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Svetlana’s Story: Abandoned child to Christian leader

“I have never met my dad. He was killed by his own brother, an alcoholic who started a fight. He died protecting my mother who was pregnant with my brother and me”…

“I have never met my dad. He was killed by his own brother, an alcoholic who started a fight. He died protecting my mother who was pregnant with my brother and me”…

This was just the beginning of an extremely turbulent childhood for Russian girl Svetlana*.

The three of them started out living in a remote building near Ryazan. It was in bad repair, and Svetlana’s mum struggled to feed and clothe the twins. Kind local people helped as much as they could, but they eventually moved to Tula to get help from their deceased father’s mother.

“Mum persuaded our grandmother to sell her property to help get us a one-room place. When things didn’t work out again, she moved us again, back to a village near Ryazan. During all our moving we hardly attended school”.

Svetlana’s mother got a new boyfriend who was an alcoholic. To keep money coming in and the drink flowing, she began selling their furniture and possessions. Yet again they moved, this time to the boyfriend’s mother’s farm. Svetlana remembers their new ‘step-grandmother’ saying “you need to get a job, and those children need school” but nothing changed. Two years later, quite suddenly, her mother made an announcement.

“Mum said she was leaving the boyfriend and the three of us were going to the city”.

While waiting for the train, she changed her mind.

“Mum bundled us in a taxi which drove us back to the end of a road outside the village, several miles walk from the farm. She told us to get out and go back to our ‘step-grandmother’ and ask to stay until she got herself sorted with work and a place to live; then she’d come and get us. We were only eight.”

Abandoned by the side of the road, Svetlana and her brother walked back to the farm. The ‘step-grandmother’ was shocked but let them stay.

During the following year, her mother sent only one message; she’d come for them 'when things got better'. Their step-grandmother could no longer afford to keep them and aged nine, they were taken to an orphanage. At age 12 they were moved to another, where the administrators gave Svetlana’s mum one last chance. She must be sober, she must have a job or she would lose her parental rights. She did not come.

At age 14 they were moved to a third orphanage.

“It was here that I met representatives of Love Russia (mentors) who talked to us about what to expect when we got too old for the orphanage. They told us stories about God, and both my brother and I were desperate to know more! Whenever possible I would visit our mentors, and soon I was baptised.”

Svetlana’s mentors helped her enrol at college and provided her with a bed in a Love Russia girls Transition Home. Their live-in mentor, Anya, taught them basic life skills – things most of us learn from our parents – and helped them stay away from the deadly pull of street drugs and unhealthy relationships that orphanage leavers are so vulnerable to.

Four years later when Anya moved out to get married, Svetlana’s life was unrecognisable from her unsettled childhood.

“By this time I’d grown up a lot and was able to take over from Anya caring for the younger orphan girls. I got back in touch with my mum and brother and I arranged to see her. It felt like we’d gone out to buy bread aged eight and returned aged 22. She cried and asked us to forgive her. I did, and I tried to tell her about Jesus.”

Many orphans hold a lot of bitterness towards their parents but Svetlana is now helping her mum face cancer. She talks with her about Jesus and prays for her to experience forgiveness, peace and joy. 

Svetlana’s blossoming faith is driving her to mentor younger orphans, and her artistic talent and passion for nature are channelled into the landscape and gardening business that generates a small income and valuable work experience for several orphanage leavers.

With 9 out of every 10 orphanage leavers falling victim to crime, prostitution, addictions and suicide, without the intervention of a Love Russia mentor, Svetlana’s life after leaving the orphanage system could have been vastly different.

If you’d like to know more about Love Russia, transition homes and mentors, and the extraordinary work they do, please visit www.loverussia.org

*Name changed for personal confidentiality

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