Wednesday, August 26, 2009

She does not want to leave Ukraine

We went back before the judge today. Vicka told the judge that she had changed her mind before court and had made a mistake saying yes previously. Her reason was that she did not want to leave Ukraine.

Alexandra and I fly out of Lugansk tomorrow morning at 6:45. We will leave Kyiv at 1:00 in the afternoon and arrive home at 11:15 tomorrow night. I know that there have been so many of our friends praying about this situation. We are sad and still shocked by it all. We don't understand why this has happened in the way it did. But we know that our God is a sovereign God and that He is working all things together for our good and His glory. Knowing that is enough.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back to Court on Wednesday

I have hesitated to blog about details of our situation and, yet, I am sure that others will face similar problems and so I decided to share, at least in general, what is going on. Perhaps others can learn from our mistakes. Or perhaps others have already gone through this and have ideas or suggestions that might help us.

(This remainder of this blog post has been removed)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Good day today"

"Good day today," Maksim repeated over and over. We were so happy to be able to spend time with him. He lives with his grandparents in a little village not too far from Lugansk. When we arrived, we sat under the apple tree and waited for "Ba" as Maksim calls her, to properly greet us. Apparently Maksim had not warned her we were coming! She came out and asked if we would like some tea and we said yes. While she preapred it, Maksim gave us a tour of his home.

He was very proud of it. The home sits on a large piece of land. His grandmother works at the local hospital but also keeps a mean garden! Maksim speaks very good English and told us all about the garden. We had a lot of fun learning the names of the various vegetables in the garden. There were grapes, cabbage, carrots, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, sunflowers, and more.

By the time the tour was over, tea was ready to be served. Ba had spruced up the little outdoor sitting area and we felt like royalty. Maksim brought out some soap and a pan full of water and helped us wash our hands. Then he served us tea.

Before we were finished with tea, Maksim climbed up in the apple tree to offer us both an apple. Alexandra was excited to find a worm in hers. She had never found a worm in an apple before, she said. She'd only read about it in books!

After tea, Maksim took us indoors. He showed us where he slept and played some music for us that he likes to listen to. We talked some with his grandmother. She is only 56 years old and obviously takes very good care of Maksim. Maksim's mother does not live far from their home and he told us that he now has a baby brother.

About 3:00 we headed back toward Lugansk to take him bowling. He had a blast and so did we. After bowling two games (for a whopping $5.00) we rode to the Center to shop for some movies and try out the arcade. We stopped in at the pet store in the mall, and Max could have stayed in there forever.

On the way back to Maksim's village, we stopped at his school. He was very proud to show it off as well. We got back to his house and Ba had borsch waiting for us. It was the best Ukrainian meal we have ever had. Borsch, bread, some sort of sweet cakes dipped in honey, compote. It was great. We talked more with Ba and Maksim got out his English book we had brought him. In the car, he had kept clutching it saying "This is my love". He is really serious about learning English and being a translator some day.

Maksim was given a chance to be adopted into an American family and he chose to stay in Ukraine with his grandmother. As we spent time together today I thought how special it was that American familes can keep in touch with him and reach out to him even while he continues to live in Ukraine. I pray that that will be the case for Gabrielle if she, too, chooses to stay.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Update on court

We went to court on Monday. The court granted our petition. I have not blogged because afterwards we ran into some trouble. Gabrielle wants to go back to court and withdraw her consent. We do not yet know how this will play out. It has been 2 very long, emotionally trying days. I will post again when everything is resolved one way or the other.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A busy morning

Roman and I went across the street to the Blinchiki hut at 8:00 this morning only to find it closed, in spite of the sign. We came back to the apartment only to find we had locked ourselves out. We had 25 minutes to wait on Sergey (and a phone to call Gabe) so we walked to the supermarket and got a pastry. Sergey was waiting when we got back and we called Gabe to let us in. Roman and I then left for our trip to Starribilsk. (Roman has enjoyed telling this story several times today and suggested I blog about it).

The original plan today was for me, Gabe, and Roman to go to Starribilsk this morning and pick up Gabrielle for court. Vitalik was supposed to stay home and accompany Alexandra to Shane's church just a few blocks from here. But Vitalik had a few problems with that scenario so Gabe had to stay in Lugansk with them. Vitalik earned him an early trip home and still ended up going to church. "You mean I got angry for nothing?" he asked. Yes, son, that's generally the case.

Gabrielle said she and her friends cried through the discoteque last night and I don't think they slept much either. She was saying her goodbyes in the anticipation that she might not have to go back to camp after court. Don't know yet whether or not that will be the case.

Roman and I had a nice drive to Starribilsk and back. We left at 8:30 and were back in Lugansk at 12:00. Once again we had to wait outside the apartment as we only have one key and Gabe and the kids were still at church.

We took the kids some salami, much to their delight. On the way back we played "On my way to San Jose" and I was pleased that Gabrielle was willing to use her English. She seems more self conscious of doing so when Vitalik is around. I think it will work out for the best that both boys will be going home after court.

Alexandra spent some time this afternoon with her Ukrainian friends and they all stopped by before splitting up. We walked around the city a bit and played monopoly at the apartment. Tonight we are watching Madagascar in Russian. Tomorrow is court.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pie in the eye ball

Today we did much of the same. Breakfast. Camp. Starribilsk. Shooting gallery. Lunch. Back to camp. Our driver Sergey, bored out of his wits I am sure by this point, joined in our volleyball circle. There is a tank that I have been wanting to stop and take pictures of so we stopped today even though there was a wedding party there doing photographs. It seems to be a traditon that court weddings are on Saturdays and after the ceremony, they drive all over town for photographs. Guests follow along in their own cars.

At 5:00 we watched the Bela girls compete in a pioneer ball game. I have always wanted to know what this game consisted of and now I do. Its sort of like volleyball but you catch it and throw it back over the net. Sveta was the team star, with a killer throw/spike. They won, as I think they do every competition they participate in. Gabrielle played very well also. She is surprising me with her athletic skills. We are happy that she wants to join me and Alexandra in our ballroom dancing lessons. I guess at this point we are just happy that she wants to be joining us, period. These long and monotonous days, with hours spent crammed like sardines into the backseat of a car, often get everyone in a bad mood and there is usually bickering going on at some point during the day. The kids get mad over nothing and I spend 90% of my time refereeing. I know that it passes soon enough, however. Court is day after tomorrow. Gabe and Roman (and now Vitalik) are leaving for Kyiv in 4 days. The countdown will be on.

In spite of the long days and frequent bickering, we spend a lot of time laughing as well. Ever since we got pulled over for the first time, by a very skinny militia man that Vitalik nicknamed Suharki, we call every militia we see “Inspector Suharki.” Then there’s the language faux pas. Like when Gabe sat down next to a little girl one morning when we arrived at camp and said “paka”. Or like today when someone said “pioneer ball” and Gabe exclaimed “pie in the eye ball?!”. I guess you never know.

Tomorrow we will go pick up Gabrielle and bring her back to Lugansk for court on Monday. I think the reality of leaving her friends and the only life she has ever known is starting to sink in. She seems a little pensive at times. It takes courage to do what these kids do. They should be an inspiration to us all.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Druzhba Ball

Friday morning Sergey came and got Alexandra and took her out to Camp Druzhba. The rest of us found a new coffee house. Breakfast was good but the most important feature was that we all got menus! Four of them! It has been our experience in every other restaurant to only get 2 menus. Thursday night they even took one back after they gave it to us because someone else came in and sat down and neeeded one.

After breakfast, Roman and I went shopping for a towel and a couple of t-shirts for a boy at camp. Sounds easy but think again! We found towels but the t-shirts would have to wait. The woman at the bath and bedding store was fascinated with me and Roman. We visited with her for some time about adoption and America. There was another elderly lady there as a customer and she asked Roman "they do not beat you?" The store clerk answered, "No, they do not beat him. Can't you see she is a good Mama and takes care of him?" When we left she invited us to come visit with her again sometime.

After Sergey returned we headed back out toward Starribilsk. We stopped and got bananas and plums for the kids at camp. When we arrived we were happy to see them playing their board games. We went back out for lunch to Paradise and the boys went to the shooting gallery again. Gabrielle and I went shopping and found the 2 t-shirts we needed. Thank you, Staci! He was very appreciative. We also threw in a DVD. He loves movies. He had never seen Hancock and since the boys liked that one, its what we got.

We had taken Mall Cop for the kids to watch as well. After we got back from town, it was raining, raining, raining and they all settled in to watch the movie. Since we had seen it already, we left a little early. I went on out to camp Druzhba to get Alexandra and ended up staying for church and the Ball.

Shane and Marilyn had the first dance. It was so sweet. Everyone was all dressed up except for me and Alexandra! Still, we both tried our hand at waltzing. Or shall we say our feet! In Ukraine they teach everyone ballroom dancing in school! I have never learned to waltz. Shane tried teaching me but then Ben Mcdonald stepped in. He said having shane teach me to waltz was like having him teach me Russian! Alexandra and I decided that we are going to take ballroom dancing lessons when we get back to America. By next year's ball, we should be able to keep up with the dancing Ukrainians!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Flies, birthdays and relay races

Our appointment was one week ago today. We've accomplished so much in a week and have done so much driving that we feel like we have been here a month! Alexandra said today that she feels like we just keep driving and driving, never reaching our destination.

We had asked the dorm parent at camp yesterday if there was anything we could bring that she thought the kids would like. She suggested board games. So this morning after a delicious breakfast at a coffee house, Sergey picked us up and took us to a toy store. We bought several board games, a soccer ball and a volley ball. Then we went by the supermarket and got some nectarines, grapes, and some sort of sweet bread for the kids.

They were all thrilled with their treats. When the rest of the kids headed to lunch at camp we left with Gabrielle for our daily visit into the village. Gabrielle found a nice dress for court. Then we went back to the shooting gallery at the amusement park. After that we walked across the street to a new restaurant. This one was not up to par with the rest. There was a fly in Roman's soup; all seating was outside and flies were abundant; and the food was only so-so. The kids did enjoy the juke box, however.

After lunch we went to a little store and bought a birthday cake for Sasha S., one of the children from Bela. Today was his 14th birthday. For $20 we got enough cake, plates, forks, juice and cups for 35 people! Sasha was shy about eating the cake but was very gracious. He is such a sweet boy. The rest of the kids devoured the cake.

Next, they went on to win some competitive relay race among the dorms. The Bela kids were by far the fastest kids there! We were so proud of them and happy to be able to be there and cheer them on.

Before we left, Gabrielle had to take her new clothes in and try them on for her friend Vicka. She is a precious 13 year old who so desperately wants a family as well. I know that Gabrielle is torn between celebrating her new family and mourning for those who are still without. My heart breaks as I think of each one we will leave behind. My mind is already working out a plan for somehow getting some of these kids over next summer for hosting.

When we got back into Lugansk, we had dinner at Mario's Pizza, a much welcomed treat after so much Ukrainian food.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Nothing new today except yet another restaurant in Starribilsk. Sergey really outdid himself in finding this one. Nice atmosphere, even though when you first walked in you felt like you were in a nightclub. Good food. Cheap prices per our American standards. The name of this one is Paradise.

We spent quite a bit of time today with the other Bela kids. Playing soccer. Volleying a ball around a circle. Playing Trouble. They had some sort of performance tonight and were dressed up like rabbits and wolves this afternoon in anticipation.

We met an American named Fran. A 70 year old womand who recently joined the Peace Corp and is now serving in Ukraine for several years. She is stationed in Starribilsk! She was at the camp today.

Gabrielle broke her 10 griven shoe and we found another shoe store and got a new pair to replace the others. She is getting more comfortable with the shopping. Then we went back to the old amusement park and discovered these boat like swings. They were manual, not electric so we felt safe!

Roman was a bit unkind to one of the Bela kids today. His final analysis after our discussion of the incident was "This is why I don't like coming back to Urkaine. When I am around other orphans, I want to act like one." Small child, big wisdom.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Road to Starribilsk

Gabe and I were up until almost 2 AM last night trying to make flight arrangements for his return home. Court is Monday, August 17th at 11:30 and he will fly home on Thursday along with Roman. Thank you for praying for an early court date that has enabled Gabe to get home in time to help Luke get moved into his college dorm for the first time. We were tired but we left at 10:00 this morning for our daily trek to Starribilsk. It is really a very beautiful drive so I thought I'd tell you about our day with pictures.

There are beautiful sunflower fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. Everyday we talk about stopping and taking some pictures and today we finally did it. If you have ever ridden with a Ukrainian driver you know that you always seem to be in a hurry so stopping for pictures can be a monumental task!

As I mentioned yesterday, the road is shared by all sorts of vehicles. Cars, bikes, pedestrians and even horses. Everything we pass is picture worthy. It is such a beautiful place and there is so much character in every scene, in every face.

I mean, wouldn't you like to talk with this man? Ride with him on his cart? See where he came from and where he is going?

Our driver, Sergey, laughs at some of the things I take pictures of, especially cows. Yes, we have cows in Alabama. But I don't see them on leashes being led out to the side of the highway to graze for the day. And I usually do not see them in open carts being transported down the highway.

We always talk about stopping and getting watermelons to take to the Bela kids. But we haven't done it yet. Today we took ham and bread and some sort of meat filled rolls. The dorm parent requested that we stick to fruit so we may yet stop and get some watermelons. The road is lined with small stands such as these with not only watermelons but cantalopes, tomatoes, beans and all sorts of produce.

We see this bread truck everyday. I don't why but I think it is cool. I guess its just the big "bread" on the side. Plain and simple.

We got into Starribilsk about an hour early today and discovered a market and some small shops that are only open until 1:00. We browsed through them, didn't buy anything but Sergey was scoping out the local scene and found us the coolest restaurant called Shaslick (Shish-ka-bob). We were in this private room. There was no one else in the restaurant. No menu. She told us what they had and we said "we'll take it." It was delicious. The meat was more like huge pork chops rather than shish-ka-bob meat. Tomato and cucumber salad and fried potatoes rounded out the meal and it was way more than we could eat. We felt like we were guests in someone's home.

This is the grill out back where the shish-ka-bobs were made. You see it before you walk in the restaurant and feel a little wary at first but once you get inside, its all good!

This is our driver, Sergey, outisde the building where the restaurant is. He not only drives us around all day but he is very protective of us and helpful in finding whatever we need.

This statue of Lenin is in a very nice park in the center of Starribilsk. We walked here one other day but today was a bit more leisurely. There are statues and busts such as these in every town and village in Ukraine.

This was the second hidden treasure we found today in Starribilsk. A small amusement park. It never ceases to amaze me how complicated things can be in Ukraine. Something as simple as buying 4 tickets can take 15 minutes. And its not the language barrier. We have 2 Russian speaking children. Its just the way it is.

Gabrielle is not yet keen on trying new things. Here she and Gabe watch the rest of us on a soviet-era ferris wheel.

It didn't look very sturdy but it didn't go very high so I figured if we fell, the most we might do is break an arm or a leg. Maybe Gabrielle was just smarter than the rest of us!

Now, you've got to love this. Bumper cars so old that we were told not to bump them! They must have been originals! The boys still had fun on them and wanted to go a second round. Gabrielle still was not so sure and just watched.

After the bumper cars that couldnt't bump, we bought pellets for 25 kopecks each and took target practice. But no prizes here, no matter how many targets you hit!

Here we are outside a little magazine (store). We were getting drinks and ice cream. Gabrielle is so beautiful but shy about taking pictures. So I will post everyone she will pose for! How blessed we are to have 2 beautful daughters! She is also shy about trying English. I'm sure she is even more self-conscious since the boys already know English. I have told her that when the boys got home last year, from day one they were required to speak to me in English. There were lots of charades and dictionary moments but they had to try. I know that she will want to rely on her brother/translators for as long as possible so we will have to start working through that soon.

We left Starribilsk a little early today and made it out to Camp Druzhba before the night service. We got to see most of our interpreter friends as well as Shane and Marilyn and Lori Jackson. It is always good to visit there. Here is Alexandra with Lori, Yura and "Soccer" Sasha.

Tomorrow we will do it all over again. The Bela kids continue to warm up to us and Roman and Vitalik are getting some soccer in. They asked to stay longer today so that was a good sign. Vitalik is enjoying getting to know Gabrielle. Roman practically grew up with her but Vitalik only met here last week. He has given his vote of approval. I believe their personalities will work well together. The dorm parents are kind and helpful to us. We are just counting down the days till court.