This is the beginning of a journey into real life. This is the beginning of a new long chapter. This is the beginning to all happy endings through my life that made my life worth living.
Three years had passed quickly since the day I was born. My mom hasn’t visited me once during those three years of my life the most important years of any child development. Not only my mom hadn’t been coming to visit me but the moms of many other babies in the hospital have stopped coming to see their babies grow. The hearts of the workers in that hospital were broken. But, moms didn’t care. Neither my mom cared much. Maybe poisonous alcohol drinks closed her mind for thinking, and her heart for love? But this is reality. After three years of being in the hospital I was sent from that hospital to a place nearby my city where the government keeps all parentless babies until they are 6 or 7 years old. Nothing much can be said about this part of my life. However, I have a feeling that during that time my mom visited me. I have this feeling that she held me in her arms, but I don’t know for sure if she had ever visited me where she left me. As the time passed by, when I was seven in August of 1986 I was sent to the orphanage school. This is the place I am grateful for. This is the place that I am in debt to. This is the place I will always remember.
As I think about this orphanage on Fastivska Street, memories of my childhood come to life. This orphanage was an old school that had two three-story buildings surrounded with gardens, play grounds and fields around. When I visited this school 10 years after my graduation from the University in Chernivtsi, nothing much had changed. This was an indication of how much really our government cared about this school and kids in it as well. I really hope that one day I will be able to contribute into that school for those little kids and not to our government. I know that there were many donations made by different people for that school, but the school hasn’t received them, because our government is not honest sometimes even with those poor, little orphans.
It is not my intention to slander against our government but this is my position to share my memories about the conditions that I grew up in.
The school was built so it had two big buildings. One was for educational and recreational purposes; the other was for our bed time and fun, like watching TV, playing, etc. While growing in the orphanage I noticed buildings would get fixed, painted, and cleaned.
The outside gardens and open fields were usually cleaned and maintained by orphans and school staff. I was taught everything from picking up the garbage to planting the flowers. I am grateful that life-needed lessons started early. I also was taught how to sew, clean after myself, hand-wash my own socks, pants, and other clothes. I remember that as a little boy when I was going into the 1st and 2nd grades, I had to prepare my own suit for school. I had to wash and to iron my suit, my shirt, and a little white cotton material that I sewed unto my collars.
Besides all of that, we had to do a general cleaning of the entire school once a week on Saturdays. It was called “Subotnik”, a Saturday day. Everything in the school and around the school was being cleaned on that day. In the morning we had to go and make our beds, dust our rooms, wash the floors in our bedrooms and our play rooms, then we had to work outside for a while picking up garbage, sweeping the sidewalks, planting flowers, raking leafs, etc.
The school didn’t just teach us how to clean only, the teachers in it taught us how to read, write, calculate, sing, and be creative. I’ve always succeeded academically and physically. That’s why, as a little boy, I received great rewards for academical, cultural, and physical achievements for the orphanage. I still have some awards (we call them diplomas) that were awarded to me. One of them is for taking the second place in 100 meter running competition in school. Another is for brining my talents into the school’s cultural development. All of it was helping me to become a better man with a better future.
I enjoyed outdoors, but didn’t enjoy much to play soccer. I remember one of my outdoors recreational activities. I call it recreational, because I think I was very creative putting that masterpiece underground house together. Me and my friend went to one of our beautiful gardens with a lot of fruit trees in it, and we dug the hole under one of those trees, covered it with big branches, and, whola, here it was, underground house (or if you will, a den). It was fun building it and living in it. Sometimes we would just go into that garden where we built our house and hide in it. I especially loved times when we had rains because “living” in that house protected us from it. Also, I loved hearing the clutters of the rain on the roof leaves. It always made me go to sleep. It was like hypnosis for me. But, there was no one to sing a Lully-bye for me. These were the times when I started thinking about my mom or someone else, kind enough to sing me a Lully-bye.
There were times when I just wanted to stay outside in the rain. I would generally take my shoes off, take my shirt off, and go outside. It was fun. I also enjoyed looking at the ground and seek for snails. I loved to pick them up and watch how their antennas are poking out. Sometimes they wouldn’t do that “for free”, so I had to sing a little song for them. This is the way it went:
“Ravlik Pavlik, vysun rozhki,
Dam tebe kusok kartoshkii
Esli budet malo,
Translation of that song follows:
“Rarlik Parlik (snails name),
Show your antennas,
I’ll give you a piece of potato.
If that wouldn’t be enough
Then I’ll give you a piece of fat”
For every situation I either had a poem or a saying. Usually if there is a situation we will say a saying and it may be a solution to a problem. One example of those sayings was “If mushrooms grew in your mouth, then you wouldn’t need to go to the forest to gather the mushrooms”. Basically, it says, don’t be lazy bum, just go and do it, because you wouldn’t get it free anyways.
This school also had playgrounds. We had a lot of fun there. I remember this one time I climbed very high on the rocket on that playground. That rocket was built from steel with a roof on it. Since no one I knew of ever climbed on that roof, I’ve decided to be the first one. So I did it. I was on the roof. In few moments, someone yelled that our school principle was approaching. I was so scared that I rushed down from that rocket, reaching a metal step to lean on. I guess I didn’t need to worry about that step much, because the lending on the ground was fast. I fell on the ground and broke my hand. Our director picked me up and took me quickly to the medical room, we called isolator. I spent a few days there, but my hand still continued to hurt at my wrist place when I apply heavy weight on it. From that experience, I’ve learned always to be ready to land safely, even if the danger is near. One day, besides hurting myself by flying from the roof of a rocket, I hurt myself by fire. Well, there is a saying in Ukrainian “Don’t play with fire”. But, I didn’t know this saying at my young age and thus I learned the purpose of this saying by hurting myself with fire. But about this you will read later.
Ukrainian schools have a lot of holidays. Some of you may wish to have as many holidays as Ukraine has, but nah-ah, ain’t it gonna happen any soon. I am so glad that most of my youth years I spent in Ukraine, mainly because of the amount of holidays we have. For some, holidays were another reason to drink vodka or hang out with friends. For others, holidays were the days of rest and fun. As for me, the holidays were days of rest from school and other work. I loved holidays, because I knew it would be fun to do whatever I wanted when my teacher wasn’t around. During the summer we had our summer break for as long as 3 months, usually from the end of May to the end of August. Then, the 1st of September was our first day of school. In Ukraine this day is called a “day of knowledge”. So, this was the only day when you see the best students’ attendance. All other days are not considered knowledge days, because most of young students try to ditch classes. I wasn’t one of them, because I’ve always wanted to gain knowledge. And, my orphanage school was the source of knowledge for me. I liked some classes, but others I hated. However, I’ve never regretted the amount of time I spent at school. Usually after so called “knowledge days” we got a long summer break. When summer break started, usually within a few days, the entire orphanage kids were packed in a few school busses and we went to the camp that was located in a little village called Bayany. (If I was phonetically to spell this village name, it would be spelled as “Buh-ya-nih”). Every summer for as long as I was in the orphanage we went and had a great rest time outside our school. Although this camp didn’t have the greatest facilities for different recreational activities for the orphans, it definitely had the greatest nature fields that we could go to enjoy ourselves. We would lose ourselves in the woods, or swim in the river, or play on the open fields or valleys. We found a lot of things to do while we were in Bayany. Speaking of a river, we went to swim in a little river as my memory tells me called Prut. This river flows through my city Chernivtsi and goes into a big river called Dnipro. We liked to swim in the river, especially under a little bridge ruins, that were left there from aging. No one took care of that bridge that once went over the river. The bridge died, leaving us with some ruins to enjoy. So, we played under the ruins and also jumped from the ruins directly into the water. Since we didn’t have any swimming supplies, such as gurgles or other cool things you would expect your child to have, before going into the water then we had to learn how to swim under the water with no gurgles. However, I was only in my 5th grade, when I’ve learned how to swim on the water. It was my new discovery that prepared me to being a better swimmer today. I still continue to swim with one swimming organization Quac that is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is always fun to go there and swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Especially I liked Thursdays because after swimming we played volleyball at Keith’s house. There was also free pizza and drinks.
So, to go to the camp for summer was a great time. I’ve always enjoyed it and got in trouble sometimes as well. When I saw an opportunity to be without my teacher and enjoy myself, I’ve always used it. Thus it happened, when there was no teacher I started to play with fire. I gathered some woods with my friends and started the fire. We put in the fire different things – plastics, cans, and other junk. I sometimes liked to see an explosion. So, I would find a can filled with some deodorant or other chemical in it, making sure it is still under the pressure, to get the most enjoyable effect out of it, and put it into the fire. A few minutes later I would enjoy “fireworks”. It was so fun, that we continued to discover other ways to play with fire. I knew, that while my teacher was not around, no one else could say anything about my discoveries. So, I continued to discover… At that time, when I and a few other friends set up the fire, we decided that it would be fun to watch the plastic burn. So, we found a broken Hula-hoop and put one end into the fire holding for another end. When I took that hula-hoop out of the fire I saw the fire on one of the end with fire drops falling from melting the hula hoop. So, because of the beauty of the fire from plastic – usually I saw nice blue and yellow colors, I started to give some effect to that view by shaking up and down the hula-hoop, thus causing the drops fly around imitating the fireworks effect. It was scenery great to observe, but wasn’t so great when a few drops fell on my hands. Today I still see a few vivid marks of my childhood years on my fingers, reminding me that I’ve got some experience working with fire. There were some other great fire toys I created. For example, by using only ping-pong balls and the tint foil I was able to create small rockets. I would cut up ping-pong balls, roll a straw out of the foil, fill it up with stripes from the ping-pong balls, and fire the rocket, which would eventually fly all over the place under the smote pressure, creating an illusion of a flying rocket at its start-up stage.
The camp was a great place for sports activities. I guess this was my first place where I’ve learned how to hula the hoop, play soccer, volleyball, and so on. This was my first time when I taught myself how to make the split. Yep, I still can do it. But it didn’t happen over one night that I’ve learned it. I had to be persistent in teaching myself. I’ve learned about the split when I saw one flexible girl, maybe she was a gymnast, showed me a few tricks, and one of them was a split, just like cheerleaders do; on one side, but not a straight split, with two legs facing different directions and your face and body facing the front. Because that little girl showed me a split, where one leg goes in front of you and another leg goes behind you, I’ve only learned how to do that. I wish that I was more persistent learning some other gymnast tricks, then I would be a better athlete today. But ain’t it happened to me. I didn’t become a gymnast because I haven’t had anybody to train me and I didn’t have the money to go to any training sessions. There was the entire process involved here to learn how to do the split. I’ve seen it how it was done, asked to repeat it a few times, then repeated it in my brain how to do it, and then went and tried it. And, Voila! I did it! Wait… not really, I had also to stretch myself. Sometimes when I went to bed I would spread my legs wide and sleep like that, to make sure that I won’t forget how to make the split the next day. After a few practices, I’ve learned how to do a split.
I’ve always applied this principle of learning how to do a split in my other learning experiences. For example at school, I would always watch how the teachers teach. If I was confused, I would ask my teacher to repeat it either during the class or after the class, when we did our homework. By the way, we always did our homework some time between 5 and 6pm as a group. We would spend an hour in the class doing the homework. After the teacher repeated the material I didn’t understand, I would try to remember it, and later apply it to my homework. Thus, those steps helped me to succeed academically over 16 years of my schooling life.
Again, in this story I saw an opportunity and I used it for my own benefit. Besides having fun with fire (story above) and water (swimming), we had fun on different activities related to our personal mental development. We had activities such as movie night, talent shows, competitions in sports and other fun ways, although I don’t remember much about those activities in the orphanage as a 10-12 year old boy. At that time I wasn’t in the orphanage anymore, I was in foster care about which I am going to write later. Also, I remember about those activities, because I still have awards given to me at that time.
One of those awards was given to me for sprinting 30 meters and taking the second place among all kids my age who were competing at that time.
Many of my awards were given to me for my recreational innovative activities. Although I have only two of such awards given to me, I was trying to participate in every talent show, any other show possible. One of such shows was when I had to dress up as a woman and sing one funny song called “Clouds” in front of the audience in the place where we usually held a movie night. By the way, the suit for that night was created by me. I’ve always liked stuff that women had, like little purses, wallets, nicely decorated glasses, bracelets, watches, jewelry, and many other things. I’ve always kept those things secretly, so no one would notice that I liked to wear women’s jewelry. I was in some sense a women jewelry collector. But that particular event in the camp gave me the opportunity to dress like a woman and wear the jewelry available at that time. In addition to that, I was allowed to put makeup on my face and indeed, look like a woman. It was a great night. Because of my presentation, singing with a high-pitched woman-like voice, our group took a leading place in the talent show competition during that evening.
I was glad to be in the camp during our summer break. It was not only a talent and physical development experience but also a great learning opportunity of how to live outside my orphanage. The orphanage and the camp were similar places, but the camp provided more freedom. The school provided more schooling and prepared for real life survival.
Summers were great. I always looked forward to the summer break. However, I’ve also looked forward to winter breaks. We had full month of break in January every year. Usually, the length was determined by how cold it gets during the winter. Sometimes we had temperatures below -15 or -20 degrees Celsius and sometimes even lower. Most recent winter was the coldest winter with -25C temperature. It was almost impossible to sit in a cold class to write notes since our government didn’t provide much support to the orphanage as well as to many other schools in Ukraine. Often times we had to bundle up good and sit in a very cold class later when I went to the vocational school and then the college, I didn’t have the luxury of a 1 month of holidays in January, so I had to sit in our cold classes with my gloves on my hands and write my lecture notes. Sometimes I wondered how our teachers didn’t stutter thought those cold times while giving their lectures. When I didn’t have gloves I had to write with my shaking cold and almost frozen hands. It was tough but I survived.
As I have already mentioned, since our orphanage didn’t have a properly controlled heating system, we had long winter breaks instead. The same pretty much happens in all other schools. There is a poor heating system, students don’t go to school for the entire month. Well, sometimes when even if there was no long breaks some students managed to make these breaks for themselves. Basically, they ditched the school by not coming and then getting a proof of illness certificate from their doctors, so it looks like they were ill the entire month. But those certificates could be purchased for money. But not everybody could do that, only people with money could do that. But I couldn’t afford that luxury of skipping the school, loosing that valuable knowledge, and spending money that I didn’t have.
I liked holidays during winter. We had a Christmas tree and gifts. On the 31st of December or the 1st of January we, as a school, gathered together in our physical education huge class, where the Christmas tree was, and we celebrated New Years. As kids we had to dress in costumes and either sing or recite poems. Once we’ve done that we received gifts from Did Moroz (Santa Clause). We had games, ate candies, sung songs, and did other entertaining activities. This time of the year was the only time I’ve seen gifts donated from foreign countries by good people. Usually those gifts were donated by the countries near by. “Gummy bear” was one of my favorite candies also. However, I craved for chocolate candies during that time. Speaking of candies, Ukrainian chocolate is my favorite candy of all times. Some Americans that have never been in Ukraine loved our natural chocolate. They say that even Sneakers bar tastes better than American candy bar. Well, I don’t doubt that.
One year during our celebration, I’ve got hurt. Since I was always interested in knowing “how it works”, I had to study the mechanism that rotated our Christmas tree around. So, the Christmas tree is placed on a big engine that rotates the tree. As a little boy, I could pretty much fit anywhere, even under a gigantic Christmas tree. So, I went under it and studied the engine. I don’t remember how it happened, but my right pointing finger ended up in the mechanism between two gears. Then I screamed my blood was everywhere. At the same moment the teachers and whoever was near by dropped everything and ran toward my direction. I was taken into the Medicare that was located in the orphanage. The finger was quickly cleaned up and covered with a band aid. Then I had some other hurtful experiences that brought physical trouble on me, but there was nothing that could teach me a better way to avoid them. I’ve always been interested to know how everything works. Therefore I had to pay some price for that. As they say, “Science requires sacrifice”. I guess I was ready to sacrifice to get a better knowledge. I’ve learned as much as I could. I never stopped.
There were other days through the year, where once in a while we had someone share their sweets with the entire orphanage. We always loved New Years, because this is when we received a lot of candies from Did Moroz (Santa Clause). There were different organizations that would donate their time, money, but most of all, different unthinkable sweets, that haven’t ever been tried by us, little orphans, before I never wanted to miss those times, so I’ve tried my hardest to be a good boy, especially when I knew that those happy, sweet days are near.
You might think that we had nice celebrations for Christmas or New Years, but I don’t think so. In addition, no one would remember that I had a birthday once a year. No one would care to sing “Happy Birthday” or provide a present on that day. So, I grew up in the orphanage without really remembering myself when I had my birthday, since I’ve never had it. I even didn’t keep track of my age, because no one cared. Even I didn’t care, because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that my birthday is the day I should celebrate; and that on this day I can receive presents or have a birthday cake. I didn’t know much better, because I haven’t been taught to have fun in my life. I didn’t have my personal days when someone is concerned about me and when someone loves you and even treats you in a special way, because it is my birthday. Since this is the way I lived my first real birthday was at 12 and my first gift I’ve received when I was 15 years old.
Here are contact details of my pre-school and my orphanage:
1. (Orphanage) Oblastnaja shkola-internat dlja detej-sirot i detej, lishennyh roditel’skoj opeki 58015 g. Chernovcy, ul. Vinnichenko, 119 Kishkan Sergej Dmitrievich 2-21-42 2-18-08
2. (Pre-Orphanage) Orshovec’kij detskij dom 59300 s. Orshovcy, Kicmanskogo rajona Popova Ljudmila Denisovna (236) 6-26-50 6-26-50