Orphans From Ukraine Hope Visit Can Lead to a New Life

MERIDEN, Connecticut -- It took a bit doing to figure out what 8-year-old Galyna Podolyak really thought of her first trip to America. A flash card of the phrase "Do you like it?" written in Russian, coupled with the word "America," bridged a pretty large language gap.

Orphans at Sumy, Ukraine Internat

"Yes," she said, smiling and nodding.

One would imagine she would. After all, it is sure to be a lot different than the orphanage she shares with more than 300 children in a city outside Kiev, Ukraine.

This Sunday, Galyna and her 6-year-old sister Olena will be part of a group of orphans from the Ukraine coming to a breakfast after the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Stanislaus Church on Olive Street. While the trip is billed as a cultural and humanitarian trip by the International Orphans Foundation, for at least some of the children it will be an opportunity to be adopted by an American family.

The Rev. Edmund S. Nadolny, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, hopes that people will come to this Sunday's Mass and meet the children. He is sure that once people meet the little girls, they will be as smitten with them as he was. He recalled saying Mass a week ago and looking down at Galyna and Olena, and seeing them clapping along to the liturgical music, something not usually done in Roman Catholic churches.

"I would adopt them myself, but as a priest I can't," he said. "I fell in love with them at the very beginning."

There isn't much information available about the children's backgrounds. "Because they are orphans, their histories are confidential," said Glen Russo, who has been running the International Orphans Foundation with his wife Alicia for the past several years.

All 12 children are from an orphanage in Sumy, Ukraine, a city of about 285,000. There are 340 children in the orphanage, Russo said, and while he could not comment on the Podolyaks' circumstances, he did lay out the instances in which some of the children lose their parents.

"There are a lot of single moms who end up going to prison, or there are single moms who die and there is no one to care for the children. Some single moms are determined not to be fit to care for the children … it is a situation where men are not part of the equation. If something goes wrong, there is no one to help out," Russo said.

"Things are very, very difficult," Nadolny said.

In addition to going on day trips with their host families, the children, 6 to 12, will receive dental and medical checkups, Russo said.

Donna Egan, Galyna and Olena's host, has had a full slate of activities planned for the two girls. Her goal is to introduce them to something new every day. She has already taken them to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport and the Mystic Aquarium. On Friday, she is going to take the children to Hammonasset Beach. They have already gone to the movies and will be going to the Goodspeed Opera House to see a musical.

A trip to Hometown Buffet was particularly exciting for the kids. "I don't think they've ever seen that much food in one spot," Egan said.

The children are good natured and quick to laugh with each other. Olena will often lean over and whisper things in her big sister's ear, laughing the whole time. Both girls giggled when a visitor gestured that they had been answering Egan's phone. "Galyna tends to be a little mom for her sister," Egan said.

Galyna and Olena like to sing together while they play, all different kinds of songs. "I wish I knew what the song was," Egan said, who only knows a few basic phrases in Russian.

They are big fans of the stuffed animals and Barbie dolls Egan bought for them. Although they were initially put off by it, they embraced Egan's pool after a few days. Thursday afternoon, they were enjoying a snack of juice and applesauce, making beaded jewelry for themselves.

If Egan had her way, she would adopt both girls and make a life for them here. Because Ukrainian law requires potential foster parents to spend a month in the country, it is virtually impossible for Egan to make her dream a reality. She holds out hope that the Ukrainian bureaucracy that governs adoption will change their laws to make it a little easier. "They want them to stay together. I think that would be best," Egan said.

Egan hopes that even if she is not the one to do it, that someone comes forward to give the Podolyaks and other children like them "forever families."

"I've learned that there are a lot of children in this world that need love and need homes," Egan said. "If you've got room in your heart, you can make room in your home."

Source: The Record-Journal