So much has happened since I last updated our blog so many months ago. Maybe some of you reading here are like ‘why would we even care about this now”? Many others, hearing of our story, have also asked me to post our past and current updates so here they are. I had great intentions of doing this sooner but bear with me for the next five minutes or so and then maybe you will understand why it’s taken this long…
So last time I left you we had just gotten the children out of all three orphanages and we were waiting on paperwork to get them back home to Canada.
In an effort to keep away boredom, we spent our days walking all over the town of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, trying to keep them amused, avoid the apartments getting trashed as they played with abandon as they hadn’t been together as siblings for a long time having been in 3 different orphanages.
Time spent together also helped us to get to know them better. For our excursions we would fill up a back pack with carrot slices, little meat/pastry pockets, cookies, water and juice and have a picnic somewhere along the way. The Black Sea coastline is amazing and more often than not we would either end up in a park or stop by the water’s edge.
We put on so many miles and despite being February and into March, the weather was so wonderful and the memories we made there are all the more beautiful considering what is happening right now in our beloved Ukraine.
We had many mouths to feed and now the guy we were renting the apartments of started charging us extra as the kids were leaving “finger marks” on the walls! He had already made us rent two apartments as we didn’t all fit in one. At least we were across the hall from each other.
Even though the orphanage workers had taken good care of our kids, I noticed that every time we came near to the road the orphanage was on, Patrick would tighten up his whole body and clench my fingers in his little ones and keep his head facing straight ahead. I really think he was afraid we were going to return him. I would reassure him with words that I hoped he understood “Neit desky dome Patrick, neit desky dome”. “Patrick is staying with mama and papa for always” and I would shake my head and smile to reassure him, squeezing his hand tightly in affection. He would just get the cutest little shy smile; his eyes would light up and he would duck his little head in a single nod. I was unable to see his face but I knew he was smiling. It made my heart just break as this little person just trusted me and his dad to take care of him. He really couldn’t speak any English yet but somehow, he knew he was safe and loved.
At the grocery store Rob had to stand in line on many days for up to 5 times at any one time to get enough food to feed all of us as rationing was starting to bite and things like bread and milk and vegetables were getting scarcer on the shelves. Thankfully until the last week, there was lots of toilet paper available. Those of you living in Canada will get the irony of this remark and the somewhat negative power of social media at this time.
Restaurants in town were now all closed and all the affordable snacks we would eat daily on our travels were now only a memory. Some people hearing us talk, started to give us looks that were bordering on suspicious and even mildly hostile. Patrick (5) got threatened in the park one day with being reported to the police for grabbing at the jacket of a 9-year-old girl on the climbing frame. I had to explain and apologize to the rude and irate mom that he had been in an orphanage all his life and we just got him a few days earlier. “He gets very overwhelmed” I said, not knowing how else to explain the behaviors we were noticing daily in our son, “He didn’t mean to grab at your daughter I’m sure”. (I really wanted to tell her that her daughter was almost twice his size and should have been able to push this tiny boy away but I refrained). I, in my most diplomatic but gently assertive way, asked her to please show some compassion to a little boy who was an orphan until very recently. (Those who know me will admire my patience and tact in this particular instance:) Nevertheless, we avoided taking the kids to this particular park for many days after this.
We still didn’t have the required documents, passports and ID cards for Sinead and Roisin to get them home. “Here is what I need you to do”, Inna our facilitator told us. “You and Rob need to stay in Ukraine until you get the papers for the two oldest girls. ” What?? I said “No”, we can’t, like no, we need to get home!” “You said that could take up to 4 months or more, we can’t stay here that long” “We need to get back to our other children and our jobs.” “We have already been here for months!” “Could we go home with the small six”? I asked “We have their passports and we just need their Canadian visas and then we could come back for the older two”? I didn’t like the idea but it was an option. “Well”… Inna said, “you could do that… but it won’t be looked on favorably by the authorities” The tone of her voice said that it wasn’t looked upon favorably by her either.
We had a church friend in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi who said they would be happy to board Roisin but we couldn’t find anyone to provide accommodation for Sinead and as her trade school was closing due to Covid, she would once again be on the street. Not a good option for a 15-year-old girl with nothing to do and no life skills to protect her. What if the potential 4 months ran on to a year or more and Covid wasn’t over by then? What would have happened to our daughters by that time? Those were questions we didn’t have the answers to.
People at home were praying. Our theme song “Waymaker” now became even more of a prayer for us as we walked. I’m sure people who passed us wondered who these lunatics were with all the kids walking the streets every day singing in English.
Finally, came the call we were hoping and praying for. We had one evening to pack up our stuff and get ready to leave Bilhorod. Our faithful driver Yura was going to come and pick up Rob and go to Staracazachi that afternoon to get Sinead and then would come back and take us all to Kyiv the following morning. We would have to stop in Odesa on the way for us to sign some papers. There was rumor of a plane being prepared to repatriate Canadians. If we missed this one they may not be another but we needed to be in Kyiv for now. There were no flights out of Odesa and Kyiv had also all but closed. It’s not like we could just cross over the border into Moldova or Poland. All countries were grounding planes due to the virus and stopping all cross-border travel. I began to see visions of myself as Maria in the Sound of Music, bravely tramping across the mountains in an effort to get to safety with all the kids in tow, Rob dressed in a well-fitting tweed suit just like Christopher Plummer and wearing a pair of knee length leather boots looking dashingly handsome as the male lead in my daydreams.
But back to reality. On our last morning even though we wanted to go home, we were a little sad to leave Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. It had been our home on and off over the last 3 years and we had made so many friends here who we had grown to love. Slavik, one of our dear friends came to see us off that morning and as we hugged him good bye we couldn’t help but wonder when, and if, we would ever see him again.
The drive to Kyiv took almost 5 hours and we were tired and hungry, but mostly tired when we arrived. Inna had sorted an apartment for us on the 1st floor of a building and it was super. After eating some food, we had brought with us, we were ready to explore.
Arriving in Kyiv, the streets were almost empty. The stores were closed. We found one hole in the wall restaurant selling yummy little hot dogs with cheese, fried in a dough pocket out of the window. Delicious!!
We started walking again. It was nice to have the streets almost to ourselves but the limited places to go made it not really the fun it may have been otherwise. Parks and play structures were taped off and the kids not allowed to go on them. This was a bummer as they didn’t understand why they couldn’t.
Finally, after many walks to the Embassy and meetings with the consulate, Rob got a call from his contact there. A plane was leaving in 2 days time to Toronto to repatriate Canadians and pick up Ukrainians wanting to come home. We still didn’t have any documents for the two older girls. The Ambassador granted citizenship to Roisin and Sinead and gave them a paper with their names and a black and white photo on it. One sheet of paper! A4 size. We were told “We need you all on that plane”. “There may not be another”. So, we got to booking tickets. Canadian Tire Mastercard decided that now was a good time to block Robs card for ‘suspicious activity”. We had even told them where we would be! Like really?? The customer service number wouldn’t work from where we were but he got all of us booked on a different card. $17,000+ later and we were heading to the airport the next morning in 2 Ubers. The first one with me and several of the kids and our luggage arrived fine and we waited on Rob and Sinead as they had all our documents. And we waited… his driver had dropped them off at a closed terminal and driven off. Thankfully he was able to catch a bus and without much time to spare he arrived looking a little flustered but happy to be where he was supposed to be in the first place.
Entering the airport, a female Canadian soldier in uniform met us and greeted us with “I was just waiting on my family!” and a handshake. That felt so wonderful! Then the consulate and the Ambassador herself came to visit with us, telling us she was here to make sure we got on this plane. Larissa is such a lovely lady. We still didn’t have any passports, visas or official ID cards for Sinead (15) and Roisin (14) so for anyone who doesn’t believe in the God of miracles, please try taking two big girls through 3 international airports with no passports and just a single piece of paper and see how you get on?…. I’ll wait…
Once we left the Canadian Consulate staff and headed upstairs to board, we discovered the Ukrainian authorities were not letting anyone go without just a wee bit of a fight so they took us to a line where we all stood with many others and waited and waited and waited… while they went over our court decree and documents with a fine-tooth comb and finally, after keeping the plane sitting on the runway for over 3 hours past the time we were meant to take off, we boarded.
God has a lovely way of showing up just when we need Him the most! The Canadian consulate officers were in the seats behind us heading home too and offered to help with the kids if we needed them to. It’s so nice to feel loved and protected. We were exhausted.
Next stop Paris and then onto Toronto.
Arriving in Canada I had an insane urge to kiss the ground, but again I resisted. I didn’t want my new kids to think their mom was a total nut job. They would have enough time to draw their own conclusions about that 🙂
The flight to Toronto was just in time! If we had arrived a few hours later we would have had to quarantine in Toronto for 14 days. We didn’t have the money for that. Our friends back home had even helped us financially this far by sending funds to help with the added time we had to spend in Ukraine. As it was we had arrived before midnight on the day the rules changed. We slept, or at least tried to sleep, on the floor of the airport. I didn’t care. It was cleaner than anything we had seen in the last several weeks. It felt so nice to be home.
Walking through security to get to our gate for Winnipeg I had a laugh. The security officers were talking among themselves. The kids all were in front of us chatting away to each other in Russian. One female officer said to the other “oh man that’s a lot of kids” Can’t be theirs, they look too old” I would almost have exploded in laughter if I hadn’t been so tired. I know I probably looked like I had aged a 100 years in the previous weeks. “Must be their grandkids” she continued “maybe coming back from vacation” I didn’t say anything until we had cleared security (just in case:) and then I went back with a smile on my face. “Just to let you know I could hear you talking” I began, “Actually they are our kids and we have even more at home”. “We just adopted them and yes, we are a little older but you might want to keep your voice down in the future as I heard every word you said” “Have a lovely day”! Her face was scarlet as she tried to deny but I smiled and walked away. Don’t assume just because you hear the kids that the parents don’t understand you.
We arrived back in Winnipeg and walking down those stairs we saw our other three children with our dear friends Mike and Trish. They had brought them along to meet us and we would be self isolating as a family in the next few weeks. How I had missed them! I didn’t realize until that moment just how much!
Our new children knew them from before as Mike and Trish had ended up at the same orphanage in Ukraine when they adopted their first 3 the previous year. They knew we had been hoping to adopt these children but couldn’t tell them when they were there in case it didn’t’ happen. We couldn’t hug due to Covid but walked out of the airport socially distancing (almost:) and picked up our bags to transfer to the van Mike had brought along that our church had blessed us with.
Then the drive home. It was super good to see Niamh, Conor and Declan again and hug them again. They seemed to have grown in the weeks apart. Niamh especially had matured and was no longer my little girl. Meara now filled that role.
The church ladies and others had been busy! Our dining room was lined with jugs of laundry soap, toilet paper and other non-perishable items. A new industrial size washer and dryer had been purchased and funded by a few people who had taken one look at my tiny one that had been in our old house when we bought it in 2009 and decided right away that it wouldn’t do at all to wash clothes for so many. A new little chest freezer was installed in the basement and filled with ground meat and farmer sausage that a co-worker had donated. We felt so welcomed home and so blessed!! Thank You Jesus!
Supper that night was an experience to say the least! I made farmer sausages, potatoes and vegetables and gravy. Amidst the complaints from some, and compliments from others, I set up all the plates and dished the food. Rob asked me where his supper was? I actually have to say I was a little irritated as I looked over our countertop all covered in plates, reminiscent of a hotel kitchen before a big dinner is served. “it’s there” I snapped “I dished up 11 plates!” “There are 13 of us now Sharon” he said with a smile. Oh, that’s right, now I was laughing. I guess I lost the ability to count our kids in the last few weeks. I had gotten so used to cooking for the 8 children plus us 2 in Ukraine. He and I had a sandwich while the kids ate dinner. It was fine to be home.
Thank You Jesus for being so faithful to us!