Pavel* lives in the village, two hours from Zap, with his older brother, his brother’s wife, and two small children. Their parents died a long time ago. Four of the eight children they left behind are still living. One of them died from malnutrition just after he was released from prison. Another has been gone since he was a young child. Pavel left trade school shortly after he graduated from the orphanage almost three years ago. He finally realized how important an education is and went back this past fall. He is working with his brother on renovations at home, cutting wood for the fire to keep the small children warm, and studying hard. I couldn’t help but look at Pavel in that place and remember him as a little boy. He would sit in the back row in class, as he was taller than all the others. He was a great boxer and very quiet. One weekend, I remember, he wasn’t at the orphanage and when he returned the following Monday he told me he went to his brother’s funeral. This was another brother besides the two I mentioned earlier. He didn’t know why. He was just his quiet self and smiled when I talked with him. When I think of him in that cold village, the village where he lived just after he was born, with the memories of his family and a bleak future, it makes me want to wrap my arms around him as a little boy again and cry.
We visited Vitya’s grave later that same day. It was so cold outside. There were cigarettes by his picture and flowers. A couple weeks ago marked a year since that’s horrible, Ukrainian Christmas day. His grandmother invited us in for warm borsch and tea and told me of the four letters they found between Vitya’s documents not long ago. Letters he’d written, but never sent, to his mom. When his other grandmother died, back in 2011, he wrote to his mom and asked her to come take him away from that place. He asked her why she didn’t want him. His grandmother didn’t have the letters anymore, she thinks Vitya’s sister took them when they went to Moscow to give to their mom. Shortly after they arrived in Moscow, her mom’s husband died and she left her two remaining children and disappeared. Masha is twenty, so she said she will be ok hopefully, but the younger brother is only thirteen and in an orphanage in Moscow. She doesn’t know how she can find them or bring them home. She said his mom killed Vitya in the end, because he knew she didn’t want him.
Senya called me from prison while we were on the road. He talked about freedom and what he’s going to do when he gets out of that place. He has a plan. Eighty percent return to prison after they are released. Senya told me that once. But I replied that twenty percent don’t. How is it possible to be one of the twenty percent when all the odds are stacked against you?
Artyom also called me on the road. He wanted to know where I was, what I was doing there, and when I would be back. I had already written him earlier and answered those questions. We talked for a minute, then I said I was really busy and I would call him later. He hung up on me.
Two days later, I went to the bus station to see another boy off to the war in Donetsk. Lyosha was wearing his army uniform and carried a camouflage backpack. He wouldn’t say what he does out there, but he said he shoots a gun and he looked scared. He clenched his jaw a lot while we were waiting for his bus. I tried to told back my tears as he hugged me goodbye and I did until he walked away, but I don’t think he noticed I was crying from his seat on that big, dirty bus. He is under contract and goes to the front lines for four months, then has ten days off. He’ll be finished in 2019. Until then, I’m afraid he’s going to look scared all the time.
After saying goodbye to Lyosha, I called Vera to get directions to where she lives. It took me forty-five minutes to get there and she met me at the bus stop in freezing temperatures, seven months pregnant. She rents a room in a dormitory. The room itself isn’t horrible, but the hallway, the bathrooms, and the showers are. There is no privacy and everything is dirty. The kitchen, which she shares with all the other twenty or so rooms on the hall, has cockroaches running around in it in broad daylight. It’s one thing picturing a girl living there… it’s another thing picturing a child.
This past week, if I didn’t know before, was a blatant reminder of why we bought land and why we are waiting and waiting on paperwork to be able to build the House of Compassion for children so they don’t have to grow up in an orphanage and be institutionalized. I believe by the grace of God these children can grow up to bright futures, as we help broaden the way they think and love and see their world.
Thank you so much to all of you who made the trip home this winter incredibly blessed in so many ways. We are well on our way to financing the building of this home and maybe even getting a vehicle in the meantime to be able to bring resources and teams out to the land (and groceries and kids in the future!).
Thank you for your time, your gifts, your encouragement, and especially for your prayers—they are what is building the House of Compassion and together we can help shape children for a different and hopefully beautiful future.
Please pray for the re-zoning process and for each of the kids who will come through our doors.
All the very best.
*all names were changed for privacy.