

With 3 pigs singing, “who let the dogs out?"Shrek (being viewed on the laptop)
is almost over and it’s my bed time.

Our host family, Nikoli & Nadia along with George and Inna

Points of peculiarity:
Lugansk is a city with a façade.  On the outside you mostly see the stress of time and the elements.  To the passer by, it seems as though all is bleak and run down.  On the inside, you will find well-maintained and presentable flats.  They are dated in their décor and present with a different style from a previous era.  The people are the same, outwardly showing like a bag lady, but beautiful on the inside.  Some are selling potatoes, seeds, or bread on the street corner, but can smile and show gold from ear to ear.  Not to say it’s easy to get the people to smile.

If they could eat ideology, they’d all be fat.  

They are a troubled nation, with a rich history of rulers and war.  They have the gift of natural resources far above any other nation its size (speaking specifically of Ukraine now)  and cannot capitalize on it.  Their leaders are somewhat the same as before perestroika in their expectations of receiving personal gain.  Therefore, the black market thrives as a larger part of their economy.

The pitfalls of this society lies in wanting a great leader to pull them up, when no honest ones are to be found.  It is amazing to me that they continue to allow so few people to have too much power.  It is a plan destined to fail to greed.  Their parliament is corrupt with the good-ole-boy mentality lining each other’s pockets, instead of allowing the free market to drive and motivate the economic machine.......... or so it seems from what we learn through Georgiy.

We are waiting to meet Natalie for the 4th time.  We saw her yesterday and spent about 45 minutes with her in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon.  We first met/saw her in Inna’s office.  She is very shy!  They told us about her past medical history.  Galena, the doctor, told us what they knew about her.  Natalie has been at the orphanage since September 25, 2002.  She was actually dropped off by her grandmother at the hospital because she was very sick.  Natalie spent  2 months in the hospital before she arrived at the orphanage.  She was sick with pneumonia and had rickets.  Once Natalie arrived at the orphanage, she was in good health.  At birth, Natalie weighed 3 kilos which is about 
6 1/2 pounds.  She is normal on the growth charts; 75% height and 50% weight.

When we played with Natalie yesterday, 
she was very quiet, 
but has happy eyes and a nice smile that warms your heart. 

The 2nd time we met with Natalie, she started to warm up a little.  She is very quiet.  They say that she is melancholy and gets tired quickly.  I did not think she was “melancholy” as the meaning I know.  She loved the doll we gave her.  Such a simple doll we bought in Kyiv.  When we purchased it, we did not realize on the back is a button to push and it talks.  The doll says “mama”, "papa” and laughs and cries.  When Natalie saw the doll, she was so excited!  It put a huge smile on her face.  We played blocks and looked at books.  She likes to see our reaction to everything.  Natalie points in a book or at a picture and we say what the picture is.  

She makes the cutest faces; with her mouth open and her eyes so big! 

Bubble Time

Now we are sitting here waiting for our next visit.  We brought bubbles (From Amy’s wedding) a bouncy ball and balloons from Julia Weston.  We hope to have fun with these new simple toys.

We spent a lot of time with Natalie today as well.  She likes to test her boundaries with us.  She enjoys taking out stuff and putting all the stuff back in its place  Puzzle out of the box, puzzle in the box; she is an organizer!  She starts out only getting one toy at a time, then, by the end of our visit, she will get out all the toys.  Then we put them away.  That’s what we do; take out and put away, take out and put away.  

Today nurse Natasha measured Natalie.  We will get o take Natalie out shopping tomorrow.  It is probably her first time out of the orphanage since she arrived.  We enjoy her very much!

Nurse Natasha measuring up Miss Natalie

The city of Lugansk; it is a very gray, dirty, depressing looking city.  It sometimes looks deserted; like maybe after a bombing.  The facades of the buildings are worn and old and not maintained.  The steps up to the buildings are falling apart and the stucco and bricks on the sides are falling apart.  

The “flat” we are staying at looks like something you would see in lower downtown Denver in the
warehouse district and ready to be torn down.  The staircase up the 3rd floor flat is cold, dark and smelly.  The flats are very small but adequate.  The city has no street signs and I always get lost.  It is a good thing we are not driving.  The language looks and sounds so foreign to me.  The streets are filled with many bumps, potholes, water and mud, it seems there are no efforts to maintain the streets. Our driver, Sasha, has to maneuver to miss as many holes as possible, and he does a darn good job at that!  I think I have only seen 1 gas station so far and Sasha’s gas tank is always on empty.

I hope we can go back to the Internet Cafe soon to receive emails from home! I am so home sick right now.  I need to have connections with Amanda and Alex.  I miss them so very much.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28, 2003 ...time with Natalie


Though we are situated in the largest ghetto we’ve ever seen,(entire city of 1/2 million), our interior flat is very nicely furnished.   There are ornate rugs hanging on the walls and spread across the floors.  All the concrete walls are covered in thick velvet like wallpaper of floral patterns.  Evidence is everywhere that things are cared for.  It is obvious that when something breaks around here, it doesn’t get fixed.  It is nice to graduate to cleanliness in our bathroom situation, and even standing up in the shower.  WE have timed our showers when the city has allocated water to be turned on .  Yesterday the water was turned of for the entire day because some official was in town for a visit.  We are amazed at the influence of one official on ½ million lives.

George and Sasha conducting business on our behalf.
Today we leave at 8:30 am to continue our paperwork chasing and to visit Natalie.  Yesterday we initiated our change of name from Natalya to Natalie on our first what seems to be an endless trail for stamped and approved documents.  Breakfast is awkward, as expected, but George, Nikoli and Nadia have already eaten.  (That’s good since the kitchen is about the size of our bathroom at home.)  It’s off to the orphanage and to present more gifts.  The doctors, Marina and Galena, get an “expensive” box of chocolates and the director gets a $120.00 Hrynia phone card.  Take note that the average income here is $600 hryvnia per month.

Our drive through town is like a U2 video, a bombed out rubble filled military zone.  We are grateful for our driver, Sasha, who is a happy man with pleasant blue eyes.  He speaks little English, but shares with us a pile of photos mixed with wrinkled and folded reference letters for the USA.  Splashing through potholes of mud and ice, it is a relief to arrive.  I unfold my legs and stand up from his low and compact little car.  Everywhere you look there are little old women and men shuffling about with their wool attire and bags of whatever.  Some are carrying homemade brooms of sticks, branches and strings.  Others are wheeling sacks of potatoes to sell on the street.  The people are tenacious for preserving.  When many of them smile, we are shown more gold than we posses in our jewelry box at home.

Entering the orphanage, we are ushered to our small meeting/play room, where we will again spend time with Natalie.  They take longer than normal in drawing blood for blood work, so we can’t see her in the morning, but instead go to sign our petition to adopt with the NAC and have it notarized. 

Texas Express Grill - Lugansk, Ukraine
The afternoon slips by quickly with lunch at the way too funny and out of place “Texas Express” grill.

Soon after we try our luck at the Internet Cafe, but are disappointed that we can not read our emails but only send a few.  Another visit to the "Administration" and we sit again in the car while George "makes paperwork".

The 4:00 O'clock hour is nearing and we are anxious to see Natalie. We were asked today the official name for Natalie so we gave her the name:

Natalie Anne Stoesz

Our evening visit is 3 hours long till the hour of 7:00 pm.  By the end, Natalie is teasing us by pulling everything out of the cupboard one by one.  She spreads everything onto the floor and most of the time takes great joy in putting everything back very neatly.  Natalie is starting to play with more vigor.  We engage in a game of cat and mouse and I start tickling her.  Her laughter is soft and sweet.  It seems a bit late for supper, but it is finally 7:00 pm and she must go join her “groupa” for supper.

Natalie's bright eyes and looking for our reaction! 

I only say “finally” because our visitation room is small and we have been through every toy eight times.  We can’t wait to take her out into our world.

Orphans starving for attention and love
As we walk her to her group room, and not because she doesn’t know her way around this complex by herself, we are greeted by a mob of grimy, scratched, messy, bundled and layered, anxious little orphans about 3-4 years old.

They are all deprived of special attention, and begin almost clawing at me crying “Dya-Dya” which means “uncle.”  The looks on these faces are vacant and abused.  Though we are in a caring place with lots of help, there is no money for anything but the most basic necessities and clothing.  Squabbles among each other are evident by the numerous scratches and facial injuries many of them have.

Natalie is different, with herself usually isolated from the others.  She is commanded in Russian to put her doll and photo album away in the other room.  She is still fixated on her book, on us, not watching where she is going and smacks straight into the end of the half open door!  Ouch!  Now she will have a bruise for blending in with all the other kids.

We return to the usual café for potato and cabbage pirogues.  Sasha and George enjoy their fish and seaweed salad.  The interior is stark and clean, it presents well, but something is clearly missing.  It is a walk up style buffet with baked goods, ready to eat food and some dairy products.  Behind the counter, there is beer, vodka, chocolates and coffee.  The merchandise is not stocked, but rather displayed as thought it was fine jewelry, two small boxes set at an angle on a four-foot glass shelf.  The prices of manufactured goods and food are very high and sit for a long time.  The boxes are not dusty, but close examination shows very old price stickers.  Supper for all four of us is under $8.00 USD, inexpensive for us to buy, but very expensive for the locals.

Cafe Lugansk - point and choice cafe
After dinner, we all get into our punee car and zip up the bumpy road to our flat.  Sasha kills his light and motor as he coasts to a stop at the base of our crumbling steps.  I’m not sure if he is trying to imitate a mafia character or showing his economizing behavior in everything that he does.  We head up to our flat.  We first pass through a locked solid steel door.  The inner door is open.  We have forgotten our flashlight, and make our way up the dark stars slowly.  Its great to get past the first two flights of stairs, where the earlier smell of the animal urine was unbearable.  One more solid iron door, and two more solid wood doors and we have passed to apparent safe harbor.  We kick off our shoes, hang up our coats and don’t make it to our room before Nikoli our host is mopping up our smudged seaty sock footprints in the entrance.  We are in time to use the bathroom before the water shut-off time.

Soon we are fast asleep.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 27, 2003 - meeting our sweet Natalie

Once inside the orphanage, we appreciate the better-maintained interior. It is much like the 1940’s institution for government care of people. We are told the ratio of workers to kids 2 to 3, and it shows. 

 Everything is clean and painted. A wonderful smell drifts in from the kitchen, as maids and “babushkas” are scurrying back and forth. We are seated in a large office with Georgiy and Inna, the director. They engage in a discussion, which becomes passionate for both. After about 10-15 minutes of this, we are afforded only a brief 1-minute summary of what is going on. The doctor and psychologist both tell us what they know about her health. We listened attentively and take notes.

Natalie is brought into to see Inna, but she is not aware of who we are. She is too shy to speak to Inna. She is in the 75% for height and 50% for weight in comparison to the U.S. growth charts. We are given a chance to get out a toy from our car before we meet her in private. We are both afraid that we have made the wrong choice in the doll we have brought.  

However, when we meet in the hall, 
Natalie runs toward us and nearly takes the yellow doll from Kris.

10 year old yellow dolly that was Natalie's first toy.
Our visit is a little challenging and awkward for all three of us.  She engages in eye contact and our motions constantly, but she is as quiet as a church mouse.  To break the ice, we make silly faces and gestures, but are feeling quite goofy.   Eventually she opens up to show interest in her doll and blocks we have brought.
One of our first pictures of Natalie

Precious first moments with Natalie.

Having seen no reason to use the only power of control we are given, (a Veto), we feel willing to accept God’s will for our life.

We decline a delay in our decision, and immediately tell Georgiy our desire to adopt. 

 It feels right, and so must be right.  

We have prayed about it, and trust that this is the Lords will.  

We arrived at the orphanage.  After the train ride, I was so wiped and had the worst headache every!  Our driver, Sasha, who met us at the train station, has a very pleasant face and friendly eyes.  We lugged our baggage and squeezed into the car.  We drove into town.  It is so run down and depressing.  What a run down country this is.  Bruce Springsteen would have a lot to write about.  we stopped for champagne and chocolate to give to the director of the orphanage.  

Then we were off!  We were driving in what seemed like all the back alleys and drove up to a building with a blue painted fence.  My head was pounding!  Into the orphanage we went.  We went straight into the director's office.  Inna was an older lady and very over powering.  Inna and Georgiy talked and talked in the harshness that seems like they are yelling at each other.  Georgiy was pleading our paperwork dilemma and I know that he is looking out for our best interest.  

Clarke and I have had it in our hearts for so long to adopt 2 children.  We had the chance to meet our friends the Weston's newly adopted children in Kyiv before we embarked on our trip.  We were so encouraged by that but I guess God has different plans for us.  

Natalie is our gift, and we are very thankful for her!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26, 2003 - the overnight train

At this point in our trip,  I was at a loss for words and taking in the experience.  I am so grateful I have a husband that can document our journey with honesty and truth.  My 2 cents is down at the bottom.


It is another beautiful day, I can see my breath, but am tempted to not wear a coat. We pay our daily phone bill to the tenant at the end of the dark hall. It is as usual, ‘about 20 hryvnia (4.00 US dollars). Breakfast is the same rolls with McDonald’s coffee and OJ. The coffee in Ukraine is more like espresso. It is in small cups and very strong! The only food served during the morning hours at McDonald’s is the regular menu. It still amazes us to see everyone gobbling up fries, Big Macs and Cokes at 9:00 A.M.! Of course, this is none less comical than the business/beer combo at this hour. The routine has become too familiar, almost like ground hog day (the movie). We are both ready for our journey to continue. A strange observation has come over me as I look at the blue sky. 

Our fifth day in a city the size of Denver and I have not noticed a single airplane. I know the airport was small, but it seems as though something is missing. Its not the first time I’ve been searching for the remaining puzzle piece. Valery, for example, is described as “stoic,” but I have a few words of my own for his description. On the surface, he is a Soviet hold-over and a grouch! Deeper down there is much more to this man who seems very perturbed and discontented. As for the people as a whole, I think it must be illegal for anyone in their 30’s or older to be cheerful. Perhaps suppression of religion for so many years cannot be corrected in a short decade of independence from communist rule. 

We receive word from Georgiy that our referral is finalized, but our train is full. 

While Georgiy tries to negotiate a seat on the train, I argue about our hotel cost. Our suspicion is confirmed, the cost is $33.00 US a night and Valery collected $50.00 US a night. In addition, we had to pay one more night than agreed upon. For now, we will keep quiet, and choose our time to bring it up to Georgiy about Valery. Georgiv has news that we will travel tonight, but we will be in separate cabins. Kris and I are worried about being in separate sleeping cars. When Georgiy arrived some 2 hours later to the hotel, we are finally able to confront him of the unacceptable conflict. We are relieved to realize it was only a communication problem. 

We are on the same car in the same cabin, but have to share it with another Ukrainian. Valery picks us up from the hotel and is put-out to wait 2 minutes while I buy some “Mineral vada bez Gaza,” (water without gas). We drag our luggage to his beat up old car and begin to pack the little trunk. 

Valery is an old man who is in a position to show servant hood, but immediately gives up when our large American duffle bag doesn’t fit in his junk filled little trunk. I take charge of the packing, and soon we are off. Thanks be to the Lord that the back windows have cranks on them. Kris and I open the windows quietly so as not to get in trouble and direct our noses at the fresh air coming in. Georgiy and Valery engage in an intense and colorful discussion the entire 30-minute trip to the train depot. We are thankful Georgiy is doing most of the talking. 

Our train is on track 11, car 9 and departs at 6:00 pm to Lugansk. Kris and I look for 9 ¾ and have to chuckle to ourselves (Harry Potter). Once tucked inside, the length of our journey is an un-bearable thought ahead of us. It is almost dark, but the sun has gone out of this land many years ago. We see a few gypsy clans in the woods surrounding a fire as we easy to the east of Kyiv. Countless villages go by, but only a hand-full of homes are lit up. There is evidence that these homes are occupied, but perhaps no electricity, heat or water. The industrial areas we pass all look like Commerce City, Colorado if left for dead for about 20 years. The trees are bare and grasses brown, but moisture sits on the soil, waiting to bring the land to life as spring is around the corner.

Our train companion is a petite little woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s.  Her English is broken, but she asks of our opinion of Ukraine. There is great difficulty in asking the question, not because of the words, but rather because she is embarrassed for her country. Kris and I re-assure her of her beautiful country. We’ve noticed the youth so respectful and polite, always dressing to give a good impression. We cannot say the same of our gen-X-ers of America who ashame us when displaying such grunge and rags in public. She is a technical clerk at an Apoteke (pharmacy) earning about $40.00 US dollars a month. Her trials and struggles are evident on her face. Our conversation ends as Georgiy engages our train companion in another of his stories. His ethusiasm to express himself rages on for 40 minutes no. she is interested and listens, occasionally laughing, but always smiling.

Georgiy is good for these people; his passion seems hard to come by on the surface of the faces visible to us. We are now 3 hours into our 16-hour ride. We have eaten more than we need. We had a weak moment  at the hands of desperate market sales ladies who enticed us to eat and buy cuts of horses, pork, chicken, beef, goat and cow  cheese, nuts, fruit and bread. 

Wow did we really just eat horse? 

Darkness has passed, and we are relieved. The bathrooms are as gross as vividly described by so many who have traveled before us. It is remarkable to us that so may people can exist without daily showers or hygiene that we are so accustomed to back at home. The car we are in is full, and mostly of men. A basketball team is perhaps the reason for which many of them are very tall young men. We are grateful again that our cabin guest was a non-threatening woman, who was not offensive. (ulike almost everyone else in the car would have been in theses stuffy little quarters of sleeping) It is her stop at 6:30 am and she is gone. At last we are traveling in the daylight with the country side  for us to view. Much of the land is covered in snow. 

The landscape is rolling hills of mining country.  There is very little farmland in these parts. Most of the countryside is a mixture of rocky ground like the western side of Grand Junction, Colorado mixed with some evergreens and some deciduous woods. All of the communities are still looking abandoned with ruins everywhere. We pass many manufacturing facilities of metal refiners, most of which have been shut down. Georgiy explains in great detail the tragic details of greed and power struggles, which have brought the nation to ruins. His history telling passes more time and soon we are there. 

Our 15:40 minute train ride is over. 

It is 9:40 am and we feel worse than after our crossing of the Atlantic via airplane. Sasha, a warm and friendly man, greets us. It’s straight to the orphanage after a quick stop to buy the Director some champagne and fine chocolates. The city is thawing after being hit with a snowstorm the day before. 

Our trip to the orphanage leaves us both in shock. We have both been to 3rd world countries, but are not prepared for this city of 300,000 in ruins. The orphanage is tucked away in an older part of town, which is mostly houses on narrow streets, and on an alley of mud and standing water.

Track 11 Car 9 - departing for Lugansk at 6:00 PM

Now we sit on a 16-hourt rain bound for Lugansk. We are in a compartment with 4 bunks. It’s almost 9:00 pm and we have been going for about 3 hours. We have 13 hours left. We went shopping today for toys for Natalie. We ended up buying a doll dressed in yellow and some picture blocks. I cant wait to see her! Ok, whom am I kidding; I am not going to be able to sleep tonight! 

I have huge butterflies!