One night in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, when I was 5, the police came. This wasn’t anything new considering my mom was always belligerent, drunk and in trouble. I thought they were there for her, but they were there for me. I never saw my mother or sister again after that night.
I was put in one orphanage and several months later moved to another, even farther away from home. I stayed there for two years.
Mostly I was in one big room with the smallest beds you can imagine. There were well over 30 children per room. I remember having notebooks with about 10 pages in them to learn how to write. There were three ladies that watched my age group, but only one really cared about us.
In the orphanage some children were mean, others were quiet, some, like myself, tried to make the best of it. I had one good friend, her name was also Svetlana. Her bed was right next to mine and we would always end up talking at night. We’d get caught and the grown ups would make us stand still at the end of our beds as punishment, making us even more restless for “misbehaving.”
It wasn’t all bad. The snowy days were my favorite. In Russia, you don’t stay inside if it snows you go out and take advantage of it. That is exactly what the other children and I did.
I never thought that I would get adopted; my mom would call every few months and promise to visit and come get me. I believed her, but after years went by I started to get the picture. She was never going to come.
In an orphanage, if you are not an infant, the possibility of you actually getting adopted is very slim. The older kids like myself were always around longer if not until the age of 16 when we were kicked out.
The Craft family from America came to visit me and later I was told by one of the ladies at the orphanage that I was being adopted. I was eight, and I was more than okay with it because I was sure any place was better than there.
It was a long flight to the US on my own. I remember my American grandma crying–I’m assuming tears of joy–when I finally walked into my new room. I didn’t even know people lived in that kind of luxury to have their own room. I was full of excitement. But I woke up the next morning, opened my curtains and it was raining outside. I started to cry. I had imagined America would always be a sunny paradise. I thought: Oh no! This family has brought me somewhere even worse than where I was before!
My adoptive family knew basically no Russian. Between us we had a few simple words like: hi, hungry, and sleep. They would try to get me to understand. I would just point at things a lot. There would be no conversation, yet a lot of laughter and fun.
The inability I had to communicate with my new family made it impossible for me to understand what was going on. When my father first took me to Grace N. Rogers elementary school, after about 3 months of living in the US, I thought I was being brought back into an orphanage . Once again I started to cry. The same thing happened when I met my babysitter. Were they leaving me with this person? But my father always came back to get me.
I have seen the best of both American and Russian cultures, the people, the food, the differences and the similarities.
I hold a warm place in my heart for my home country despite the circumstances that caused me to leave, but now everyday I encounter endless negativity about Russians. The Russians rigged the election, the Russians are bad, they are coming for us, people say. It’s like the Cold War never ended with all the suspicion and animosity still going on. But just like during the actual Cold War it’s not the actual Russian people but the government that is to blame, and Americans constantly overlook this difference.
The Russian people are suffering under President Vladimir Putin. Putin does not respect or care for them whatsoever. Everything a person says is censored; there is no right to free speech. In the beginning of the month of April there were protests in major cities across Russia which ended up being one of the largest mass demonstrations of their kind. The protests were against the abusive and corrupt government. What was the result?
Many Russians were literally arrested and carried away during the protests. Russians are being thrown in jail for the slightest offenses or for simply trying to speak up. How is it, I wonder, that Americans, many of whom are also taking to the streets to protest their government, still not making a clear distinction between Russian government and the Russian citizens?
Most people I encounter do not realize I’m Russian-American. I went to East Windsor public schools, I don’t have an accent. I have a Russian name but people don’t seem to notice. They badmouth Russians right in front of me. I try to stay calm despite being offended. I remind myself these people do not know what Russians are going through, they are ignorant, they do not know real suffering. I feel bad for them sometimes, because they may be Americans but they don’t understand the American dream like I do. Hatred for others is not part of the American dream.