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Copyright © 2018 by Alex Gilbert

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including
photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods,
without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other
noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

ISBN-13: 978-1983519000
ISBN-10: 1983519006

You can visit Alex Gilbert online below:

facebook.com/nzalexgilbert
instagram.com/alexgilbert
twitter.com/alexgilbertnz
alexgilbert.co.nz

Or I’m Adopted:

imadopted.org
facebook.com/imadoptedOrg
Dedicated to my Grandad Colin Bertrand McConachie (1927-2017)
I’m Adopted
Contents
Beginnings 7
Growing Up 12
My First Search 15
Finding my Birth Parents 18
In Contact 24
First Trip to Russia 30
Meeting Mihail 37
Back Home 43
Reaching Out 46
My Russian Side 50
“I’m Adopted” 55
Let them Talk 69
Leaving Moscow 76
2016 82
Goals 87
Growing “I’m Adopted” 93
Saying Goodbye 99
Next Journey to Russia 102
Hello Moscow 106
Revisiting Arkhangelsk and My Orphanage 110
The Arkhangelsk Spirit 114
Leaving Arkhangelsk 118
Going Home 122

Visual Gallery 128
Beginnings
My name is Alex Gilbert. I am twenty-five years old and have lived
in Auckland, New Zealand, for the past seven years, having moved
there from Whangarei. This book is about my life growing up as an
adopted child and how I have progressed into helping others around
the world who are also adopted. I have previously written a story, in
2013, about my search for my birth parents, which was called “My
Russian Side.”

I was born on the first of April 1992. My birth mother, Tatiana, was
around nineteen or twenty years old when she gave birth to me.
She named me Gusovskoi Alexander Viktorovich. She was living in
Arkhangelsk which is near the Arctic Circle. If you look at a world
map, you will be surprised at where it is—far away from everywhere
else. When I was born, I was very sick so was taken to a hospital
to be looked after and then moved to the Regional Baby House in
Arkhangelsk. I obviously don’t remember any of this, but I do know
that the nurse who looked after me in the hospital was called Elena.

My birth mother, Tatiana, moved from Arkhangelsk to Rybnisk after
I was born, leaving me at the orphanage. I don’t judge or blame her
for making this decision as life was hard for many people during this
time.

Tatiana had grown up in an orphanage, and I can’t imagine how
difficult this time was for her, but I’m happy she decided to leave
me at the orphanage as I otherwise wouldn’t be where I am today.
Another decision she made was not to tell Mihail, my birth father, of
my existence. He was completely unaware of my birth, and after I was
born my birth mother, embarrassed, decided to leave the town. My
birth father had no idea where she went to and the last time he heard
from her was before she was pregnant. Nobody heard from her again. 7
I don’t remember anything about the orphanage during my first two
years. But from what I’ve seen in images and videos the orphanage
was well-maintained, the nurses looked after the children well and
everything was done correctly. I’ve been told I was a happy child but
too young to be aware of what was happening around me.

Apparently, I spoke some Russian words and could understand what
was being said; those days are long gone and learning the language
again has been a huge challenge for me. I’ve continually struggled to
pick it up and know that I need to visit Russia for a long holiday to
learn the language quicker.

Arkhangelsk is a cold city. There are very short days in winter and
very long days in summer; being so far north it can be a dark place
to live. I do know that it is a beautiful city full of old buildings and
friendly people. The city expands over forty kilometres and has a
population of more than 300,000 people. There are a lot of New
Zealand adoptees from the same orphanage as me and many of these
people I have already met!

My story starts in 1994 when my parents came to Russia with the
intention of adopting a child or two. My mum, Janice Gilbert, is a
Southland girl raised on a sheep farm. Mum left home when she was
twenty-one years old to go and see the world.

She lived and worked in London for four years, while also travelling
to various parts of Britain and Europe. My dad also left home when
he was young to go and see the world. He travelled to many different
countries and eventually settled in London. Mum and Dad met
in London in 1980 while they were both doing their OE (overseas
experience). They had met through some mutual Australian friends.
They moved back to New Zealand in 1982 and lived in Whangarei.
They eventually married in 1990 and have lived in Whangarei ever
since.

Whangarei is small, with a population of about 60,000, and is a two-
8 hour drive north of Auckland.
A lot of people know each other in Whangarei—if you are the talk of
the town you easily become world famous in Whangarei.

When Mum and Dad realised they were unable to have their own
children, they started to consider adoption. And as adoption in New
Zealand was virtually non-existent, they then started considering
overseas adoption. They got in touch with ICANZ—Inter-Country
Adoption New Zealand—who help facilitate couples in adopting
overseas children. It is an incredible organisation with a great track
record of making overseas adoptions a reality for many New Zealand
couples. My parents thought “why not, let’s give this a go.” They had
done their research, knew what was involved and were ready to start
their family. They were interviewed to make sure they were suitable
parents, which they were of course—there was never any doubt about
that.

The process for adopting internationally can take a long time, it never
happens in a week. My parents knew they were ready to take on this
challenge with the possibility of adopting two children.

In July 1994, my parents travelled to Arkhangelsk in Russia, knowing
there was a life-changing experience ahead of them. They told me
that they had been anxious about making the trip and planned
everything to the last detail making sure that everything would go
well. As you can imagine, there is a lot to process and take in.

Whilst in Arkhangelsk, my parents stayed with a Russian couple,
Olga and Zhenya, who took great care of them.

Mum and Dad were introduced to Andrei and me within a day or
two of them arriving. Andrei and I were too young to remember
much when our parents arrived; I know we were wondering what
was going on. They were able to take us for short walks daily at
the orphanage until our adoptions were processed. This happened
on the first of August, 1994. As a young child, it would be hard to
understand what was going on, feeling that you had no control and
just having to trust those around you to make the right decision. 9
My name was officially changed to Sasha Alexander Gilbert on this
day too.

Four weeks after Mum and Dad left New Zealand, Andrei and I
arrived at our new home in Whangarei. Being accepted into an
incredible family is certainly something to celebrate. I still have
a home video of us exploring our new home; we had never seen
anything like it, it was all totally new to us. Everything was there—
new clothes, new toys and a bedroom for each of us. Our new life in
New Zealand began.

I remember my first Christmas at my Mum’s parents’ place in
Lochiel, near Invercargill. Everyone was looking forward to meeting
us. We were the new arrivals to the family. I still remember my first
Christmas and first birthday in New Zealand.

Andrei and I were enrolled at Morningside Primary School in
Whangarei in 1997. I started in April, with Andrei following me in
July. I remember my first day, having my photo taken for our class
photo and trying to understand how everything worked. Mum stayed
with us during the day and I met some of my first friends, some of
whom I still have contact with today.

It was great early learning at Morningside Primary. I remember going
to friends’ birthdays and having my own birthday parties. It was all
about the birthdays. The best part about going to school though was
the school trips—we’d hand over a permission slip to our parents,
they’d say yes and that was it.

I learned a lot at primary school, where my favourite subjects were
drawing, writing and being creative. I still remember the day I was
awarded my “pen licence,” although I’m not sure I would get it now
as I use a computer to write which means my handwriting isn’t as
good as it could be.

I was a keen writer as a child. I would share stories with whomever
10 was around.
I wonder today if any of them made sense, but to me they did. I wrote
about my family holidays. We had many memories. I remember
going to Fiji when I was very young. Our family had always wanted
to go and this memory is always very clear in my head.

I also remember when we went to visit Australia when I was nine
years old. It was my first time, but this was a family trip that was
one to remember. First time for me seeing all the crocodiles, koalas
and kangaroos. We don’t see these animals every day here in New
Zealand at all.

When I started going to school, I was known as Sasha which is my
first name legally. I haven’t changed this as Alexander is my middle
name and I just prefer to be called Alex. Children at school used to
mention that Sasha was a girl’s name and asked where the name came
from and why I was named that. As children, none of us knew a lot
about Russia or even how adoption worked but I just said Sasha was
the name I was given and explained that in Russia it’s a male name
too.

Once I started Whangarei Intermediate School, I decided to be called
Alex. Everyone adjusted quite quickly to my name change except for
my grandparents—I think they preferred Sasha. Andrei and I knew
we had different names and were often asked where we were from
or how we were brothers but still in the same class. This was never
a problem—in fact it was useful at times, especially when we could
remind each other that we had homework to do at night.

11
Growing Up
As I got older I began to understand more about where I was from.
I never felt that I was on a search for my “other parents” or thought
that I should go to Russia to be with them. I just thought it would be
good to learn who they were.

Every first of April, on my birthday, I wondered if either of my birth
parents remembered it was my birthday or wondered what I was
up to. I always consider my mum and dad here to be my parents.
They are the people who raised me. Nothing has ever changed that
thought. They are the people who made me who I am today. My birth
parents are the people who brought me into this world, and that is it.

My mum and dad always talked to me about my roots and were
completely honest about everything they knew. I asked them many
times if they had other information on my birth parents, but all that
was available were their names on paper.

In the 1990s we didn’t have social media as we do today and any
searches were only able to be made through a private investigator or
the adoption agency. The internet was around but the resources were
really limited.

From a young age, I’d always been interested in the culture and
language of Russia and spent hours reading and looking at the
pictures in the many books Mum and Dad had at home. In the late
1990s, we connected to the internet and as a family sat down and
looked at the vast amount of information available. It seemed we
could ask about any subject and there was always an answer.

12
As a child I didn’t think about searching for my birth parents, I only
wondered about them. I didn’t know much about how adoption
worked, and I wasn’t fully aware of the entire story. I was still learning
about it all.

At intermediate school, searching for my birth parents was only at
the back of my mind, definitely not at the top of my list of things to
do. My time at intermediate was some of the most awesome in my
life.

My interest in filming with cameras was initiated at intermediate,
and I knew that this was the work I wanted to do for a career. In 2002
I started to go on a few video courses, visited the local library and
read about cameras. I also read about how films were made and how
anyone can film at home. I wanted to make a short film of something
but didn’t know where to start.

I have always been interested in saving memories, whether by film,
writing or recording. I didn’t have a camera, so I started my first
job as a paperboy in 2005 and by the end of that year I had earned
enough to buy my first camera.

I had done some filming and small projects in 2004 with friends,
using their filming gear. With my own camera I could film all
the time, in fact I was so obsessed with filming that my family
continually had a camera in their face. I know my brother Andrei
hated the camera, but most of the time he was able to put up with it.

Towards the end of 2005, my family and I had two options for our
summer holiday: either drive around both the North and South
Islands of New Zealand—visiting as many towns and cities as we
could—or travel to Europe and Russia. As you can guess, I wanted to
go to Russia as soon as possible, but Andrei wasn’t keen which was
fair enough. I understood it would be wise to wait to visit our birth
country until we were older.

13
With my camera ready, we drove all around New Zealand, seeing
some incredible places. I filmed our family visiting cities and towns,
tourist attractions and many unique areas. It was a trip of a lifetime. I
felt like I had got my first ever Super 8 mm camera even though I was
a little further ahead with the technology and had bought a Mini DV
camera. I thought I was the new cool kid in town.

When we returned home to Whangarei, we both started high school.
It was another step in my life, and again I didn’t know what to expect.
It was the start of 2006, I was soon to be fourteen years old, and
everything was going to be different again.

I was looking forward to it. I had begun to learn more about Russia
and where I came from and, while not ready to do any searches, I
knew I was almost prepared to start looking. Mum and Dad placed
my brother and me in a boys-only school, reasoning we would be less
distracted and learn more.

We were, however, still distracted by the girls who were only on the
other side of the road. When I began high school I had a crush on
a girl whom I’d been at intermediate with. I won’t say her name but
I was convinced she was going to be my girlfriend. That plan fell
through—I tried everything to impress her but nothing worked, I just
think I wasn’t cool enough. My years at high school were my coming
of age years … just a series of crushes.

Near the end of 2009, my interest in searching for my birth parents
became a goal.

I finally set up a Facebook profile, having previously used a different
social media website called Bebo, and of course I’d used MSN. After
having finished our homework, all we wanted to do was sit on the
computer and talk to our mates on MSN.

Looking back now, I don’t understand the point of just having MSN
on and seeing who is online.
14
My First Search
Looking at my old adoption papers, the only place I thought could
help me in my search was ICANZ; I hadn’t considered using social
media, which was becoming increasingly more advanced in my years
at high school.

I created an account on VK.com (VKontakte) which is Russia’s
biggest social network website. I can’t remember how I learned of its
existence and certainly didn’t know much about it but thought there
might be a chance of finding information there on my birth parents.

Before I started, I asked Mum and Dad how they felt about me
searching for my birth parents, and they were, of course, happy for
me to try. We all knew it was going to be difficult.

I always had access to my adoption papers which were kept in a filing
cabinet at home. When I asked Mum and Dad if they had any ideas
as to how I could find more information, they suggested a private
searcher, someone in Russia who might have been able to help.
ICANZ also recommended this and gave me the name of a person
they knew.

From what I remember, I emailed this man telling him I was trying
to find my birth parents but that the only information I had was their
names on paper. He got back to me and said to me that it was going
to be very hard, but he was willing to search me. I then decided I
wasn’t quite ready to find them and decided to wait a little longer. I
had done my own searches on VK.com and Facebook but with no
luck.

I was unsure about what I should have done. Should I have gone
ahead with someone personally searching for me or should I have
kept trying to search? I thought about my birth parents also. 15
I didn’t want to upset them and didn’t know if it was the right thing
to do.

All sorts of questions were going through my head. I just wanted to
know who they were, what they looked like and what they do. That
was all.

Not everything about searching for birth parents has a positive result.
I have heard stories of some adoptees doing their own search and not
being happy about what they learn. I believe one needs to be mature
enough to be prepared to deal with whatever the outcome is. One
needs to be ready to recognise that they may not like what they learn
but to accept it.

Time went by fast, and I got busy. 2010 was my last year at high
school and, like any other student, I needed to decide what I
wanted to do with my life. I had only ever wanted to study film and
television: I never gave up that dream. As I mentioned earlier, my
goal had always been to be a camera operator, and I was willing to do
whatever I could to make that happen.

I knew my search for my birth parents wasn’t going to be easy and
as I focused on other things it became less important to me. Mum
and Dad knew I wanted to study film and television and they were
supportive of this.

Knowing I would have to leave Whangarei, I looked at courses in the
area of film and television. I was keen to go to Auckland to study and,
after looking at what was available, enrolled in a year-long course
starting in February 2011. This was what I wanted to do, I was ready
to do things on my own, and I wanted to be independent.

I knew that maybe leaving home at eighteen was a little early but as
everything fell into place I soon adjusted. I knew I was going to miss
my home town of Whangarei but also knew I was ready to start the
next step in my life. The people I studied with were great. We all got
16 on well, and today many of us are still in touch.
Everyone had the same goal—to have a career in television and film.
One of our first assignments was interviewing each other.

The topic I was given was “my birth parents and what I knew about
them.” Of course, I knew nothing about them at that stage, so it was a
very short interview! One student asked if I would be willing to meet
them which reignited my thoughts of searching, but in the meantime
I wanted to focus on my studies.

Everyone I studied with knew I was adopted. They knew I was born
in Russia and a lot of the time asked questions about what I knew. I
always mentioned my five-year plan included filming a documentary
on my search and finding them.

I always thought about where my story would start and how I
could tell the real story while being sensitive to my family’s feelings.
Wanting to document parts of my life was important to me and film
was a way to keep and record memories.

2011 went very fast. Our whole class enjoyed our study so much that
we would have liked to continue our course for a few more years. We
all left Film School knowing it was now up to us—we had to go out
there and do what we could ourselves.

I left knowing that I had completed my studies and it was now time
for me to gain some experience.

17
Finding my Birth Parents
Almost ten years ago I had done some work experience at the
Whangarei TV Station and, while studying, had enjoyed working
on the New Zealand children’s show What Now? I knew that, in
order to get a foot in the door, I needed more experience so I started
searching for work.

Not long after leaving Film School I was given the opportunity to
work as the camera intern on the movie Emperor which was filmed
in Auckland at the start of 2012.

It was an incredible experience. In March of that year, I saw a job
advertisement for a newly established lifestyle TV channel based in
Auckland. I was happy living in Auckland, so thought this would be
perfect. My application to be an on-air operator was successful and
my first full-time role working in television had begun. Television
and filming have always been my passion so I was very happy to now
have a foot in the door.

My hours varied: sometimes late nights, sometimes early mornings
and sometimes office hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was an opportunity
to meet new people, and I enjoyed the work. I was confident
that there were more opportunities to come and this was just the
beginning.

My employer started to develop new shows, and Aaron Carotta, one
of the American producers, had travelled from the USA to film a
cooking show that was filmed in New Zealand.

He was looking for a camera operator, and when I told him I had
studied camera work and was even willing to work for free, he was
interested. The opportunity to film around New Zealand seemed too
18 good to be true.
This was around the middle of 2012. I had just started working in
television, but things for me were going well and moving fast. My
first shoot with Aaron was in Rotorua, a three-hour drive from
Auckland. I drove down and met the main camera operator having
no idea what I would be doing.

Long story short, we filmed a few episodes of the show, which was
pretty cool. Working together, Aaron and I got to know each other
well, and before I knew it he asked if I would be interested in filming
overseas at the beginning of 2013. My first shoot was to be in Seoul
in South Korea. I was so excited to see my career continuing with this
amazing opportunity.

2012 went by fast. It was my first year at this small TV station, but I
had already learned a lot and felt prepared for my trip to South Korea
at the start of the following year. I remember telling my parents that
I had been asked to film in South Korea and they suggested I double-
check that it was for real, so I showed them the itinerary. Aaron, the
producer and host of the show, had everything prepared, and before I
knew it I was in Seoul.

Going overseas to do this camera work rekindled my interest in
visiting Russia. While in Seoul, I talked with Aaron about my plans
for the next few years: to search for and find my birth parents. Aaron
had always been a good friend and said he would be keen to be
involved if I did trace them. I remembered how I had searched in
2009, and pondered on what I could do differently this time. I needed
to find other resources that would provide some clues.

On returning to New Zealand, I visited my parents in Whangarei,
who were happy to see me back in the country. I asked if I could have
another look at my adoption papers, feeling there must be a way I
could search and hopefully find them but realistically knowing it was
going to be difficult: they were in Russia, a huge country, and I was in
New Zealand.

19
I didn’t know what my chances were of finding them. I pulled
the papers from the filing cabinet and again read the names and
information that was available. The only information on my
birth parents was their names. I didn’t know their dates of birth
or have any photos. I went online and visited the usual websites,
like Facebook and VK.com. I also learned about a website called
Classmates (ok.ru) which is used by older people in Russia as their
social network website. I recognised now that I would need help to
find my birth parents, and it would have to be someone who could
speak Russian.

I did a search for Russians in Auckland and received lots of replies
from people who wanted to hear my story and wanted to help.
I found someone who was able to help me on VK.com. She and
her husband saw that I was looking for a translator and that I was
searching for my birth parents. They did some searches for me on
the Russian website Classmates and through VK.com, they found
my birth mother’s last name in a community group (these groups are
made up of extended families to keep in touch with each other). This
was great to see, but I wondered if it was going to help me find my
birth parents.

I was only able to search using their last names, and first searched for
my birth mother, Tatiana, as nothing existed under my birth father’s
name. I let people know I was also looking for my birth father, but
information slowly started coming through about my birth mother.

I received a message from a lady called Eleonora, who had seen my
message on the community group link. She told me she knew of a
Tatiana Guzovskaya living in her town but didn’t know that she had
any children.

Eleonora was interested in why I was searching for Tatiana, what I
knew about her and why I wanted to contact her. I told her my story,
my background and everything about my life since leaving Russia.

20
Eleanora was surprised as Tatiana had told no one of my existence
and, after receiving some photos I sent through, she visited Tatiana to
ask about me. I sat back and waited for updates.

“She has told me that she never had children.” This was the first
update I had. I was upset to hear this because I was 100% sure
that this was my birth mother. Everything seemed to be correct,
everything was right. I just needed to think about what to do next
and how I was going to do it.

A few days earlier I had received a photo of Tatiana from one of her
school teachers, which had convinced me she was definitely my birth
mother. I reminded myself that not everything would happen in a
day, I just had to be patient. I asked Eleonora if she could ask Tatiana
again about me and she agreed to try one more time to talk with her.

First thing every morning, I checked my computer for any news. I
knew there wouldn’t be news every morning, but when I did hear
something, big or small, I was happy. After a few weeks, I finally
received the update I was waiting for. Eleonora not only gave me
information about my birth mother but she sent me some photos.
Eleonora told me that Tatiana had told her the entire story and that
she would like to talk to me as soon as she could, perhaps on her
birthday. I agreed.

She also told me that the only way I was able to contact her was
through a home phone as she doesn’t use the internet or a mobile
phone. Eleonora was helpful. She went back and forth to Tatiana’s
house to get photos of her, give her photos of me and help us both
send and receive letters.

When Eleonora explained that Tatiana struggled with drinking, I was
only a little worried as to whether a phone call on her birthday was a
good idea. I wanted to talk to her no matter what, I just wanted to ask
her how she was and if she was willing to meet me in person.

21
This all happened around the beginning of March 2013, and I was
counting down the days to the eighteenth of March which was
Tatiana’s birthday. This was when I would finally have a direct call
(with the help of a translator of course) to her.

Television New Zealand was interested in my story and around
this time began filming and documenting. March eighteenth was a
Monday night, and I had everything set to go for the phone call. A
Russian couple, Dmitry and Elena, came to my place in the evening
to translate, and I had bought some Skype credit to make the call. I
knew that doing a phone call like this was going to be very different
to a simple phone call over an app or through Facebook.

We had a camera set up to film me talking to Tatiana, and we
counted down the minutes until it was time to call. I opened up
Skype, and we all sat back and waited. I put in her phone number and
the phone started dialling.

I was nervous, not knowing what was going to happen. I imagined
her having a huge party, celebrating her birthday with friends and
talking to me about how great her day had been, but that wasn’t to be
the case.

Someone picked up the phone and said “Hello.” Dmitry, the
translator, asked if Tatiana was there. The lady immediately said, “No,
sorry. Please try to call again in fifteen minutes as she is currently
out.” I was surprised because she knew I was going to call her at this
exact time, but then thought maybe she was afraid to talk to me or
wasn’t ready to talk. We told the lady that was fine and that we would
wait. We all sat back and looked at our phones, counting down the
next fifteen minutes.

I knew that this was never going to be easy and knew that not
everything about finding her was going to be positive. There were
many emotions running through me that night. Fifteen minutes had
gone by—it felt like an hour—and we were ready to make the call
22 once again.
We dialled through to her phone and this time a different lady picked
up the phone and said “Hello.” Dmitry asked if Tatiana was there.
She said, “Yes, this is Tatiana speaking.” I didn’t know what they were
saying, but Dmitry said, “It’s her, Alex. You can talk to her. Say what
you want to say.”

This all felt like it wasn’t happening. I asked how she was. I asked
her how everything in her life was going and, of course, I wished
her a happy birthday. She talked a lot about herself and what she
was doing. She said she was having a great birthday with friends,
everything was well and she wanted to meet me as soon as she could.
The phone call wasn’t long, in fact it only lasted about fifteen minutes.
We said goodbye and that we would talk again soon.

After we said goodbye, Dmitry told me that Tatiana was incredibly
drunk when she spoke to us. I knew that she was celebrating her
birthday, but it was only ten in the morning over there. I hadn’t been
aware of this but I was incredibly happy that I finally got to talk to
her. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined talking to my birth
mother. I was happy and satisfied that I made that connection that
evening.

23
In Contact
A few days later, Tatiana told Eleonora she was very happy to have
talked to me and wanted to talk more. Tatiana’s husband at the time
hadn’t known anything about me but said he too would like to meet
me as soon as he could.

I was happy with the phone call but knew I now needed more
information: I wanted to know who my birth father was. At the
back of my mind, I was thinking the birth father’s name on my
adoption papers was incorrect. I wanted to know who he was or what
had happened. I talked with Eleonora who managed to get some
information from Tatiana a few days after I had called her. Eleonora
told me who my birth father was and provided me with a link to a
social network website that would put me in touch with him.

I was unsure what to ask as he might not remember who my birth
mother was or might think I was just some crazy person claiming to
be his son.

I looked through some photos of him that I had access to, some of
which looked a lot like me and confirmed he had something to do
with me. This was where my smile had come from. I had to be clear
about what I was telling him as he was probably in for a shock. I went
online and sent a message asking if he knew Tatiana or anything
about me. I waited patiently for a reply, only to learn that he had
blocked me from contacting him. I had thought that this might
happen.

I waited a few more days, and then he finally sent me a message
wanting more information. He asked me what I knew of Tatiana and
how I knew her.

24
I tried to explain that I had only just got in contact with her. He
started to ask a few more questions and then realised that I was
in fact his son. Every message and question got longer and longer.
I tried to tell him my entire life story and what I knew about my
adoption.

He then told me he was very excited to know about me. His name
was Mihail, different to what was on my adoption papers. Mihail told
me he hadn’t known I existed, he had been told nothing about me.
He did date Tatiana in the early 90s, but as soon as she was pregnant
with me, he never saw her again.

How did they meet? What happened all those years ago? I am still
trying to figure that story out myself.

Tatiana was raised in an orphanage, having had trouble with her
family as a child, but she did write letters. She met my birth father
who was a chef at a local school when she was around eighteen years
old. They did know each other for quite a while. Mihail has told me
that he did cook for the army but I am still not sure of the full story.
They dated for a few weeks but, after a while, Tatiana just disappeared
and Mihail never saw her again. Mihail told me that they were in
love, but it was young love and everything was different then for
them both.

Tatiana left the orphanage when she was eighteen years old to work
at a bakery. It was what kept her going. When she found out she
was pregnant, she knew she wouldn’t be able to look after me when
I was born so she just had me and left. A nurse looked after me as
an infant. After this, I was then placed in the Baby House Regional
Orphanage in Arkhangelsk.

In 1994 Tatiana moved to Rybinsk, where she still lives, and Mihail
eventually moved to Saint Petersburg. This all happened a long time
ago but, when I talk about it, I always understand and say this was
the past and times have changed. Tatiana has had a hard life, and I
understand that. 25
I thank her for giving me up as she made the right decision at the
time. I told her that I’m always happy to talk with her if she wants.

Mihail said he had already told his entire family about me and he
wanted me to come to Russia as soon as possible. I suggested we keep
it simple and start with a Skype call first then see what happens after
that. I was keen to go to Russia of course. There was no doubt in my
mind that I would go as soon as I could to meet Tatiana and Mihail.

We exchanged our Skype usernames, and a friend of Mihail’s was
available to translate for us. The webcam was set up, ready to go. It
was the evening for me and morning for him. I started the video and
he picked up. He was speechless. I think I was speechless too. I said
“hello” and he said “hello” back. Then the questions and excitement
just didn’t stop. He asked me so many questions that the translator
was unable to keep up.

Mihail said he knew where New Zealand was but it was a complete
shock for him to learn he had a son living there. He started to cry
with happiness as I told him about my life and what I do for a job.
He told me he was sorry that Tatiana never told him about me but
that was a long time ago and times have changed since then. He then
introduced his family to me.

He had recently married and now had a baby daughter and said that
was another reason to come to Russia as soon as possible. I told him
I would do all that I could to get there that year, knowing it wouldn’t
be easy—or cheap. We talked for longer than I had with Tatiana and
finally said goodbye with a promise to keep in touch.

The next step on my journey was to plan the actual trip. I didn’t know
where to begin or what steps I needed to take, but I immediately
began to look at options. I didn’t know it was going to be as difficult
as it turned out to be. We had planned to visit Russia in May and
had managed to get some flights for a reasonable price, but my visa
application put everything on hold.
26
I had completed the form, but it turned out the process I’d followed
wasn’t correct.

A few days before I was due to fly out I received an email from the
Russian embassy saying I wouldn’t be able to enter Russia on my New
Zealand passport; I had to use my Russian passport. I hadn’t looked
at this since 1994 but was told I had to renew it and the process could
take up to six months.

I was disappointed and wondered if I really wanted to go to Russia
after all. Everything had been going so well and then it wasn’t. I knew
I was still able to travel in Russia but had to apply through a process
that wasn’t familiar to me. My birth mother and birth father were
also disappointed. Tatiana had already arranged for a day off work. I
told Mihail and Tatiana I was applying for a Russian passport and we
would just have to wait.

I looked at what was needed to renew my passport and began to
work on my application which had to be in the Russian language.
A friend who had helped me talk to Tatiana the first time looked at
the completed forms and assured me everything was correct. I didn’t
realise the process was going to be so difficult: I even had to fly to the
Russian embassy in Wellington to personally drop off my application.
I now just had to wait, there was nothing else I could do. I couldn’t
plan my dates or buy more tickets. I had to wait. I had to be patient
and accept whatever happened. All I could think of was meeting my
birth parents.

Just after four months, I woke up to see an email from the embassy in
my inbox. It was written in Russian but I was pretty confident it was
something important. Feeling slightly apprehensive as to what I was
going to read I clicked on the passport status. The email told me my
passport was ready to collect from the embassy in Wellington. I was
ecstatic.

I knew that my journey had picked up from where I had left it. I
knew it was going to happen soon! 27
I called my parents and told them I was planning to go to Wellington
to get my new passport. I told my birth parents what was happening
and they encouraged me to visit as soon as possible.

I made an appointment with the embassy and then bought a return
flight to Wellington. At the airport, I caught a bus which arrived
at the embassy in central Wellington. I waited nervously in the
reception area for my name to be called. After five minutes I was
asked if I was Alex Gilbert. I walked up to the counter, said I was and
was handed my new passport. I then returned to Auckland.

The following week my time was taken up with plans to visit Russia.
I had to organise time off from work, check when would be a suitable
time to meet both Tatiana and Mihail and then look at the cost of
tickets. November seemed to be a time that would work for everyone.
I knew this was the beginning of their winter and had heard how
cold Russian winters could be but knew this would be a life-changing
experience and something to remember forever. The cold was only a
small part of that equation.

I told my birth parents the dates I had locked in to visit and said that
this time there shouldn’t be any problems. I had everything organised
and ready to go. Mum and Dad had organised gifts for me to give to
both Tatiana and Mihail.

They had been amazingly supportive and wanted me to experience
what life in Russia was like. I didn’t know what I was getting myself
into but knew it would be something to remember. I talked about my
trip all the time.

My friends, the people at work, and my flatmates were tired of
hearing the same thing over and over but were also interested in how
it would be for me to finally meet my birth parents. I wanted to know
what it would be like.

It was the only thing I could think about. Weeks felt like months and
28 the days felt like weeks until the eighteenth of November arrived.
I knew Mum and Dad were uneasy about me going to Russia but I
assured them everything was going to be alright (although I really
had no idea what I was getting myself into …). We stayed in a hotel
near the airport that night, knowing that none of us would sleep
well. I couldn’t settle and found myself charging my phone and other
devices and double and triple checking I hadn’t left anything behind.

As we drove to the airport the following morning, I gazed out the
car window wondering what the next few days would bring. Was I
doing the right thing or the wrong thing? I couldn’t decide. I felt that
perhaps I was letting Mum and Dad down by wanting to meet my
birth parents but knew I only wanted to meet them and make that
connection.

My parents will always be my parents here in New Zealand; they are
the people who raised me and made me who I am today. They are
still my mum and dad.

We arrived at the airport, and I went straight to the check-in counter
where everything was processed quickly and correctly. My Russian
passport was looked at and was all good to go.

29
First Trip to Russia
We had a quick breakfast and before I knew it, my flight was called
for boarding. That was when it hit us—how far away I was flying
and where I was flying to. Mum started to get a little upset and again
I assured her and Dad I was confident everything was going to be
alright. I hugged them goodbye and walked through to the departure
lounge knowing that when I couldn’t see them, that was going to be
it.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I turned my phone off and
boarded the plane, prepared for a long journey.

Once we got in the air, I killed time by watching movies. This was the
only way for me to relax as sleep wasn’t going to happen.

I looked outside from time to time and counted down the hours.
It was a good first flight. I would be landing in Seoul, South Korea,
where I would stay for one night before flying out to Moscow the
next morning. I was happy knowing I would be able to have a big
sleep before the final flight.

After twelve or so hours, we arrived in Seoul, where everything
looked familiar. Having been there earlier in the year, I almost felt
like a local! The friends I had made lived a long way from the airport
so I went straight to the hotel, looking forward to reading what had
happened back home and reading messages from friends. It would be
good to relax. My room had a TV, and I enjoyed watching a Korean
comedy show for an hour or so even though I didn’t understand the
language.

I set my alarm, ready for the following day. I woke up thinking I was
back at home, in my own bed, looking forward to going outside to a
spring morning. This however was not the case. I got up, had a good
30 breakfast and took a bus back to the airport.
My mind was buzzing with thoughts of what was in store for me the
next few days.

I spoke with a couple from New Zealand who were travelling on the
same bus, about how different South Korea was to home. I like Korea
and hope to visit it again.

I didn’t need to check in as I had stayed at a transit hotel and
everything was ready to go. I boarded my plane, knowing my next
destination was Moscow. The following twelve hours felt a lot longer
than twelve hours. I watched some movies, rested, and remember
waking up after a short sleep thinking I was almost there only to
learn we still had four hours to travel. Finally, the flight attendant
announced we had landed in Moscow.

I quickly got off the plane and made my way to Immigration
where I had to stand in the Russian Citizen line. The officials didn’t
understand where I was from, and were puzzled that I had a Russian
passport but couldn’t speak the language.

I tried to explain my story in a few sentences but they just looked at
me and laughed. It was a great relief when they stamped my passport.
I got through to the passenger pickup lounge where I was meeting
Aaron Carotta who was helping me with the trip and had organised a
translator for us.

I now had to find them. My phone had died, and I was in the middle
of Moscow International Airport unable to speak the language.

Aaron’s travel arrangements were more complicated than mine; he
had landed at the other airport and had to catch a taxi to meet me. I
started to panic but finally saw him. What a relief. I walked outside
and it didn’t feel at all like home for me. It was very cold and I quickly
realised I hadn’t packed enough warm clothing. We caught a taxi and
went straight to the hotel where we were staying that evening.

31
Aaron told me that the next morning we would be leaving to meet
my birth mother at 6 a.m. Although exhausted from the final flight, I
was more than ready to meet my birth mother, Tatiana, the next day.
I was prepared for whatever happened.

We got to the hotel and, before going to sleep, I sent a message
to Mum and Dad telling them what was happening the next day.
That night my sleep wasn’t a good sleep. I had weird dreams, I was
nervous, and I couldn’t relax. Before I knew it, my alarm rang and we
packed up, went outside, and met our driver, Dmitry, who was also
a cameraman. Aaron had organised Dmitry to film my entire trip.
He lives in Moscow with his family and works as a camera operator.
It was my first time meeting him once we got there but I knew that
everything was ready to go.

It was another cold day, completely dark, and I had many things
running through my head. We left Moscow and headed north to
Rybinsk where my birth mother lives. We called Eleonora to let her
know that we were on our way and she told us Tatiana had the day off
work and couldn’t wait to meet me. As daylight arrived, I remember
looking out the car window and seeing many old apartments.

I wondered what their lives must be like but knew they wouldn’t
know any different. I thought that they must be happy. From what I
could see, their life is simple; every day goes by the same for most of
the people here.

The six-hour drive went quickly. I asked Dmitry a lot of questions
about the countryside and the villages. I asked why many villages
didn’t have people in them and he said that people just leave and
move to another one.

We called Tatiana when we were fifteen minutes away from her
apartment. She told us that she was waiting outside her apartment.
Dmitry added her address to his GPS and then asked if I was alright.
I told him I didn’t know. Everything felt surreal and I couldn’t believe
32 this was finally happening.
We drove past the road sign for Rybinsk. I knew that we were close
and that I would be meeting Tatiana very soon. The town was shabby,
there was a lot of tagging and the areas we drove through weren’t
clean. It was a city I wasn’t really excited to see.

We stopped near the apartment where Tatiana lived. Dmitry set up
his equipment, then, leaving me in the car, went to see her. He came
back and said she was ready to meet me. I took a deep breath and
slowly got out of the car. I walked around the corner of the block and
saw her in the distance. She was standing outside in a warm jacket
and had taken time to put some make-up on and have her hair done.

I walked to her and said “hello.” I reached over to hug her but it felt
awkward. I asked how she was and she told me everything was fine.
She asked how the trip was and I told her it had been a long journey.

I felt she was happy to see me although this didn’t show on her face.
She was difficult to read. She wanted to show me her apartment, so
we walked together to the entrance.

She asked if Andrew, her husband, was there through the intercom
and then huge doors opened, and we went inside. I just smiled the
entire time. Her place was small, with barely enough room for us
all to stand around. She showed me her place and talked about the
renovations.

There were only a few rooms, and her bed was in the lounge of her
house. She showed me her cat, her nick-nacks and her TV.

I went into the kitchen and saw a person who I believe was the
builder of the apartment just sitting there, smoking. He didn’t
introduce himself, and I didn’t really want to introduce myself either.
Everything felt very awkward.

After looking around, we went back into the lounge and I started to
show her some of the gifts I had brought.
33
My grandma back home had knitted her a scarf, my mum had
bought her a heart necklace along with a photo diary of my life, and
of course we couldn’t forget the box of Roses chocolates. She told me
she would look at the gifts later. I passed her the photo album which
Mum had made, photos of me when I was two years old until now.
She had a look through, and I described to her what each photo was
and where they were taken. She told me that where I lived looked
beautiful, that New Zealand indeed looked like paradise.

I remember how strange it felt being in her apartment. I didn’t feel
like I belonged there at all. I felt like everyone wanted me to hurry up
and move on. It was a weird day.

After looking at the photos and gifts, we decided to leave her
apartment and go to a café. I asked if we could go to her workplace
but Tatiana said it was too far away to walk to and she had the day off
so she didn’t really want to go. We walked to a restaurant and on the
way both Tatiana and Andrew showed us around the town. There was
a lot of construction going on around us in the town.

I wasn’t sure if we were on the right side of town or not. Everything
was new to me. Tatiana pointed out a restaurant so we all went inside
for some food and drinks. I looked around and saw we were the only
people there. There were lots of tables, but it felt like nobody had
been there all day.

I was hungry and, after the last twenty-four hours, I just wanted to
relax and chill for a little while.

After we had ordered a drink and some kebabs I asked Tatiana about
her life. She didn’t go into much detail but told me that life for her
was hard. She didn’t know much about her parents; she also had
been in an orphanage when she was younger. When she was around
seventeen her first job had been baking bread.

34
I could sense she wasn’t finding it easy talking to me; she is a strong
person who shows little emotion, but I could see she was trying hard
to hold it together.

I told her that everything was fine now and I was very happy we had
found each other. She agreed and told me that meeting up with her
had made her day. Eleonora came to the restaurant, and it was good
to meet and thank her in person for helping me find Tatiana. After
about an hour, Dmitry let me know we had to leave soon to return to
Moscow.

I had enjoyed our time together but was disappointed we hadn’t been
able to stay longer to talk and learn more about each other. I knew
she hadn’t told me her whole story. Together we all walked back to
her apartment and it was time to say goodbye.

I didn’t know when I would see her next and, to be honest, I prepared
myself for never seeing her again. I thanked her and Andrew, and
when she kissed me goodbye I told her I would be back (while having
no idea if I ever would be).

As we drove off, I saw them waving in the distance. I then fell asleep.
When we were almost back in Moscow, Dmitry and Aaron asked me
how it all went. I told them I was nervous from the time I arrived at
the airport the previous day, but after meeting her I had all types of
emotions running through me. I was happy that I’d finally met her. I
felt a sense of closure and I felt like, after all those years, I had been
able to finally understand a little bit about where I’d come from. For
me, that was important, and this day to me really felt like a surreal
moment. It felt like it wasn’t supposed to be happening but it was.

I wished that we had stayed longer but knew there was only so much
that could be done. I thanked them both for helping organise the trip
so far.

35
We returned late that night to Moscow, and the following morning
I had another early morning start: we were flying to meet my birth
father, Mihail, in Saint Petersburg. I was looking forward to this next
meeting. Mihail even called me that night to say hello and that he
and his family were waiting for me.

I didn’t have Dmitry there to help translate, but I could say thank you
in Russian to him. After our phone call, I texted him using Google
Translate saying I would see him tomorrow.

He understands that the language barrier is difficult and even today it
is still a huge challenge when I communicate with him.

That night I wondered what the following day would bring. What was
my birth father going to think of me and how would I react when I
saw him? I sensed it was going to be different from my meeting with
Tatiana but knew it would be awesome. I slept well that night, and
in the morning I quickly packed everything and went straight to
the airport. We were off to Saint Petersburg! The flight was nothing
like the twelve-hour flight that I’d had a few days previously. It was
smooth and fast, only an hour long. As we came in to land, I looked
outside and saw the beautiful old buildings that everyone had talked
about. The rivers and canals I could see were incredible. This city was
completely different to Moscow.

We walked from the airport to our accommodation fifteen minutes
away. My priority that day was to quickly unpack then catch a taxi to
meet up with Mihail. He was also waiting, but what we didn’t know
was he lived on the other side of town, an hour’s drive away.

36
Meeting Mihail
I had no idea that the city was so big. I realised I should have
researched this part of the trip better, but it worked out alright.

We planned to meet just after lunch, at Mihail’s apartment. He and
his family were ready to meet me, and I was ready to meet him. I
got into a taxi with Dmitry, our translator and cameraman, and
immediately began to feel tense.

Mihail was sending me messages asking how close I was; he told
me that he was nervous and wasn’t sure what he was going to say.
I told him that everything was good and we were almost there. He
wasn’t the only one feeling nervous at this stage though. It felt like
this was the bonus side of my story. I’d actually had no idea who
my birth father was as everything was made up on my adoption
papers. It did feel different for me while I was waiting in the taxi to
get to Mihail’s. I was nervous and excited at the same time, with a
feeling of wondering what was going to happen. I was interested in
the buildings around us along the way, and before I knew it, we had
arrived at Mihail’s apartment. Dmitry told me to wait in the car as I’d
done with Tatiana the previous day, so I waited while he organised
everything.

He returned and said to start walking towards the playground and
then to the apartment over the road. I could see Mihail with his wife,
standing by the door. He walked towards me and hugged me so hard
I could barely breathe. His smile was wide, and his face was glowing.
He was very happy to meet me, and I was very happy to meet him
too. It was incredible to think that this person hadn’t known about
me for his entire life; he hadn’t been aware that I even existed.

37
I had no idea what he was thinking. He took a good look at me and
then introduced me to his wife Liana, his mother and Liana’s mother,
who both looked a little shocked to meet me.
I then got to meet my half-sister, Sonia. I picked her up and said,
“Hello.” I was so happy to be there. None of us had known what to
expect but I knew now that meeting my birth father had been the
right decision.

We all sat down, and Mihail started asking question after question—
so many that Dmitry had problems keeping up. I told Mihail we had
lots of time to talk and that I had brought him gifts. He told me to
wait and walked over to the side of his couch and pulled out lots of
bags. They were gifts from him, not only for me but my friends also.

I told him he didn’t need to do that, but he said this was an important
time and he wanted to. While we were talking, I could see his family
trying to work me out and trying to understand what was going
on. Everyone was excited to see what was happening but it was
understandably a shock to them. Imagine a person coming into your
life from nowhere and claiming they are your son. I can’t imagine
how Mihail must have felt.

I know he wasn’t happy that Tatiana had not told him about me and
that he had contacted her to ask why she had done it. She simply
answered she wasn’t sure why. Mihail has said many times that he
would have looked after me if he had known about my existence. My
life would have been entirely different if Tatiana had decided to tell
Mihail. I wouldn’t be speaking English, and my lifestyle would be
something I couldn’t imagine.

That was the past and things move on. We can’t change the past, and
Mihail understood this. He told me that he is glad I was raised as a
normal child by some incredible parents. He regularly thanks them
for raising me but wishes that we could talk together in Russian.

My long-term goal is to speak Russian fluently; it is a difficult
38 language, but I am working hard to learn.
Mihail gave me a book on the Russian language. We had a huge
dinner, we all talked about our lives and we laughed a lot.
He was interested in New Zealand and already knew a lot about
where I lived in Auckland. He had done his research, which was
pretty impressive.

After a few hours, we decided it was time to go back to the hotel.
It had been a long day for me, the last twenty-four hours being
something I could never have imagined. Before we left we planned
the following day. I wanted to see Mihail and his family again and
Mihail suggested a BBQ in the park across the street from where they
live. I asked Dmitry if they were serious as it was really cold, I mean
winter had just begun.

Mihail was very serious about the BBQ although he did joke that we
were crazy. He said it was one thing I needed to experience while in
Russia. We returned to the hotel, and I felt a lot more relaxed than I
had the previous night.

I was looking forward to the next day, knowing it wasn’t long till I
had to leave. I had only been in Russia for two days but could have
easily stayed longer. I promised myself that my next trip would be at
least a week, if not longer.

I woke up the next morning and put on the warmest clothes I
had. It was difficult to dress appropriately as inside it was so warm
that I didn’t need many layers but outside it was incredibly cold. I
didn’t want to mess with dressing and undressing, so I decided to
leave my warm gear on all the time. Dmitry, Aaron, and I caught
a taxi to Mihail’s apartment where Mihail assured me everything
and everyone was ready for the BBQ. I looked over to the park and
couldn’t see anyone.

I asked if there were people at the park and Mihail just looked at me
and laughed. I knew that this wasn’t going to be a BBQ as I knew
it. When everything was set up, Aaron got the food and we started
cooking. As the coal began to heat up, the cold hit me. 39
I stood around the small fire trying to keep warm, but I just couldn’t
warm up. I was enjoying this BBQ but the cold was not agreeing with
me.

We were at the park for a few hours, and when lunch was finished we
all returned to the apartment. I wanted to see what Saint Petersburg
was all about, having read about the incredible buildings and its old
history. Mihail agreed to show me around and arranged for a taxi to
take us into the central city which had a real Christmas feeling with
lots of lights and lots of people.

After walking for a long time, we were ready to eat again so went to
a café where Mihail ordered some food—and vodka. He told me that
now I was in Russia I needed to try the best vodka in the world. It
was going to be an interesting night.

I was glad that I got to spend this time with my birth father. Our
translator, Dmitry, and Mihail’s English-speaking friend, Marussia,
were with us. I took photos of almost every building I saw. It was a
very cold night but our time together was incredible.

After a few hours, Mihail wanted to get home to his family and said
he would see me tomorrow before I flew home.

When we got back to the hotel, Dmitry and Aaron asked if I wanted
to go go-kart racing a few blocks away. I dressed in more warm
clothes and followed Dmitry and Aaron through a closed shopping
mall, following a signpost to the underground go-kart arena. We
knew we were going in the right direction as the karts got louder and
louder.

I was just interested in sleeping after that long day but knew I
couldn’t leave Saint Petersburg without a go-kart race. I’m not a
skilled driver but wanted to give it a go. Long story short, I lost.

40
I couldn’t possibly have said no to the camera work I’d been offered in
Austria and Italy on my way home, so, although not wanting to leave,
I packed my bags and we drove to the airport. As I was standing at
the check-in counter, I saw Mihail walk through the doors.

He thanked me for coming such a long way to meet him and I told
him that coming to see him and his family had been unbelievable.

I had no words to express how much it had meant to me, and it was
something I would never forget.

I told him I was confident that I would see him and his family again.
It was difficult to leave, but we both knew this was goodbye for now.
He took one last photo of me to share with his friends, and as I
walked to the plane I knew for sure that I would see him again.

As I started to listen to my music on the plane, I thought about the
last few days. I couldn’t believe that I had just met my birth parents.
It was something I’d thought would never happen. I was proud of
myself—I couldn’t have felt more proud. I left Russia on a positive
note and had felt content when I said goodbye. I was happy that I
had done what I had done, I didn’t have any regrets. It felt like what
I had been wanting to do for so long was finally done. I have always
said this and I will always, forever keep saying this: It felt like, to me,
that the door had finally been opened. It felt like there was always
a lock but I never knew how to open it correctly. I had to figure out
the combination and search for it myself. That is how I felt, and once
I knew about my birth parents and after meeting them, I really felt
a sense of closure. Being able to know who they are, made me very
happy. It was an experience to remember.

During the flight to Austria, I started to write My Russian Side, a
diary of what I had experienced the last few days. I wanted people to
know what it can be like for any adoptee visiting their birth parents
for the first time. Every story is different of course, but I just wanted
to share my experience. I had written notes on my laptop as we
travelled and had videos and photos that Dmitry had taken for us. 41
I was happy that I had these recorded moments to look back on. Our
trip to Austria went quickly.

This was my time to relax and enjoy what I like to do most: film.
I was employed by Aaron as his camera operator to shoot for his
food show in Europe. We had our camera gear ready to go and after
arriving in Austria we caught a train to Lienz, a small village very
close to Italy. This was a beautiful small town which provided the
opportunity for me to relax and reflect on the last weeks.

Many people were interested in where I had just visited and what
I had done. There were many long conversations as I talked to
whomever would listen!

Italy was my last stop before flying back home, and after a twelve-
hour train ride we arrived in Milan. My last night in Europe was a
gourmet delight of Italian food and culture; it was an awesome time
to relax. I texted Mum and Dad to say I was ready to come home and
would be leaving Italy in the next few hours. They told me to come
home as soon as I could.

The following morning I had a frustrating six-hour wait at the airport
where I sat reflecting on everything that had happened. I knew I
would now see things differently. I’d learned that people around the
world all live different lives, many of them struggle and we don’t
know how fortunate we are. The people in Russia were some of the
nicest people I have ever met; most of them always had a smile on
their face and wanted to have a conversation.

I knew I was lucky that I would be back in New Zealand—home—
within twenty-four hours. After my trip, I saw Russia differently,
understanding what it was really like. I think my parents were glad I
had seen and experienced Russia for myself.

I continued to write My Russian Side on the flight back to New
Zealand. The flight was smooth, and even a delay in Australia didn’t
42 hinder my excitement about coming home.
Back Home
It was evening when I got off the plane in Auckland, happy to be
home and to enjoy the fresh smell of New Zealand.

A friend picked me up from the airport, and as we drove back to my
flat he asked what Russia was like and was it a corrupt place to visit.
I don’t know why people think it is bad but understand that with
the world we live in and what we see on TV, people tend to believe
anything. As I walked through the door, all my flatmates were waiting
to welcome me home. There were lots of questions but, after a while,
exhausted from travelling, I had to go to my bedroom and sleep.

Life returned to normal over the next few weeks. People often asked
me about Russia and what it was like. I had planned a short reply in
my head, but the big question wasn’t what Russia was like, it was the
question about my birth parents and how that experience affected
me. I honestly and genuinely answered that I had no regrets and was
happy I had done it.

On my return, I kept in touch with Mihail but heard nothing from
Tatiana. It has always been hard to keep in touch with her as she
doesn’t use email or a mobile phone. The best way to contact her was
either through her apartment phone or by writing a letter, which
would have to be translated and then sent to Eleonora who printed
them.

Talking with her was made complicated by the need for a translator
and by the time difference: Tatiana’s work hours were long, and when
she was at home I would be sleeping.

As you can imagine, Mum and Dad wanted to catch up with me, so
they both drove down to Auckland. They were happy to see me back
as it had been a difficult time for them while I was away.
43
I was so thankful everything had gone smoothly. My brother, Andrei,
had come to Auckland to drive home to Whangarei with me for the
Christmas break. He has never been interested in finding his birth
parents, a decision that I understand and respect, but he did mention
that if he could go to Russia he would, just to see what the country
was like.

We arrived in Whangarei on Christmas morning, after a two-hour
drive from where I live in Auckland. It’s good to live so close to my
parents as I can just get in my car and drive home. Mum opened the
door and gave me a hug. Although this wasn’t the first time she had
seen me since I’d been back, I knew she was still a little unsettled
about the whole experience.

I told Mum and Dad it was so good to be home. Christmas was great.
We had a big lunch and all spent time together. It was a good break
away from the big city. After a few days, I had to return to Auckland
as I still had work to catch up on having taken all my holiday leave
for Russia.

Before I knew it, it was New Year’s Eve, and I wondered what 2014
would bring. I contacted the people who were putting together my
story of meeting my birth parents, and they told me it would play
on national TV at the start of February. It would be the first story of
their 2014 season. I continued to write My Russian Side with the goal
of releasing it in April of that year, and patiently waited for my story
to play on national TV.

The night before the show was due to air I stayed with Mum and
Dad, feeling slightly apprehensive about seeing my story again and
about what I may have said in my interview. I returned to Auckland
the following day with plans to watch the programme at a friend’s
place. Sunday dragged on and on but finally the six o’clock news
began. In the ad breaks, a trailer advertising the show played, so I
knew it was finally happening.

44
At 7 p.m. the show began and instantly memories of my time in
Russia a few months earlier returned. The story was told perfectly. I
didn’t need to be worried about anything; it had been edited well and
I was happy with what I said. It was really emotional seeing me meet
my birth parents again and it felt like it had all happened yesterday.

After the show had aired, Mum called to tell me she was happy with
how everything had turned out. I couldn’t believe the huge amount
of feedback I received and was told that over 600,000 people had seen
my story that night. It was hard to concentrate at work the next day
as I received message after message from people who had watched
the story.

On Facebook I received messages from adoptees around New
Zealand telling me their stories. Even though it took up a huge
amount of time reading and responding to every single message, I
was happy to help and give advice. I even learned of an adoptee who
had come from the same orphanage as I had.

At the beginning of the Sunday TV show, they’d played video footage
of my orphanage. The 1994 footage showed the inside and the outside
of the orphanage as well as film of the children who lived there. It was
extremely interesting seeing what it looked like back then and I’m
still trying to learn what happened to all of the children who were in
the same orphanage as I had been.

45
Reaching Out
Among the social media messages in response to the show, there was
one in particular that became very important.

Katya told me she and her parents recognised herself sitting in a high
chair in the orphanage video clip. In her Facebook message, she had
attached the photo that had been given to her New Zealand parents
when they adopted her: it was the same one as in the video. Katya
shared her story with me, and we were both fascinated to think we
had been adopted into a New Zealand family but lived in different
towns. She currently lives in Christchurch which is at the other end
of the country.

Katya was the first person, other than my brother, who I had met
from my orphanage and it all seemed a bit crazy. We stayed in regular
contact over Facebook and planned to meet up when she was visiting
friends and family in Auckland. Next time she was up we organised
to have a drink at a local café on a Sunday afternoon. It was a quick
meeting, but we promised to catch up again soon.

After the story aired, the New Zealand Herald, one of our biggest and
oldest national newspapers, contacted me. They had seen online that
I was meeting with Katya and were keen on doing a story, which I
was happy to do. This interview prompted me to consider setting up
a forum enabling adoptees to connect with each other.

When Katya next came to Auckland, we arranged for a catch-up at
my house. She was very keen to know more about me finding and
meeting my birth parents. She didn’t feel that we were strangers as we
got along so well. It was hard to believe that we had both been in the
same Russian orphanage back in 1993 and were then meeting again
in New Zealand twenty-one years later.
46
It made the world look small, and to think that she was adopted
into a New Zealand family made everything seem even smaller. We
wondered how many other children from the orphanage were also
adopted into New Zealand families.

Katya told me about her life in Christchurch with her New Zealand
family and also about her birth family. She said she had contacted
her birth family in Russia in 2011 but was still waiting to meet them.
While she keeps in touch with her birth family, it isn’t easy. She tries
to translate her emails into Russian before sending them but, like
me, she finds the language difficult also. Katya showed me photos of
her birth family who seemed to be doing well having recently built a
house in a village a few hours south of Arkhangelsk.

She also discovered she had a younger biological sibling. Katya was
happy that many of her questions had been answered and that she
had a Russian family whom she could meet anytime. She said she was
lucky to be alive today as she was a very sick baby who needed lots
of medical treatment. She was close to dying from malnourishment
when her Christchurch parents adopted her. Her family, like any
family that adopts, were giving a child a chance in life.

I don’t mean that orphanages aren’t a good place for children—in
most of them, children are well-looked-after. I just believe family
is important and family helps a child become who they are. Katya
showed me photos and videos of her family both in New Zealand and
in Russia and our time together went fast. We made plans to stay in
contact, and I made plans to visit Christchurch to meet the rest of her
family.

The following week our story was published in the New Zealand
Herald. My family and friends couldn’t believe that someone from
my orphanage had contacted me. What were the odds of this
happening? It was such a weird feeling. In the 1990s, ICANZ had
arranged for over 600 New Zealand families to adopt from Russia,
including many from my orphanage.
47
One thing led to another and after I had met Katya I was asked if I
would be a guest speaker at a fundraiser for ICANZ. The evening was
at a cinema in downtown Auckland and was planned a few days after
a screening on TV of an adoption documentary. I was more than
happy to help out and prepared my speech knowing it was a good
cause. As families arrived, they immediately started to ask questions,
having seen my story on TV a month ago.

The first part of the evening was watching an incredible documentary
called Stuck, a touching story focusing on several American families
who were waiting to adopt their children from overseas. After the
film finished, Wendy Hawke from ICANZ gave an insight into the
work they do. ICANZ has done an incredible job helping families all
over New Zealand adopt, including my parents. They are important
to me, and I would be there to support them any day.

I wasn’t sure what questions I might be asked, but it turned out I had
no problems—I just talked and talked! I wondered if I was taking up
too much time but people continued asking questions and obviously
weren’t in a hurry to leave. The audience was made up of parents and
families who had adopted children in the past or who were thinking
about it.

They felt that talking to an adoptee like myself would help them
understand what really goes on for us. It is all a good story, and there
is nothing to hide. I believe that many adoptees just want to find
answers. I know I did.

When I had finished talking, a few people came up to personally
ask me questions. Even though they knew a lot about my story, they
wanted to know more. They asked why my birth mother acted as she
did but I couldn’t give an answer as I simply don’t know. Tatiana’s
emotions were hard to understand, but I know that is just the way she
is. People also asked if I was the only child of my birth mother—and
as you know, I was. She had no other children; I was the only one. It
must have been a very difficult time for her.
48
There are always going to be questions about what happened with
my trip to Russia, questions about why my birth mother made the
decision she did. Some things you just need to move on from. Life
goes on, and the past is the past. Some people struggle to accept
that, but that is the way it is. Questions were asked that night about
what really happened, and I told them that what they saw on TV
was exactly what happened. There was a lot of feedback from that
evening, and ICANZ thanked me for talking on their behalf.

Around this time, my book My Russian Side was almost finished. I
knew that everything in it was good to go and ready to get out there.
I didn’t know anything about publishing but felt the best way for me
to get the word out was to self-publish it. The story was fifty pages
long: I wanted it short, simple and to the point. I did the final exports
for my book and started to get the word out there.

49
My Russian Side
I had a few sales and, as you would expect, hundreds of free
downloads. I wasn’t interested in it becoming a bestseller; I’m not
an author, I just wanted to have my story heard. The Whangarei
newspaper did a story on the book, which was awesome.

As you know, my parents still live there, and their friends wanted
their own copy. A few New Zealand libraries bought copies which
made it accessible and easy for anyone wanting to read it. That is all
that I wanted.

My book had been available for a few months, and the feedback was
great. I went to a few libraries (including the Auckland Museum
who had bought a copy to archive) to autograph my book. My birth
parents were interested and wanted to know how they could get
a copy written in Russian. I didn’t know anyone who could help
translate my book but received a message from an English-speaking
friend of Mihail’s. She had already read the book and translated it.

I couldn’t thank her enough. My Russian Side was now in two
languages. The Russian version was renamed My Russian Family
or Moya Russkaya semya as the language didn’t allow for a true
and complete translation of “My Russian Side.” I bought myself
two copies, and Mum and Dad wrote a long letter (which we had
translated) in the front of the book. We then sent a copy to Tatiana
and a copy to Mihail. After a few months, the downloads became
fewer and people stopped reading. Of course, I was out there
promoting my book as much as I could, but there was only so much I
could do.

It was a challenge, but at the end of the day I had something I’d
written myself that I could read when I’m older. I know that my kids
will also read it. I was proud of it.
50
I now needed to find another project, something to leave my mark
on the world. My passion was still for cameras and film and I decided
to focus on my work for the rest of 2014. I had recently been given a
Super 8 mm film camera, which was awesome, although getting the
film was difficult. When I finally tracked down where to purchase
film, it turned out to be incredibly expensive but worth every cent.

At the end of 2014 I looked back on my year and could honestly say it
had been successful. I was happy that I had told my story on TV and
that I had written my book. Everything was going well.
After New Year at my family’s holiday home and a break from
work, I was now ready to start 2015. I began to think of ways to
create something that would help other adoptees. On my return to
Auckland I researched websites that were available for adoptees and
resources that can help not only adoptees but parents as well. There
were lots out there, but my plan was to create not only a website but a
website where social media played a huge role.

For many reasons, January 2015 was an interesting time for me. I
wanted help to learn Russian even though I knew it would be a long
process.

I reached out to a group on Facebook that had been set up for
Russians in New Zealand, thinking there must be someone who
would be able to help me. I shared my story with this group and
received a few comments and messages from people who offered
their help.

I also got a message from a girl who was living in Siberia at the time.
She said she was coming to New Zealand to study, she had seen my
TV story online and was interested in meeting me. Her name was
Margarita. We talked a bit about what she knew of New Zealand, and
she explained she had already visited here but when she came again
would be living here permanently.

51
She asked me questions about my search for my birth parents,
including the question asked by everyone—“What was it like?” I
wanted to meet her as soon as she arrived in New Zealand, and
learned she was travelling in a few weeks.

Over that time I learned a little more about her as I was interested
in her reasons for coming to New Zealand. She had never used
Facebook before but thought it would be a good way to contact some
people before she arrived.

February arrived and at the start of her first weekend in New Zealand
I sent Margarita a message welcoming her to Auckland. She had
moved into a place near Mt Eden and said she’d be keen to meet me
as soon as possible. So straight away I got into my car and drove to
her place. I didn’t know what I was expecting or what she would be
like; maybe she would see me just this one time, and that would be it.

It might just be a quick hello and goodbye, but I was hoping not. I
parked near her house, and across the road could see someone had
opened the door. The person she was living with waved hello and
then, behind her, I saw the beautiful Margarita. She waved hello and
ran across the road.

She introduced herself and told me how happy she was to finally
meet me. I told her I too was happy to meet her and offered to show
her around Auckland for the evening. I think she was just as excited
to meet me as I was her.

We drove to Mission Bay, a beach about twenty minutes from where
she was staying. I remember Margarita was wearing a white jacket
and as we talked she asked about my life here in Auckland. I am quite
a shy person so didn’t talk a lot, but I knew we were definitely going
to meet again. Margarita had a glow when she talked and made me
feel good when I was by her side even though it was only the first
time we had met. I felt that something good was going to happen but
knew it was too early to think about anything like that.
52
A few weeks later we organised a road trip up north. I wanted to
show her the Bay of Islands—it was somewhere she needed to see.
On a Friday, after we’d all finished for the day, Margarita and a
Russian couple who Margarita had recently met, and I, left Auckland
for Matapouri.

I talked about Whangarei where I had grown up and planned to call
in at home on our way back. We arrived at our family holiday home
in Matapouri beach, thirty minutes away from Whangarei, a perfect
spot for our holiday. On the Saturday we drove three hours to the Bay
of Islands, which Margarita called paradise. She’d never seen anything
so beautiful and took the most photos out of all of us. She was the
tourist who didn’t want to leave.

It was my birthday soon, and I’d planned a small party at my place
with some friends. I took the day off work so I could be organised,
and Margarita waited for her end of the day so she could come and
join in.

I was asked to visit the USA in May to do some filming. It was an
opportunity I couldn’t say no to. It was my first time visiting the
States, and I was looking forward to it. I was working with Aaron
who had travelled with me to Russia in 2013.

As his camera person, I drove with him from Nebraska through to
Chicago. It was an experience to remember. All the people I met
were good company, although they were confused by my accent and
thought I was from Australia.

When I got back from the USA, I then had time to focus on what
I was doing with my projects. I had got in touch with a Russian
journalist at the start of July who, unbeknown to me, was well known
and had hundreds of thousands of followers. I asked him if he would
share my story that had played on TVNZ in 2014.

He got back to me and said that he would be very happy to share it
and he did straight away. 53
By then the story had been translated into Russian and had started
to create an interest in adoption. The night he shared my story, it
grew to over 10,000 views, and as I continued to search the web I saw
my story begin to appear on Russian news websites and on talkback
where people shared their ideas and opinions about the rules for
adoption.

My story had definitely raised awareness in this area, and not long
after this “I’m Adopted” was born. Naming a project is always the
hardest part. I thought about calling it “Adopted” or “Adoptees
Worldwide.” “Adoptees Worldwide” … No, that was not going to be
the final name. I just went with “I’m Adopted.” I planned how I was
going to share stories and wanted to use social media as the primary
resource for the project, so I created the Facebook page.

The project was initially small and only a few of my friends knew
about it. Alex Kuch, an adopted friend from Romania, wanted to get
involved, so I shared his story as the first story of the project.

54
“I’m Adopted”
It was a simple image with some text, which was effective and worked
well, but I knew I needed to make the project bigger.

I spread the word around friends who were adopted and also with
ICANZ, who helped share the Facebook page. People began to be
interested in what “I’m Adopted” was all about. I knew it was a good
idea from day one and long-term I could see the project growing. I
wanted to make it big for adoptees, with the goal of helping them find
relatives and find answers.

After a few weeks I got in touch with the people who produced my
story in 2014, and they organised for a journalist who was interested
in how the project worked to contact me. They wanted to publish
a short news story about “I’m Adopted.” This was a beginning and
would start to spread the word. If people heard about it, then they
would want to know more. Stories from adoptees began to emerge,
and I was confident this idea would be beneficial for many people.
Over the next few weeks, I received more and more stories.

People were wondering what “I’m Adopted” was all about and why I
had created it. I told people my story and said that with this project
I wanted to help other adoptees around the world. My friends who
were adopted started to tell other adoptees in New Zealand about my
project, and more stories started to appear.

A few months later I received a message from a Russian journalist
working on Anatomy of the Day, a late-night news show. They had
seen the story of me meeting my birth parents on another news
website and were interested in how “I’m Adopted” worked and how it
was helping adoptees.

55
Though it was still in its early stages when he contacted me, the
project was growing fast having already reached hundreds of people.
People started to find answers and started to help each other. This is
what I had wanted it to do.

I was asked to film myself for this news story. I didn’t know anything
about the show but, as it was a way to get the word out there, was
happy to do what I could. I had to pretend that I was talking to
the hosts of the show, as if it was all live. I also had to speak some
Russian, which Margarita thought was funny as it was an area that
challenged me. I needed to improve my Russian a lot! Margarita and
I filmed each other over a weekend and then uploaded everything to
Russia. It took over twenty-four hours for the files to arrive. It was a
long weekend but well worth it.

Later that week I had news that my story would be broadcast in
Russia very soon. I couldn’t wait to see what they had done with the
footage, and wondered how many people might view my story when
it aired. The TV show is on very late and that alone was interesting
for me. Russia has eleven time zones. I don’t know how they work
with their television over there, but it’s very different to New
Zealand as we only have one. I was told it would be playing soon in
Vladivostok which is a city in the east of Russia.

It was going to be another eight hours or so until it played in Moscow
and Saint Petersburg from where I would be able to hook in and view
it.

The story was done perfectly although at times it did look funny
when I tried to speak Russian or pretended to be live during the clip.
But it started to bring awareness to the Russian people about “I’m
Adopted,” which was awesome for me. My birth father, Mihail, also
appeared on the show in a pre-recorded Skype call with Margarita
and me.

After the story aired, more and more people started to share their
56 story, not only in New Zealand but from Russia and the USA.
I had a story shared by a girl who was raised in the USA but was
trying to connect with her Russian birth parents. It wasn’t long before
she had traced her birth family; although some were no longer alive,
she made contact with other relatives. She thanked me personally for
helping her, but it wasn’t me: help had come from those who were
following the “I’m Adopted” project. It was incredible how it worked,
and with this only being the beginning of the project I felt there were
bigger things to come.

Margarita was proud of everything that was happening and wanted
to help however she could. Mihail talked to her about a show called
Let them Talk which was the biggest talk show—if not TV show—in
Russia. I researched the show online and managed to find a page on
their website that let me submit my story to the producers. It was an
opportunity to spread the word to adopted people not only in New
Zealand but Russia too.

I wrote my original story of going to Russia in 2013 to meet my
birth parents, then talked about what I’m doing now with the “I’m
Adopted” project. It was all written down and straight to the point. I
checked my spelling and then clicked send. I wondered if they would
invite me to appear on their show and wondered how long it would
take for them to get back to me.

I researched it more and saw that it was an interesting show covering
a diverse range of subjects, some of which I watched myself. I began
to wonder whether sharing my story with them was a good idea. I
really didn’t know. I just wanted to get the word out there and help as
many adoptees as I could.

Every day I would wake up and check for messages, although I knew
the challenge of the time difference meant if anyone messaged me
I would most likely be asleep. After a few days, I had a few missed
messages and phone calls. I had no idea what they said, but using
Google Translate I worked out that I was being asked to call a
Russian phone number as soon as I could.
57
While they could speak some English, the person preferred to
speak Russian. It was 6 a.m. New Zealand time. I woke Margarita
to help me call a producer’s assistant for Let them Talk. They
wanted me, Margarita, and my parents to fly to Russia the following
Wednesday—one week away. I worked full-time and wasn’t sure how
I was going to ask for time off, but it was a trip I couldn’t say no to—
last minute or not.

As I drove to work I called Mum and Dad saying we could potentially
be in Moscow the following Wednesday. Mum thought I was joking.
Dad suggested I double-check with whomever was organising the
trip so he could be confident that it was for real. After a few messages
that morning, we received a signed letter that detailed everything.
We knew now that this was no joke. Mum said she was interested but
would let me know by the end of the day.

I told her she needed to decide quickly as we would be flying out on
the following Wednesday. We had no time to waste; we had a trip to
Russia to organise. I parked my car and arrived at work as if it was a
normal morning.

I asked my manager if he had a few spare minutes and explained I
had been asked to appear on a Russian TV show. He asked me what
month I would be going so he could organise my leave; I told him it
would be the following Wednesday.

There was a stunned silence, and then he told me he would try to
sort it out and that he would let me know later in the day. I patiently
waited while the managers met to plan an alternative schedule of
work for while I was away.

That morning was not your average morning. It was a morning
of planning and organising and also with a bit of panic. Just
before lunch my manager asked me to go and see him and told
me everything had been sorted—my leave application had been
successful.
58
Everyone’s schedule had to be sorted fast as Wednesday wasn’t far
away. Margarita told me that everything for her was organised and
she was ready to go (she doesn’t mess around—when something
needs to be done, it gets done). Mum and Dad called a couple of
nights later saying they were ready for Russia and everything was
organised at their end. The challenge now was to sort out their
visas. Both Margarita and I could leave for Russia at any time as our
Russian passports were still valid.

Mum and Dad, however, have New Zealand passports, so that was a
different story. Their visa applications had to be scanned and a hard
copy sent to the Russian embassy in Wellington. It wasn’t as difficult
as you may think, just a matter of presenting the appropriate papers
at the right time. When applying for their tourist visa, Mum and
Dad had to present their itinerary and flight details, and after they
received hotel vouchers from the TV producers, all the paperwork
was completed.

We were all ready to go to Russia. We didn’t know what we were in
for, but I knew that the experience was again going to be something
to remember.

59
My orphanage
Arkhangelsk - Russia - 1994

60
Me inside my orphanage
Arkhangelsk - Russia - 1994
61
Arkhangelsk - Russia - 1994

62
Arkhangelsk - Russia - 1994

63
Meeting the Grandparents
Invercargill - Early 1990s

64
Childhood home in Whangarei, New Zealand

Meeting our Aunty and Uncle
65
Whangarei - 1990s
Whangarei, New Zealand
1990s
66
My Family
Late 1990s

Christmas was always important for us
Late 1990s 67
With Grandad Mac (Colin McConachie)
Late 1990s

With others from our adoption support group
2004
68
Let them Talk
Wednesday finally came. I double-checked everything, which wasn’t
hard as we were all only going to be in Russia for two half days and
one full day. It was going to be a killer—going such a long way for
such a short time.

Mum and Dad were staying longer, making the most of their time
to look around Moscow and enjoy being tourists. I had to return to
work the morning we landed back in New Zealand—the following
Monday.

I was looking forward to the next few days even though I knew it was
going to be exhausting. Like I have said before, I am willing to do
whatever I can to help others—and who could say no to a free trip
to Russia? Was being on this TV show going to be a good thing or
a bad thing? I had no idea, but I was excited that I would be seeing
my birth parents again and that my Mum and Dad would also be
meeting them.

This was a day I thought would never have happened; it was
something out of a dream or something that might perhaps happen
in ten years’ time.

My parents had got their visas just in time. The Wednesday we
were leaving they had driven two hours to Auckland then flown to
Wellington to pick up their visas. They then flew back to Auckland
to meet up with us. This was a long day for them as they now faced a
twelve-hour flight to Hong Kong. I had packed my new camera in my
bag, with plans to document everything that happened.

I filmed us on the plane, and I filmed our arrival in Hong Kong.
Our connection to Russia was delayed by seven hours, giving us an
opportunity to have a look around.
69
I counted each hour and finally it was time to board. We were flying
with Aeroflot, the largest airline of the Russian Federation. I hadn’t
heard much that was positive about the airline but tried to focus on
the end goal—being back in Russia.

We hadn’t been in the air long when some of the worst turbulence I
have ever experienced kicked in. It was bad. Thankfully things began
to calm down, and we all managed to get some rest. We arrived on
Thursday evening and, despite our delays, everything worked out
well. Everything had been organised for us by the producer’s assistant
who met us at the airport. There were no problems with Mum’s and
Dad’s visas, and Margarita and I had no issues with our passports.

We had finally arrived in Russia—my second visit in two years,
almost to the month. As we drove to our hotel our guide outlined
what was planned for the show. The filming of Let them Talk was
happening the very next day. Everything had been planned and
scheduled for us, right down to the last minute. I knew that Mihail
and Tatiana were both in Moscow but was told I wasn’t allowed to see
them until the show tomorrow. Mum and Dad had been hoping to
meet them that night, but we knew it wasn’t going to happen.

It was November, and the weather outside was bitter. I remembered
the cold from two years earlier, and I was happy that the buildings
had air-conditioning systems which kept the temperature inside
warm. We arrived at our hotel, relieved to find it warm inside.

We all decided to call it a day, and Mum and Dad went to their room
and we went to ours. I told Mum and Dad that before we knew it we
would be back in New Zealand. I didn’t know what to expect the next
day but didn’t feel as tense as I had in 2013. Neither of us found it
easy to sleep, I know my parents had found the trip exhausting, and I
kept thinking about seeing my birth parents again and being on TV.

I got up a few times to have a look outside and saw rows of
apartments, all of which looked the same.
70
We were staying in the central city area of the capital of Russia, a city
never sleeps, and the sound of vehicles eventually lulled us to sleep.

I was the first awake the following morning, ready for whatever
the day brought. We had some breakfast then took a taxi to the TV
station. As we entered the building, we showed our passports to clear
security and then waited in a room until they asked us to go into the
studio. Mum and Dad were dressed smartly, and while they were
looking forward to meeting my birth parents, they wanted the day to
be over as soon as possible. They weren’t the only ones—I too wanted
the day to go quickly.

As we walked to the studio the producer told us that this place was
the biggest TV show in Russia. I was given an earpiece which meant
a translator could talk to me in real time. We all waited for the host,
Andrey Malakhov, to arrive. Nerves set in and I started pacing the
floor, waiting for the show to start. I was walking around in circles,
trying to understand everything that was going on and what was
about to happen. I wasn’t sure if coming on this show was the right
thing to do but I knew that I would find out soon.

I knew that Mihail and Tatiana were waiting on the other side of the
studio. The producers had kept everything secret, not allowing us
to see each other or see their relatives. Mum and Dad also weren’t
allowed to see them until the filming of the show. There was an
audience of older women in the studio who were waiting for the
show to start.

They all looked as if they’d rather be somewhere else which made me
laugh as I nervously waited.

Everything appeared to be well-planned. I was given a signal that
filming would start in one minute, and concentrated hard as the
translator spoke to me in real time. I was so nervy I initially forgot it
was a Russian-speaking TV show, but as the cameras started rolling it
all became very real. Andrey walked into the studio and introduced
the show. 71
Footage of when I was a child started playing on a big screen.
Watching this was awesome, it reminded me how lucky I was with
the parents I have. It was a good start to the show.

After these clips finished, Andrey sat down and began to ask me
questions; I quickly focused on my earpiece and shared my story.
After talking about my life with the host, they brought out my birth
mother, Tatiana. The last time I’d seen her was when I met her for
the first time in 2013. She walked onto the stage, came towards me
smiling and hugged me. I was happy to see her. I had no idea when
I would ever see her again. I didn’t feel as nervous this time as I did
when I first met her, but I did feel like I wanted to talk to her longer
and have a full conversation with her and I didn’t know when I would
ever be able to do this. She seemed to be a lot happier and more
relaxed than when I had last met her. Andrey asked her to sit down
on another couch even though I had asked her to come and sit beside
me.

He asked Tatiana how she was and she said that everything was
fine. I looked at her, wondering what she had been doing in the last
two years as I had only heard from her a few times. I felt like asking
her why she didn’t keep in touch. There were many questions that I
wanted to ask her when I was sitting right by her. I wanted her to tell
me the full story. I still don’t understand her entire story, but I know
that I just have to wait. I know that she lives her life and I live mine.

I am happy with where I am and I have my mum and dad right here,
but I struggled to understand why she didn’t seem to want to stay in
contact. They asked Tatiana why she left me in the orphanage and she
said, as she had before, that times were hard for her as they were for
many people who had children at that time.

She didn’t say why she never told my birth father about me and has
never been able to fully answer that question. Andrey asked Tatiana
many questions and then turned to me. I told him that everything
was fine now, everyone moves on and we were all happy that we had
72 made that connection.
The past is the past. My birth mother lives her life and we live ours.
The host showed Tatiana footage of Mum and Dad in New Zealand
so she could see how I was raised.

I know that Tatiana was happy I was adopted and I know that it was
the right thing for her to do. As she was looking at the footage of me
growing up, I could see that she was happy. When asked what she
thought about New Zealand and about my mum and dad, she said
they had obviously done a good job.

My mum, Janice Gilbert, was then asked to come out onto the stage.
She went over to say hello to Tatiana who I had moved to sit beside as
I wanted to make sure she was alright. I knew that this wasn’t going
to be easy for her.

My birth father, Mihail, was then asked to come onto the stage. As
the show was being filmed, I wondered what had happened all those
years ago and had never expected my birth father and mother to
meet again after twenty or so years. Mihail walked out with flowers
for both my mum and Tatiana. I know that his life now is very
different to what it was then and that he had married twice since,
so his feelings for Tatiana were not those for a lost love. I wasn’t
expecting emotions, crying, and talking about memories. Mihail
walked towards Tatiana and as he gave her the flowers, he asked how
she was. I know she was happy with that.

Tatiana had also moved on from twenty years ago. She had been
married to a man called Andrew but was now with a younger man
in his thirties who we met later that day. Mihail sat down and talked
about how meeting me had changed his and his family’s life. Andrey
asked what he would have done if Tatiana had told him about my
existence. As you know, Mihail said that if he had known about me
he would have brought me up.

I don’t think he will ever forgive Tatiana for not telling him about
me; this was something that had bothered him ever since he learned
about me. 73
I know it must be hard for any father learning he had a son or
daughter that he had never known about.

I told Mihail that everything was fine and he said he was incredibly
happy I was raised by the parents I have.

He thanked them and told them they had done an excellent job. My
parents were happy to have finally met my birth parents, something
they had thought would never happen in their lifetime. It was a very
special moment for me to see. I looked over and saw Mihail’s other
son, Artem, my half-brother who I hadn’t as yet met. I walked over
to him and we said hello. He doesn’t know any English and, as you
know, I struggle speaking in Russian, but it was good to finally meet
him.

After a few hours of filming, the show was coming to an end; there
was a video of a girl in the USA who had used “I’m Adopted,” sharing
her story. Her birth family was in Russia and all her life she had
wanted to find them. Her face appeared on the big TV screen in the
studio, with her saying thank you to me for creating a community
where adoptees can share experiences and talk to one another. I was
happy to see that this project was already helping others around the
world. The audience clapped one last time and the show finished.

The producer had allowed us a room backstage where we could
all meet and talk without any cameras. Mihail brought his entire
family backstage and Tatiana brought her new boyfriend. Mihail had
brought gifts for all of us, and so had we.

It was good to catch up, as while it had only been two years a lot had
changed in that time. We all took photos together and then were
asked to move from the room as it was needed for another episode.
Tatiana did not speak much but did say she was glad to have seen me
again. For me, this moment was emotional. Everyone together in the
same room for the first time. It felt again, for me, very surreal. Seeing
my mum and dad talking with my birth parents was strange.
74
Of course with the help of Margarita and a few others who could
translate, I could see that everyone just asked how everyone was.
How their lives are and how they are enjoying their time in Moscow.
For me, watching everyone get to know each other was important. I
never expected to see this happen but it was worth every minute.

Tatiana asked me to come back and visit her as soon as I could. She
had to return to work the following day and had a long drive home to
Rybinsk, so we all said goodbye to her and her partner. She left with
her flowers and, as she walked down the corridor of the TV station,
I wondered when I would see her again. I really was not sure when
I would. She told me she was fine, but I thought that she might have
felt left out. This would have been a tough day for her and things
aren’t easy to understand.

I hoped she was getting looked after by her new partner. The rest
of us agreed to have a look around central Moscow, have dinner
together and celebrate. It was cold outside and even though Mum,
Dad and I had thought we were prepared for the weather, we
promised ourselves that next time we would bring more suitable
clothes. I knew I had to enjoy this evening as I was leaving the
following day.

We took a taxi to Red Square, the place that everyone talks about.
I hadn’t had time in 2013 to see this part of the city and, although
time again was short, I’d promised myself I would visit it this trip. We
walked around Red Square and, feeling hungry but relaxed, found a
good place to have dinner.

We all had questions to ask each other but had to slow down as
Margarita was our only translator. Mihail couldn’t believe that this
was all happening.

Before our order of a few drinks and dumplings, Mihail stood up and
thanked my parents for everything they have done.

75
Leaving Moscow
He said he couldn’t thank them enough for raising me into the
person I am today. He was happy to see that everything had gone to
plan and that we had finally met each other.

After a few drinks and laughs, we were all ready to go back to our
hotels. The TV show had booked Mihail and his family into a
different hotel to ensure we wouldn’t see each other before the show.
Everything had been secretly planned so our on-screen reactions
were the real thing. As we headed back to the hotel I thought how
good it had been that everyone had been happy to meet each other
and that everyone had got on well.

We woke up the next morning and went straight to reception to
catch a taxi to the closest shopping mall. Margarita and I were flying
out that evening while Mum and Dad had a few more days to look
around Moscow.

Our taxi driver was cheap but crazy. I realised there was no branding
on the car so wondered if he was actually a registered taxi driver.
Feeling very uncomfortable and unsafe I didn’t say a word to
the others, but as we passed a truck that seemed to be only one
centimetre away from us, I shut my eyes quickly.

We arrived at the mall in good time, in fact, I think we were the first
customers of the day.

Shopping isn’t my favourite occupation. I get bored quickly when I go
shopping, so Dad and I sat outside for most of the morning, waiting
for Margarita and Mum. It was some good downtime after everything
that had happened the day before. We kept a close watch on the time
as we had to be back at the hotel after lunch to pack up and prepare
76 for our trip home.
I couldn’t believe how fast time had gone and that we were returning
to New Zealand so soon. I could have stayed longer.

When we returned to the hotel I had time to walk around the blocks
of apartments surrounding the hotel. I was interested in the number
of people and families who live in the apartments and wondered how
much they paid to live there. I was told that to rent an apartment in
the city centre of Moscow is around 56,100 roubles (NZ$1,431.00)
per month. Living in the central city can be hard as the average salary
in Moscow is around 56,600 roubles (NZ$1,440.00) per month.
Living outside the central city though is almost half the living cost.

Our taxi had arrived to take us to the airport. It felt strange to be
leaving my parents in the middle of Moscow and knowing I wouldn’t
be hearing from them for the next few days. Mum and Dad were still
waiting for confirmation of their return flight, but we were assured it
would get to them later that day. We said goodbye and I asked them
to contact us when they got back to New Zealand. It had been a quick
trip, and although I had achieved so much, I was ready to go home.

I sent a message to Mum on the way to the airport to remind her to
check things and to enjoy the tour that had been organised around
Moscow for them.

The traffic on the Moscow Highway was crazy. It seemed that
everyone in Moscow wanted to go to the airport at the same time as
us. After waiting for over an hour in traffic, we eventually arrived at
the airport where we made a beeline for the check-in counter. All our
flights appeared to be on time and we slowly moved up the line. The
check-in assistant asked if I had my visa for New Zealand—that took
some explaining, but thankfully didn’t hold us up.

As I walked through the gate, I told myself again that I am never here
long enough. It was the same feeling as last time.

Next time I visit Russia I plan to stay longer and of course to visit my
birth city of Arkhangelsk. 77
Mihail is very proud of the city where he grew up and had told me
many things about it. He and his family have given me many gifts
from Arkhangelsk and I felt this was somewhere I needed to go.

We boarded our first flight, which would take us to Guangzhou in
China. We were both trying to catch up with our time zones. As we
had been in Russia for such a short time, we hadn’t had time to adjust
to Russian time. I managed to call Mum and Dad while we waited for
our final flight home to Auckland.

They had enjoyed their tour around Moscow and everything was
going well. We finally boarded our last flight, which was due to land
in Auckland at 7 a.m. the following morning. We both tried to sleep,
as when we arrived we planned to take a bus home, unpack and then
go straight to school or work.

As we landed in Auckland, going to work was the last thing we felt
like doing; we just wanted to go home and stay there all day. It was
good to get off the plane though and smell the fresh air once we got
outside the airport.

Everyone at work told me I was mad going in that Monday. I thought
I was too. Around lunchtime, a lack of sleep caught up with me and
I felt like I was going to crash. I needed to go home and sleep, and
that is exactly what I did. I heard from Mum and Dad again who had
enjoyed their trip and were now at Moscow Airport waiting to catch
their flight back to New Zealand. It was a strange feeling, knowing
they were still in Moscow while I was back in New Zealand.

After a week or so of having arrived back home, we had all returned
to our everyday routines. Mum and Dad were back in Whangarei,
and it almost felt like going to Russia had never happened.

In early December TVNZ got in touch, wanting to film a story on my
recent trip. The filming that was done in Russia had not yet been on
air and I patiently waited to hear when it was to be broadcast.
78
TVNZ wanted to see the show and I was told it would be playing in
Russia on Monday then Tuesday, and then Wednesday.

It was a waiting game for all of us. The TVNZ team had left for their
summer holidays and we were all preparing to go to Whangarei for
Christmas and New Year. Around this time I had news from the TV
show in Russia to say that the show was due to play a few days before
Christmas. The promotional advertising had been playing too, so I
was pretty confident that it would be screened when they said.

The many time zones in Russia meant the show would be playing
throughout the night while I was sleeping.

I planned to watch it at 6 a.m. when it would be screening in Moscow
and Saint Petersburg. I wanted to have a good sleep the night before
but began to worry what the final episode would look like. I couldn’t
remember exactly everything I had said on screen and hoped I hadn’t
said anything wrong. Messages from people in Vladivostok who had
watched the show started appearing around 10 p.m. It was frustrating
not being able to watch it online at that time and having to wait until
the following morning to watch the Moscow live stream screening.

I had no idea what impact the show would have or exactly how many
people would be watching.

I woke before my alarm and, with time to spare before the show at 6
a.m., I read the messages and comments on my phone. The half an
hour went by quickly, with another TV show about strangers getting
married. This seemed such a strange programme to play before Let
them Talk. In the ad breaks it was exciting to see the promo which
showed photos of my family.

It felt like a long time since all of this had happened. I saw myself
walking out onto the stage and reminded myself that at this very time
over four million people were watching.

79
Messages were coming through from every direction. I was interested
in how the show would have been edited, but nothing seemed to have
been changed.

As Tatiana came out on the stage, I began to worry. I remembered
how she had been put on the spot with some difficult questions. As I
watched I realised how hard it must have been for her and felt sorry
that it had happened like this. I’d thought it might have been best she
didn’t appear at all on the show but reminded myself there had been
no pressure for her to do so. She had chosen to say yes.

Watching the show was like watching a movie about myself. It was
surprising how many people were trying to contact me, so I turned
my phone off. The show was an hour long and, before I knew it, it
had ended, aired for the world to see. I turned my phone on to catch
up with the feedback and messages.

Most of the messages were positive; none mentioned how Tatiana
had been treated on the show, which made me feel better. I knew I
had done the right thing: it was good for my parents to meet my birth
parents. It was something I had wanted to do since 2013 although I
hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.

It was something really incredible and an experience that definitely
changed my life.

As I began work that day, Russia started going to sleep and the
messages became fewer but still didn’t stop. Feedback from the 200-
plus messages I received was awesome. The screening had been
perfect timing as that day was our Christmas party, so I only had half
a day’s work. This gave me more time to read messages.

As well as general feedback on the show, people were asking if I could
help them find their relatives.

The day went fast and the Christmas party was fun. Work was now
80 finished for me for the year.
I was ready for my Christmas and New Year break. I wanted 2016 to
be a big year for the “I’m Adopted” project, and I knew I could make
it happen.

While the weather was incredible, our break wasn’t really a break.
Margarita worked hard translating the entire Russian TV show
into English and I was continually thinking of ways I wanted “I’m
Adopted” to progress.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve and along with everyone we waited
until the clock struck midnight. I was happy with everything that had
happened in 2015. It was an evening to celebrate.

81
2016
While I had enjoyed working with the TV channel, I was looking for
a fresh start in 2016, so when I was offered a job working for a new
production company set up by people I had worked for in 2012, I
accepted it. The Café was a weekday breakfast show starting in April.

At the beginning of the year, I had set goals for what I wanted to
achieve with the “I’m Adopted” project and one of these was to think
of a way adoptees could meet each other.

I wondered if a small event at a park or beach would provide the
opportunity to share their stories and experiences with each other. It
was to be a simple event, advertised on the Facebook page. I started
to plan the first “I’m Adopted” meet-up, at the local park near my
place. I set it up well in advance so that people knew exactly when
and where it was.

I had no idea how many people would come along but spread the
word around my friends, encouraging them to come and bring their
friends. This would be a perfect opportunity for adoptees to sit down
and talk to each other. I had the meet-up planned for a Sunday,
around lunchtime, and asked everyone to bring along a plate of food
that could be shared.

The days were starting to get cooler, but it was still ideal weather to
hang out in the park. As Sunday drew closer I began to wonder if
anyone would actually come.

Some had expressed interest online but I really had no idea how
many people to expect. I was first at the park for the inaugural “I’m
Adopted” gathering, on a sunny, clear day.

82
After an hour or so we had over twenty people, some were adopted
brothers and sisters, some had driven for hours just to meet, and
most of them didn’t know each other. We all sat down and just
started talking.

I asked where everyone was from in New Zealand and where they
had been adopted from. Most of them were from Russia; there was
one person from Romania and a few from within New Zealand.
Twins who had been adopted from Russia had come. One of them
had a USSR tattoo on his arm; he was proud of his Russian heritage
and wanted to go and live there for a short while. Everyone was
happy to tell their story and as we talked we discovered we had all
had similar experiences.

It was good meeting new faces that day. After a few hours of talking
and eating and making plans to keep in touch, we made our way
home. This day was something I had wanted to do for a long time
and I was happy it had gone so well. I knew that this meet-up wasn’t
going to be the only one: there were going to be more for sure.

It was near my birthday. I was enjoying my new job, had just
returned from an awesome time filming a travel video in Napier, had
established a routine and was proud of the “I’m Adopted” project
which had started to grow by itself. I was asked if I wanted to talk
about the “I’m Adopted” project on two breakfast shows, one of
which was The Café TV show I was working for.

I was more than happy to do this and could have talked for hours
about why my project is so important to me.

Whenever I had the opportunity I would tell people my goal was to
see people reconnect; I like seeing when adoptees meet their birth
relatives just to simply make that connection.

I see it as growing your family bigger, respecting each other and
finding your identity. Your Mum and Dad are the people who raised
you. 83
Your birth parents, if they didn’t raise you, are the people who
brought you into this world. I love my parents and since I left home,
have always kept in touch with them. They are the people who raised
me and they are my true Mum and Dad. I respect my birth parents
as they are the ones who brought me to this world in the first place.
I have respect for everyone who has something to do with why I am
here today.

When interviewed on TV I was happy to talk about the stories and
people involved with the project. At this stage I was the one primarily
running “I’m Adopted,” with some help from several other adoptees
in planning the meet-ups and other events. My dream was to grow
this project into something huge for adoptees, and I knew I could do
that. I’ve always left an interview feeling good, glad that I had got the
word out there.

Late in 2015 I had written to the queen about my project and the
work that it does.

I didn’t expect a reply, but in April the following year an envelope
with the royal seal was delivered to our mailbox. The queen had
acknowledged the work I had been doing even though it was still the
beginning of the project.

Naturally, I told everyone about it and even though some said it
would be a generic template I wasn’t bothered.

I was happy to receive an acknowledgement which specifically talked
about adoption.

Our second meet-up was hosted at a beach, which I felt might be
more relaxed than meeting at a park. Again the goal was to meet
with other adoptees and share experiences. I have always understood
that families and relationships aren’t always positive and that not
every story has a happy ending. I believe it is good to share these
experiences, so people don’t feel isolated and alone.
84
When I talk to people about meeting my birth parents, I’m honest
and tell them it wasn’t all clear-cut and positive. There are some
things I’d rather not know about, such as my birth mother having
issues with drinking. I know that she has her life and not everything
is easy for her but always hope that one day I will hear she has given
up alcohol. I don’t judge her for what she does, as it’s her life and she
makes the decisions she needs to.

When we do meet up all we do is talk. We talk about the challenges
of being an adoptee. So many of us have beautiful families here in
New Zealand which we are thankful for. We never stop talking about
our parents when we meet. Some of the nicest people I have met are
the parents of adoptees.

I can’t imagine the challenge of going through the long and often
frustrating process to adopt a child from within New Zealand or
overseas.

We also talk about the often difficult search that adoptees face when
looking for their birth parents; many adoptees have hit a brick wall
when looking for information on their birth parents; some adoptees
aren’t interested in searching.

Some children adopted into families can face problems when trying
to develop a good relationship with their Mum and Dad and some
say a lot of adopted children go “off the rails” later in life.

It can be difficult for some to learn at a later age that they are in fact
adopted; everything around them can affect them and be difficult.
A few adoptees have told me they had gone through a tough time in
their adopted family, and some even said they wished they had never
been adopted.

If parents had been tough and unreasonable, it was difficult to
know what to say, but through talking with others I have seen that
circumstances and relationships can change for some and life can
become happier. 85
If you were in a Russian orphanage you’d know you wouldn’t be there
forever. You are expected at a certain age to leave and make your
own way in life. This can be difficult and overwhelming if there is no
mother, father, or other family members to guide and support you.
Staff and carers working in an orphanage always do their best, but
nothing replaces a mother or father.

At our meet-ups I just listen, as everyone’s story is different. Some
adoptees I have met have gone back to their birth country to
experience the culture and see what everything is all about; they don’t
all go to meet up with their birth parents.

I started a Russian version of “I’m Adopted” which allows English
and Russian adoptees to share their stories. My birth parents only
speak Russian and when searching for them I knew my message had
to get out there in the Russian language.

86
Goals
This had been a challenge, even with the incredible resource of
Google Translate. My thoughts widened to setting up “I’m Adopted”
in other languages, enabling individuals to have their story translated
and to begin their search. A few people who were keen to translate
stories for English-Russian adoptees around the world, had contacted
me, so we started the “I’m Adopted” Russian version one afternoon
in May.

It felt good to be able to share the many stories that started coming
in. All that month, after work, I sat down and wrote blogs for “I’m
Adopted.” I focused on making available as much information and
as many resources as I could for adoptees—when to search, how to
search or if it’s a good idea to search at all. These questions are always
being asked.

I continued sharing stories and advising them over the following
months. One story which had an incredible outcome was about a
Russian girl who was adopted into New Zealand. She had used a
private investigator to search for her birth parents without success,
so she’d decided to share her story on the “I’m Adopted” page. Her
story was shared in both the English and Russian versions, which was
awesome, and her story spread like wildfire.

Told in words and photos, her story was on several small Russian
news outlets and the power of social media was demonstrated as
people wrote in with information. After a month or so she had traced
her birth parents. She sent a message thanking me for making this
resource available; she couldn’t believe how everything had happened
so quickly.

Every search and every story is different.

87
The reality is that not every adopted person is going to find exactly
what they are looking for: it is complicated and not always easy to
understand. When something incredible like finding your birth
parents happens, it is the most overwhelming feeling in the world.

I was happy with how everything was going. People were sharing
stories and could source information. For those wanting to search as
an individual and not share their story publicly on the Facebook page
and website, resources and tips were now available through a separate
link.

In June the New Zealand Herald interviewed me, focusing on the
“I’m Adopted” project. They asked the usual questions like how many
people are following it and how does it actually help adoptees. I was
happy to answer and share how the project worked, believing that the
more people who knew about it, the more it would help others.

I decided to host the third “I’m Adopted” meet-up. We arranged to
meet at the local park and, as usual, I waited anxiously, wondering
how many people—if any—would turn up. It was a great afternoon,
with an average turn out and some new faces.

After we had our third meet-up, it was time to focus on celebrating
the first birthday of “I’m Adopted.” This project means a lot to me
and celebrating a year of helping people is something to be proud of.

This celebration was to be different to the meet-ups we had organised
and I was confident I could make it happen and make it happen well.

A friend of Margarita’s found an event venue which would be suitable
to host the event, and organised several speakers and guests for the
night. The event was not only for adoptees but also families who have
adopted or who are considering adoption.

Before I knew it, the night of the birthday party arrived. I had the
guest list ready and the event was ready to begin.
88
I got to the venue early to set up the equipment and test the
microphones as we had prepared a visual presentation, but when I
discovered the projector was having issues I started stressing out.
Mum and Dad had come down from Whangarei and all I could think
about was fixing the projector.

This wasn’t what we needed but I made myself calm down and think
about how this problem could be solved. It turned out the cord
we had for the computer wasn’t compatible with the projector but,
fortunately, I had brought a camera with me and the presentation
could be played through that. I was ready to begin.

Many people came to the evening wanting to learn what “I’m
Adopted” was all about, why I created it and how it helped
adoptees—that was the question of the night: “how does your project
help adoptees?”

When I speak publicly I’m always nervous beforehand but once I get
started my nerves disappear. I confidently stood up on the stage and
introduced the programme for the evening.

Adoptees spoke from their hearts as they shared their stories and
inspired the audience. Wendy Hawke, executive director of ICANZ,
spoke about the work of their organisation and shared statistics on
international adoption both within and outside New Zealand.

Wendy has adopted children herself and has helped many families
throughout New Zealand in her role at ICANZ. Todd Barclay, a
former Member of Parliament, also came to the evening. I have
known Todd since we were children and, although not adopted
himself, Todd was pleased to talk that night in the role of a keen
supporter. The evening ended with food and drinks.

Even with all the technical issues earlier in the evening, the evening
had definitely been worth organising. Everything came together in
the end and I was happy with the number of people who attended.
89
It had been important to me that the first year of “I’m Adopted” was
recognised.

The planning of this event took a long time, but the evening itself
went too fast. I am not an event planner, so this had been a challenge
for me.

I had worried about the number of people who would come, I had
worried about who would be there and even worried if the timing
of all the speeches was correct. But everything went well and I
was pleased. Although it was almost midnight, when I got home I
uploaded the photos that had been taken over the evening.

Over the next few weeks, many stories started coming through from
people both in New Zealand and around the world.

With the Russian version of “I’m Adopted” now live, more and more
stories were being shared. It was almost running itself, but I still
wrote blog posts helping adoptees either with their searches or with
advice, whatever I felt would be useful.

Aaron Carotta, who had helped me when I went to Russia in 2013,
contacted me to let me know that he was about to start an attempt
for a world record in kayaking. He was making his way down
through the USA, trying to achieve the record for the world’s longest
solo kayak. You might well be asking what this has to do with “I’m
Adopted” or adoption.

Aaron had told me he was surprised at the number of people he had
met who were adopted and, while not adopted himself, he wanted to
help raise awareness for “I’m Adopted” by letting people know about
the project on his trip. He also tagged the website address on the side
of his kayak.

It was exciting to watch coverage of Aaron’s world record attempt on
various state TV channels in the USA.
90
Aaron was kayaking for well over 100 days and, while I’m not sure
if he ever got the official Guinness World Record, the support and
cause had been more important to him.

I was thankful to Aaron for helping raise awareness but still felt I
wanted to do more. After some late nights, I came up with the idea
of making a video. People often don’t understand what the project
is about and a video would answer their most common questions
(“What is ‘I’m Adopted’?” “Why did you call it that?” “Do you just
sit there and search for people’s relatives all day?”), as well as give an
overview of the project.

On a Saturday morning I set up my equipment and, feeling slightly
strange even though there was nobody around, I began talking to the
camera.

With many out-takes, I told my story without repeating myself too
much. I then shared what the “I’m Adopted” project was actually
about. When I had finished my video I went onto the computer and
started putting it together. As soon as the uploading was complete,
people were sharing and talking about it to others. It was awesome to
read the feedback.

I knew that this had been a good thing to do. It was like an
introduction to the entire project. If anyone asked about the “I’m
Adopted” project, a copy of the video could be sent to them. Tending
to be an introvert, I’m not a big fan of seeing myself on screen
and public speaking is often a struggle for me. I’ve worked hard to
overcome this fear, knowing the reward of sharing my story with
others has great benefits and always makes me feel good.

It was coming to the end of spring, and summer was almost
here. 2016 had been a good year where hundreds of stories had
been shared. I was happy knowing that many people had found
information on their birth relatives through using the project.

91
I still had plans to develop the project, and to do this needed a team.
This was a goal for 2017.

After the “I’m Adopted” birthday I had kept in contact with Todd
Barclay, who invited me to make a speech to parliament the following
year. To make this happen, I required the support of a small team.

This was something to look forward to in 2017. I continued to share
blog posts and, along with a few other adoptees, had organised a few
live Q&As on the Facebook page. Many adoptees asked us for advice
during these live videos and it was good to hear their experiences and
stories.

After the I’m Adopted birthday I had kept in contact with Todd
Barclay who invited me to make a speech to Parliament the following
year. To make this happen, I required the support of a small team.

This was something to look forward to in 2017. I continued to share
blog posts and along with a few other adoptees had organised a few
live Q&As on the Facebook page. Many adoptees asked us for advice
during these live videos and it was good to hear their experiences and
stories.

92
Growing “I’m Adopted”
The world feels a smaller place when we communicate this way.

I was keen to have both Alex Kuch, who is a Romanian-Kiwi adoptee,
and Sasha Kelly, who is a Russian-New Zealand adoptee, as part of
my team. We met together for an informal interview where I asked
why they wanted to be involved and how much the project meant
to them. I was confident there wouldn’t be any issues with Alex
and Sasha, I had always trusted them and they trusted me. I was
convinced that working as a team the three of us would make the
project stronger.

Our first challenge was to organise our presentation to parliament
which was scheduled for February. Our summer holidays were put
on hold as we focused on what we wanted to say. We were conscious
that there were some topics we were unable to talk about, lines we
weren’t allowed to cross. This is regarding the Russian-New Zealand
bilateral agreement that allows adoptions between each country to
take place. This has been on hold since 2013.

This was something I wanted to bring attention to and although I
was frustrated that there were rules in place preventing discussion on
this, I understood that at the end of the day that is something I just
had to accept.

Alex Kuch, Sasha Kelly, and I had prepared a list of people to invite
for the “I’m Adopted” presentation in Parliament. We thought hard
about who would be the right people, and so we asked Wendy Hawke
if she could to speak on the night.

We wanted to present something that was professional and
informative and knew we had to work hard to make this happen.
93
After a few meetings, we had completed a draft presentation which
we felt confident would raise parliamentarians’ awareness about “I’m
Adopted.”

We didn’t see each other again until the new year began. Margarita
and I went up north with some friends that Christmas as our work
commitments didn’t allow us enough leave time to go south with my
mum and dad. We had a wonderful holiday as I decided to have a
break from everything—I didn’t email anyone or look at the Internet;
I just took a rest and was now ready for 2017. After New Year’s, we
returned to Auckland and our jobs.

I knew February would soon be here and felt that we were ready. This
opportunity was so important to us because we finally had the chance
to talk about the “I’m Adopted” project to people who could help
us develop it. It was our chance to raise awareness in Members of
Parliament, people who had the appropriate contacts and influence.

We finished our practise presentations and speeches with one week to
go. We flew to Wellington on the fourteenth of February, Valentines
Day and Mum’s birthday, the first departure of the day. We double-
checked we had everything and were ready to make this happen. I
had no idea what the day would bring or even if it was worth going.

My mind raced through possible outcomes and, while I was both
excited and nervous, I just wanted to get it over with.

We arrived around 7 a.m. and, having the entire day to look around,
spent the day sightseeing.

We went to Te Papa, up the cable car to the Gardens, went shopping,
walked along Queen’s Wharf and in the distance saw the Beehive, the
executive wing of New Zealand’s parliament buildings where we were
meeting later in the day.

94
Our presentation was due to start at 6 p.m. Around 5.30 p.m. our
nerves began to set in but we all focused on why we were there and,
confident we were well-prepared, we were ready for the evening to
begin.

I could see some familiar faces amongst the crowd and when I got up
to speak my nerves instantly disappeared.

My speech, a mix of humour and seriousness, focused on the
importance of connection for adoptees. Curiosity plays a huge role in
an adoptee’s life. We wonder where we come from and who our birth
parents are. I shared some statistics on the “I’m Adopted” project, the
hundreds of stories that have been shared and the number of people
it has helped all over the world. I am proud of everything that it has
done for others.

The evening was another step in our journey and, as I shared with
our guests, “This is only the beginning.” After our speeches and
presentations were finished, we all went out for dinner—happy
the evening had been successful and happy to have established
relationships with another group of people.

We returned to Auckland at the end of that week, pleased with how
everything had gone but knowing that realistically it would take
some time before any results were seen. I had some big plans for this
year, and I knew that they were going to be worth every step.

I started to share more stories on the Facebook page. The more that
people shared, the more that it grew. I was starting to get into the
routine of my year—with work and of course with the project. The
others who were a part of the project also had to focus on other
things as well as this. We do all know and realise that we can’t focus
on this all the time but we all also know that we would like to one
day.

I kept my head down and every day I would try to think of new ideas
and more ideas to grow the project. 95
It was only the start of the year but I wanted to make 2017 a year that
I wouldn’t forget. I came up with my list of goals that I wanted to
focus on for 2017. One of these included going to Russia to see my
orphanage.

This was always something I wanted to do and something I really
wanted to make happen. I was determined to make this possible for
myself but I knew I would have to make it worthwhile.

I had to plan everything out correctly and make sure it would be a
trip to remember. My orphanage is very far away, so I knew that this
had to be planned out correctly and that it wasn’t going to happen
overnight.

A few weeks after our talk in parliament, I had got back into my
routine at work. I had to focus on this as well as my project but I
defiantly made this work. It never bothered me or annoyed me. I was
happy to see that people were reaching out to me via email and the
website. This is what the project is all about.

I forgot to mention and catch you up with the story of Natasha, who
shared her story at the end of the previous year. Around this time,
after parliament, I got the chance to share her story on the national
news about how “I’m Adopted” helped her find her relatives in
Russia.

After Natasha’s story and search had aired on TV, I started to get
more stories which, for me, was perfect timing. Everything had got
back into a routine for me and I then started to work on more ideas. I
always work on getting the word out there myself. I never stop doing
that.

In February I not only went to Wellington but I also went to my
grandparents down in the South Island. It was Grandad’s ninetieth
birthday. He told me that he was not looking forward to this day. He
joked about this a lot. I got down there with the family and there he
96 was sitting in his favourite chair in the lounge.
I will give you a little background on my grandparents.

Their story is pretty incredible. My grandad and grandma met when
they were both really young. In fact, they had been married for over
sixty years. My grandad, Colin, had always been a farmer and he
would never leave the farm. Even when he turned ninety, he still
would want to go out on the farm. I sat down with him and Grandma
on his birthday and I talked to them about their lives. The stories that
they told were true memories that only they could tell.

When I did leave to go back home to Auckland it never crossed my
mind that this would be the last time I would see my grandad. I really
didn’t.

I got back home once again and, before I knew it, it was coming
up to my birthday on the first of April. I had organised a birthday
celebration with some friends and, believe me, it wasn’t anything
crazy. It was a quiet night and this is the way that I wanted it to
be. I had talked to Margarita about me going to Russia in the
summertime, which was only a few months away, but prices had
gone very high and I thought to myself to maybe wait until the start
of winter. People do think I am crazy going to Russia in the winter, as
I have only been to Russia in the winter, but that has never concerned
me.

I had to plan what I was going to do. The months were flying by
and, while I kept up with my work, the “I’m Adopted” project kept
growing. I wanted to help people in Russia. I wanted to visit my
orphanage and I wanted to make the right contacts while I was
there. I reached out to various people that I knew in Russia. I had
got in touch with my birth father about me visiting my orphanage in
Arkhangelsk, and he thought it was a great idea but he knew that we
had to definitely plan everything correctly.

These few months after my birthday were not so easy. This part of my
story really put everything on hold. I didn’t focus on my project and I
definitely found it hard struggling with my work. 97
These few months from July were definitely a time that I don’t want
to really revisit.

Everything had been going smoothly and fine up until the first few
days of July. My mum had called me and had told me that Grandad
had a fall and that it really wasn’t going well for him.

I called Mum that morning and I did tell her to tell me everything,
but I could tell that not everything was right. I started to realise that
this wasn’t going to be good.

I waited for updates from Mum and I even called Grandma that day
to let her know that we were all thinking of them.

I told Grandma, “Please tell Grandad that I love him and that I am
thinking of him.” Grandma was upset but knew that we all had to
wait for an update on how he was.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t imagine not ever hearing from
my grandad again. He was the only grandad that I had. I would
always call them and he had always liked hearing from me.

98
Saying Goodbye
He would be one of the most supportive people that I have known in
my life. I didn’t want anything bad to happen, but that was not how
things would turn out.

The next morning I had called my dad as I knew that my mum was
quite upset about everything that was going on. It wasn’t good news
and I had trouble that morning calming down. I was told that he had
left us that morning, in the hospital. He wasn’t good before he passed
away and I knew that he wouldn’t want to have stayed the way he had
been, but I never wanted this to happen.

I was told to get flights down to the South Island, to their home
in Invercargill. This time it wasn’t for a celebration of his birthday,
instead it was for a reason that I really couldn’t accept. As you can
understand, while this was all happening I couldn’t focus on anything
else. I knew that I really just needed to be with my family. But I really
did focus on trying to stay positive. I wanted to celebrate his life and
I knew that he would want the same. I knew that he would tell me to
not cry. I could see him telling me this.

I got to Invercargill that evening and my brother and mum had
picked me up from the airport. It was cold, and asking my mum how
she was, was really not easy to do. She was alright, and I knew that we
have to do what we need to do. I got to their home and I was able to
see Grandad in his coffin.

At that point, I couldn’t keep calm. I started to get upset just as I saw
him. I had been planning to go down to see him and Grandma the
month before, and I was really sorry to him that I couldn’t make it
down and that I was too late.

99
He was waiting to see me again but I never knew that I would be too
late.

I looked and stood there and I told him that I was going to keep
making him proud. I was determined to keep doing what I was doing
as I knew that he would be watching me. The next few days started to
get better.

We celebrated his life and, after his funeral, I even played some of
his interview that I had filmed, on a big screen for everyone to see. It
was some of the funny moments of my grandad’s life that he himself
had talked about. It felt like he was still there after we watched it.
Grandma was happy to see everyone again and it was really good
to celebrate the life of my grandad, along with it being a sad time,
however.

I was there for a week and, before I knew it, I was back in Auckland
again. It took me some time to calm down a bit, to get back into
routine and for me to try and think about everything that had been
going on. I decided that I needed to plan my trip to Russia. I needed
to book well in advance and I started to talk to people in Russia so
that I could make my trip worthwhile.

A few months later, another situation I had to deal with—but didn’t
want to—was with Margarita. She wanted to sit down with me and
talk to me about our relationship. I had no idea what to expect as I
felt that everything was going fine. I was happy with her and I didn’t
feel that anything would ever go wrong. I did everything right and
she would often tell me that I was the best partner that she had ever
had. In this case, however, it didn’t feel like that.

She had talked to me for a while about us possibly living separately.
I understand that she had really got used to me, too much. I told her
that if this is what is best, then I was happy to move out.

100
However, everything really went in different directions. She told
me that she really didn’t feel the same as I did. I was different. I was
completely in love with her. I cared about her so much and even
when I was not at home I would talk about her to everyone and about
how proud I was to be with her.

I still felt like I had when I first met her. She was really my true love.
Within a few days, everything had turned around. I had moved out
and I couldn’t focus on everything that was going on. I don’t blame
her and we have to be thankful to each other. That is how I look at it.
You can’t pretend to love somebody.

I struggled to accept everything that was going on, but I knew that
everything would be fine. One day you are with this person who you
truly care about and then the next day everything changes. I wanted
her to be happy.

I had moved everything out from where we’d been living and I had
found a place that was twenty minutes away. I will be honest with
you in this part of my story, and I will make it quick, but it really has
taken me months and months to accept everything that happened. I
needed to respect the decision she had made and I really did. I will
always do anything for her and I am just happy that we still remain
friends. I am always thankful to her and I always will be.

I needed to focus on what I was planning to do next, which was for
me to go to Russia. It was coming down to my last month prior to
leaving.

101
Next Journey to Russia
I still had everything on my mind that had been going on the last
few months, but I was ready to go to Russia and I knew that I had to
make it happen. I started to have everything fall into place. I had my
trip to the orphanage all ready to go from my birth father, Mihail. He
really couldn’t wait for me to get to Russia again.

I wanted to reach out to the Russian government and I knew it might
have been a crazy idea. I sat down one evening, a few weeks before
I was ready to leave. I wrote a letter to the Russian president, Mr
Vladimir Putin. I wrote to him about what I did, my story and how I
wanted to help with my project. I had to wait and be patient but I was
determined to meet someone in his team that would be willing to
meet me.

A few weeks went by and I had everything ready for Russia. I had
organised to stay with Diana Mashkova. She is a popular Russian
writer and journalist. She helps with an organisation in Russia
which helps teenagers in orphanages find families and helps provide
support for those parents who had adopted children inside Russia.

I got her contact when I appeared on the TV show Let them Talk,
in 2015. I had kept in contact with her ever since then and I was
interested in collaborating with her in Russia. She had also been
following my project and I wanted to make things happen for the
people in Russia as we also have a Russian version of my project.

The time was coming up fast for my trip to Russia. I had planned to
stay in Moscow with Diana’s family while I met adopted teenagers
and parents, along with me visiting my orphanage in my birth town
Arkhangelsk. I was ready to go and I wanted to make it all happen.

102
I woke up to an email that was from one of the legal advisers of the
Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of Russia. They
had received my letter and they were ready to meet me. Might not
have been Vladimir Putin, but I was really happy to know that they
were willing to meet me. I wrote back as soon as I could, as I knew
that this was going to be an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.

I had a schedule for my trip to Russia and every day there was busy,
but it was going to be worth it. I had some TV interviews ready, some
radio interviews ready and of course a lot of meetings. I was right
with what I said about planning and making it worthwhile, because I
know that I did this right this time.

I had everything ready and, before I knew it, I was going to be leaving
Auckland to go to Russia for the third time. I spent the day double-
checking that I had everything ready to go. My flight was due to leave
that evening. I was going to be on a flight to Beijing, which would
arrive at 4 a.m. the next day. I knew that I then had to wait twelve
hours in the airport, before finally taking a flight to arrive in Moscow.
It was going to be a long trip to get to Russia, but I was able to find
time to kill.

I was ready to get on the plane. Everything that I had ready was good
to go. I had some friends take me to the airport to drop me off. The
week before leaving was strange. I couldn’t believe that I would be
taking myself to Russia for the third time.

I was nervous about going to Russia on my own but I had everything
ready and I knew that everything was going to be fine. I had been in
contact with my friends in Russia who were waiting for me to arrive.

The plane was ready for boarding and I was ready to get on. It was
getting into the night in Auckland and so I knew that the best thing
for me to do was to get some sleep. I looked at my schedule at various
times throughout the long twelve-hour flight. I knew that, with the
wait in Beijing, this trip was going to be incredibly long.
103
I did sleep on the flight, as well as listen to music much of the time. I
would rethink about everything that had been going on that year but
I never let anything bother me. I knew that what I was doing was the
right thing to do.

I landed in Beijing and, as you would imagine, it was very quiet. It
was only 4 a.m. and I had no idea what I was going to be doing for
most of the day. My next flight wasn’t leaving until after lunch. I
walked around the airport to get familiar with the place. I walked
from one end of the airport to the other, which killed a lot of time.
I wasn’t able to contact anyone there as all communication was
blocked, so I was lucky that I had contacted everyone already before
leaving.

I sat and waited and waited. Nothing much was really going on.
The time felt slow as I just wanted to arrive in Moscow. I would
recheck, throughout my time in Beijing, if I had everything with me,
including my passport and plane tickets. Before I knew it, after a long
wait, it was lunchtime. I can’t go into much detail on what I did in
Beijing because I really didn’t do much. I just waited and waited.

I went to the area where the gate was for Moscow. People started to
come to the gate and wait.

It was strange to know that the gate was empty an hour before and
now there were over a hundred people waiting. I ended up being
pushed right to the end of the line, but it didn’t matter as we all did
have to wait until the last person boarded the flight.

I finally got onto the flight, and I was looking forward to where I
would be going next. Russia was waiting for me and all I had to do
now was just wait another eight hours. That was all. It did seem long
but, compared to the first flight, this one was nothing. It had been a
long day and my time zones were all out of place. I didn’t understand
what the time really was and my body was still adjusted to New
Zealand time.
104
I got onto this final flight thinking that this is really happening again.
I took myself onto this plane this time and I decided to make this
happen. Nobody else. I wanted to do this because I felt like it was
the right thing for me to do. I fell asleep knowing that it was only
lunchtime, but I was exhausted and I needed to get ready for my
arrival in Moscow.

I will fast forward seven hours later into my story. I heard that we
would be landing in Moscow soon. Only an hour to go but this was
the final countdown. I had put everything in my carry-on luggage
so that when we landed, I could just walk right off. I was thinking to
myself that I am so far away from home and nobody had heard from
me in over twenty-four hours. My friends and family must have been
wondering where I was in the world right now.

We started to land and I could see Moscow through the window.
However, it was now dark so all I could see were lights. I had planned
to get a taxi to where I was staying which was all ready for me to use.
I was not nervous or worried. I had been to this airport twice already
so I knew my way around it quite easily.

105
Hello Moscow
The plane landed and I had arrived in Moscow. Once we had come
to a complete stop, everyone stood up. It was a manic rush. People
didn’t know how to stay calm. I picked up my bag and walked out of
the plane. I knew that this time nobody was waiting for me and that
I was on my own to find my way around inside the airport. I was at
the passport control as this has always been a funny situation. I have
a Russian passport but nobody can understand why I don’t speak
Russian. I always have had to line up in this line which is faster to get
through.

They did speak some English, so that was alright. I got through
this part and then I picked up my main piece of luggage. I walked
through to the exit, to where everyone waited. I needed to get a SIM
card for my phone so that I could let my friends know that I was
here. That was easy to do and, before I knew it, I was in a taxi.

I had the address with me and I told Diana who I was staying with,
and that I was on my way. Being back in Russia was good. I looked
out the window on the motorway and I really couldn’t believe I was
here again. I remember this time looking outside to see how much
of a different country it was compared to New Zealand in 2013. So
many memories of me being nervous about meeting my birth parents
in 2013. I couldn’t believe how fast the time had gone and how much
had changed.

The time went fast in the taxi. The driver, who only spoke Russian,
was trying to talk to me and ask me questions. I did talk a little bit in
Russian, but I told him that I couldn’t speak fluently. He was driving
and talking to his phone to translate, which was very useful! Of
course it’s better with a human translator for translations but, for a
situation like this, small questions are easy to ask with a phone.
106
We arrived at where I would be staying. I told Diana and her husband
Denis that I was here. It was cold and I knew that I had to be ready
for this. I contacted my mum and dad and told them that I had
arrived safely and that I was at the house I would be staying at. I also
contacted my birth father, Mihail, and told him that I was here. He
was excited about seeing me, as you would expect.

I unpacked everything and went to the room where I would be
spending my time while I was in Moscow. I had brought over several
bottles of wine from New Zealand and some chocolate too for the
family I was with. They were quite surprised by this but I knew that
this would be a perfect welcoming gift for the family. They are nice
people and I was really grateful that they had offered to let me stay in
their house.

I had my schedule ready to go for Russia. I was here and I was
ready to start this new journey. It was Saturday the next day but I
had trouble thinking about what I would be doing. The trip over to
Moscow had been long and I was ready to sleep, however, I knew that
my sleep wouldn’t be perfect as my time zones were all out of place. I
went to sleep that night thinking how I am here. I made it here once
again. I was happy to be here, and there were many thoughts running
through my mind that night. I didn’t know what the next week would
be like and I didn’t know how everything would turn out.

The next morning, as you would expect, I woke up very early. It was
about 5 a.m. and I couldn’t get back to sleep.

I waited a little while and then went down to the kitchen to make
myself a coffee. Diana came down a little bit later and we both went
through what our plan was for the day.

I was asked if I wanted to have a look around Moscow and I definitely
didn’t say no to that. A friend of Diana’s was planning to meet me to
show me around.

107
I was looking forward to this after a long trip the day before. I
prepared my cameras and got in the car. We then stopped at the
metro. This was an incredible sight to see. I have never been in any of
the Russian metros before and seeing this was incredible. People take
this every day so they get used to it, but me, I couldn’t stop taking
photos of the place.

We met with Diana’s friend as Diana had to go. She spoke English
well and I was ready to have a look around Moscow. Diana was
planning to see me again later in the evening as I would be talking
with teenagers who had been adopted, at her charity. It was going to
be a long day, but it was going to be worth it.

We walked around Moscow’s Red Square and I felt like a tourist. I
took photo after photo. I also visited a museum in Moscow, which
showed me a piece of history that I had never seen before. Everything
was history in Moscow. The rich history that I appreciated seeing.

After a few hours of walking around, I was then told to meet at the
charity that Diana is involved with, called Arifmetika Dobra. There
were teenagers there who wanted to meet me. Many of them had
been adopted into families inside Moscow. What Diana has done
with Arifmetika Dobra, is incredible. The work that she and her team
put in really surprised me. I had never seen anything like this before.

I walked and met everyone in the office and I was then told to meet
everyone just around the corner in a different room. There was a big
screen so that I could show photos. I was ready to begin talking.

There were teenagers there, up to the age of eighteen. They were all
quite interested in knowing what I did. Some of them even spoke
good English. I talked about my story from the beginning up until
now. It took a while, but I wanted to let them know everything about
my life. I showed them photos of New Zealand and photos of where I
grew up in Whangarei.

108
The questions started coming and I was ready to answer all of them.
Many of the teenagers did ask me about why I wanted to find my
birth parents if my life was fine in New Zealand. For me, I was always
curious.

I just wanted to know who they were and, to this day, I don’t regret
searching and meeting them. I was happy that I now have this
connection with Russia, as this is where my life started. The teenagers
also asked me if I would ever live and stay in Russia. That is difficult
to answer because I would feel strange taking myself to Russia to live.
Maybe one day, for a long period of time. Of course! I myself would
feel strange leaving the country that I grew up in, along with my
family, to go to the country that I was born in. It is difficult to answer
that, as I really like Russia.

The questions and talks went on for a few hours and it was starting
to get late. I was ready to go back to where I was staying and for me
to get ready for the next day. I was lucky for this next day though,
as I had no plans. But the day after that, on the following Monday, I
would be flying up to Arkhangelsk. That day is a day that I had been
looking forward to for a while now.

109
Revisiting Arkhangelsk and My
Orphanage

I don’t know why I never really thought about going to my
orphanage in Arkhangelsk. I didn’t know when I felt that the time
would be perfect. In 2013 I only visited Moscow, Rybinsk, and Saint
Petersburg. But I didn’t think about Arkhangelsk. My birth father and
mother no longer live there and I didn’t feel like 2013 was the right
time for me to revisit my orphanage. I wanted to wait which is what I
did.

The following Sunday, after my first full day in Moscow, was relaxed. I
met with Diana’s daughter and had a further look around the central
area. I went to a café which was right near the train station. I was
hungry but I think I might have bought too much to eat, but I knew
that I needed to try everything. We walked to see where the water
was and, as you would know, I took photo after photo. I didn’t know
when I would ever be back so now this was the perfect opportunity.

That Sunday went fast and that night I slept well. I was excited about
the next day, however, as I would be getting on a plane the next
morning to finally go to Arkhangelsk. It was a really early morning. I
had to leave Diana’s home around 6 a.m. to get to the airport on time.
I was there without any problems and without being late. I waited
around a little while before finally boarding the plane to Arkhangelsk.
The flight was only an hour long but it felt longer than that.

I remember looking outside as we were landing and thinking that
this was where I was born. It felt good to finally see the city. I couldn’t
believe that I was finally here. My birth father, Mihail, was waiting for
me at the airport along with some news crews that he had organised.
I don’t know how he did it, but there were too many people with
cameras as soon as I got to the arrivals area.
110
I walked down and I could see Mihail instantly. He had a huge smile
on his face and he was not the only one. I walked down the stairs and
I could see that Mihail was not alone. My half-brother and his wife
were also there, along with a friend of Mihail’s, and Nastya who was
my translator. Can’t forget the news crews too.

I ran down and gave Mihail a big hug. He was happy to see me and
so was everyone else. I looked around and couldn’t believe that I had
arrived in Arkhangelsk. I was so far away from home and it was a
strange feeling for me. I always double-checked with myself to make
sure this was all really happening. Not all the time, only a few times.
We all got in the car and we drove to our first destination. I didn’t
know where we were going so I knew that I needed to ask Mihail.
Instead, I had to ask Nastya who translated everything perfectly.
I was able to ask anything I could and it was easy for Mihail to
understand. Mihail told me that we would be going to the cemetery.
It was strange for me, as this was the first thing that he had planned
for me to see. Not as a tourist of course, but he had planned for me to
visit his mother and father.

I had met Mihail’s mother back in 2013 and I remembered she was
the person who was trying to understand everything that was going
on. She was waiting for me to visit her again but I was too late. I was
interested in seeing the town as we were driving to the cemetery. I
asked question after question. A bit like what Mihail does when he
wants to ask question after question too.

I was happy to finally be here and also very interested in the city. We
got to the cemetery. It was very cold and there was ice everywhere. I
walked with everyone to where we needed to go. We all stood around
the gravesite of Mihail’s mother and father, who had passed away, to
pay our respects. Mihail told me that he was happy that I had arrived
but also sad that I wasn’t able to see his mother again.

I’d never met Mihail’s father as he had passed away years ago. I told
Mihail that everything was alright. We can only do what we can in
our lives. 111
It’s the circle of life, and that I was truly thankful that I was able to
meet her when I did in 2013.

After our visit to the cemetery, we were then ready to go to the
orphanage. Everything was planned and scheduled. I was just
following along. I was prepared to see what the orphanage was really
like. I didn’t know what to expect. I forgot to mention that we did a
short stop along the port before going to the orphanage. I had a brief
walk with Mihail as he showed me a bit of Arkhangelsk history. My
parents also walked down here back in 1994 when they came over to
get my brother and me.

We were all almost at the orphanage. I could see it from inside the
car. I noticed it as soon as we got there. I started to get nervous and
I felt like I couldn’t calm down. It was strange for me. The emotions,
I couldn’t explain how I was feeling. I was just happy to have finally
made it here.

We stopped and got out of the car. I was given flowers so that I could
pass them on to the people inside the orphanage. The minutes that
were passing felt slow. We got to the door and I looked at what the
sign said. I tried to read what I could, but I didn’t fully understand
what I was reading. However, Mihail and Nastya were impressed
with my skills in trying to learn the Russian language. I wasn’t just
with Mihail and Nastya at this point. I was also with my half-brother,
Artyom, his wife Anastasia and all the news crews. It was a busy
group but I was ready to go inside.

We were first introduced to the security of the orphanage and then
the nurses. A woman called Olga came up to me and said hello.
She remembered me and she had actually looked after me when I
was there in 1994. I really couldn’t believe that. I don’t think that
she could believe it either. It was a surreal moment for both of us. I
looked around as I was walking through, trying to think if I could
remember anything from the orphanage but I really couldn’t. The
place had changed and it had been all been renovated inside since I
112 was there.
We walked through and I met everyone that was there. They had
everything organised and I was ready to look around. I saw photos
that they had put on the wall for me to see. They were photos from
the early 1990s, from around the time I was there. I saw some of the
children that were currently there, and that was when it did start to
get quite overwhelming. There were only seven children there that I
saw in the group.

This was the same group that I was in when I was here in 1994.
However, there had been a lot more than seven of us, but it was good
that it had gone down in numbers. They do a good job when it comes
to helping the children, as many of them are sick in this orphanage. I
wished that I could help them. It was quite an emotional time at this
point inside the orphanage.

I asked them many questions which related to how the orphanage
operates. I learned a lot that day and, as I have said before, I didn’t
regret making the decision to go there. My birth father, Mihail, was a
little shocked by seeing the orphanage for his first time too. He also
sat down with us in a room with the nurse of the orphanage. Nastya,
our translator, was also there with us. This was the first time that
Mihail saw the papers about my adoption.

113
The Arkhangelsk Spirit
They were the papers that my birth mother, Tatiana, had written
when she took me to the orphanage. It just talked about when I
arrived at the orphanage, along with further details on my birth. I
could see Mihail was quite emotional seeing all of this information,
as he wished that he’d known about me existing. He still doesn’t
understand why my birth mother, Tatiana, never told him. We really
won’t ever understand, I think. But I have told Mihail over and
over again, that everything is fine and that we should be thankful
for where I ended up. Mihail just felt disappointed but happy about
where I ended up at the same time.

After a talk and a look around the orphanage, it was time for us to
leave. I got to meet everyone and I promised that I would be back
the following Wednesday to keep looking around. I did feel all
types of emotions leaving the orphanage. I tried to rethink if I had
remembered anything but I just couldn’t. I was happy that I had
finally made the trip to my orphanage as it was something that I had
thought about from time to time. I was pleased that I did it and I was
thankful that they wanted to meet me. I want to help them and I am
sure I will in the near future. They knew about everything that I do
for my project and they all knew about my own story. I was grateful
that this was possible for me.

After we left the orphanage, Nastya had to go to work, so it was just
me, Mihail, and our driver, Pasha. I didn’t know how this was going
to work with the language barrier but, to be honest, it was alright. I
asked Mihail with my phone, which translated for us, about where
we were going. He told me that we were on our way to the Wooden
Village.

This is a popular tourist spot in Arkhangelsk and I have always
wanted to see it. My parents had been here and I had seen photos of
it before. I was happy that we were going here. It was good for me
114 after the visit to the orphanage.
I got time to relax for a bit!

I got out of the car that we were in, after a twenty minute or so drive.
I didn’t know where we were as it looked as if we were now out in
the countryside of Arkhangelsk. It was starting to get dark, but it was
only three in the afternoon. The days were quite short as it was slowly
getting into winter. In Arkhangelsk, they have very short days in the
wintertime and long days in the summertime. This is because of the
location, with it being so far up on the world.

I had a good look around the Wooden Village with Mihail and his
friend Pasha. We joked and talked a lot actually, despite the language
barrier. I took out my camera and gave it to Pasha. I asked him to
shoot a video of me talking to Mihail. I wanted him to try and speak
some English, and I couldn’t believe how good he was at it.

We laughed a lot that evening as we both knew that this was going
to be difficult without Nastya, our translator, but it was actually
alright. Pasha, our driver, who is also good friends with Mihail,
would pick up his phone and say what he wanted to say. The English
would then play back so that I could understand. It was always a slow
conversation, but we managed to ask simple questions. I didn’t have
any problems with it.

We walked all around the Wooden Village until it started to get
dark. The houses were incredible and the area was something I had
never seen before in my entire life. I was ready to finish for the day,
but Mihail told me that we were not finished just yet. We had been
invited for dinner at a family friend’s place.

I was ready to go to sleep but also was fine with meeting more people.
I asked Mihail, how many people do we plan on seeing? He laughed
and told me that I will find out very soon.

We got to the apartment of some friends that knew Mihail very well.
I had seen this family in photos with Mihail, so I definitely knew who
they were. 115
We walked inside with a big welcoming of food, all on this big table,
and I was not sure if I was ready to eat so much. We all sat down and,
as you would know, no one spoke English. I had my phone with me
and I asked basic questions, and so did everyone else. We were joking
and laughing most of the night, and once they brought out the Vodka
that was when the joking and laughing just went up a new level.

I enjoyed the Russian culture of celebrating. Everyone was nice to
me and everyone was interested in New Zealand. I did talk a lot and
slowly. Some of the younger people with us understood me a little bit
so it wasn’t that bad. We were also told that the news story that was
filmed at the orphanage that day would play on TV while we were
there. I was not sure if I was ready to see the orphanage footage on
TV just yet. It was only a few hours ago that I was there.

We all were at the table, laughing, until we started to see the news
story play on TV. One of Mihail’s friends started to get quite
emotional during the story when it played. I was a little bit shy to see
myself on TV, while Mihail had a massive smile on his face the entire
time.

I think he likes to see himself on TV, which is alright with me. It
showed the story from when I met Mihail in 2013 up until when I got
to the orphanage that day. It was incredible to see on TV that night,
and I was pleased that it all played correctly.

After the news story played, the group of us at the table all asked each
other questions. They were really interested in everything that I had
done. I was fine with answering the questions and, as you know, I am
quite open about the entire story. Nothing is secret about it.

It started to get late and I was ready to go home. This was a long first
day in Arkhangelsk, but I was only going to be there for a few days so
I needed to make the most of it. The next day was just going to be a
lot of looking around which I was happy to do.

116
I wanted to see more of the town and I wanted to learn a little bit
more about the city that I was born in.

That night I was relaxed and fell asleep very fast. I did, however, wake
up early like I had been doing since I’d arrived in Russia. It was 6 a.m.
and I turned on the lights but I didn’t want to wake up Mihail who
was in the other room.

He already started to wake up so the timing wasn’t too bad. We
were both staying in a small apartment that is owned by a friend of
Mihail’s. It was just us two who stayed in this apartment while I was
there. I had no problem with it as I actually had an entire bedroom
all to myself. Quite a nice apartment!

When we got up the next morning, I looked out the window and all I
could see was more apartments. I am always interested in how people
live their lives in Russia. Always. Mihail went into the kitchen that
morning and got everything ready. Coffee and breakfast. I sat down
and asked Mihail what we were planning to do today. He told me that
Pasha, our driver, was on his way and that we would pick up Nastya.

He kept a lot of our plans secret while I was there. To surprise me of
course, but I had an idea of what we were doing. He gave some of the
secrets away when he went through his small list of plans before I
arrived in Russia.

117
Leaving Arkhangelsk
We drove later that morning to get Nastya, and I can tell you that
it was really good to have someone help translate instead of us all
using our phones like we had been doing for the past twelve hours.
We went to one of the museums that were near the waterfront of
Arkhangelsk, at the port. There is a lot of history in Arkhangelsk and
I really wanted to learn about it.

We had a good look around. I asked a lot of questions and the time
did go very fast. I was happy that I was able to relax a little more
that day. Mihail had told me that we would also be going to my
half-brother’s place tonight for dinner. We spent most of the day just
meeting friends. And when we met friends in Arkhangelsk in their
apartments, there was a lot of food waiting for all of us. I don’t think
I had ever eaten so much food in a day. It was awesome for me and
it really showed you just how much the Russian people show their
courtesy.

I was asked by Nastya if I wanted to go to the school that she worked
at, to talk to the children. The children spoke some English and they
were quite young. Nastya wanted me to talk about New Zealand to
them and for them to ask me questions. I didn’t say no to talking to
the children at the school. I had never been inside a school like this
before in my life. It was set out nicely and everything was prepared
very well. The people inside, including the parents and teachers,
were ready for me to come.

I got to the front of the classroom and, before I knew it, I was with
all of these young children who wanted to ask me questions. They
asked all types of questions. I think they thought I was from another
planet.

118
It was a funny few hours at the school, and it really did make my
day talking to them. They asked me all types of questions, such as
whether or not we have TVs in New Zealand and houses in New
Zealand. All these questions I answered for them, with all of the
parents laughing around me. I can’t say that we really had a serious
conversation but the children were quite serious about the funny
questions.

I was there for a few hours with Nastya, Mihail, and our driver Pasha,
until we were ready to go. Nastya had to stay and work, which I was
a little disappointed about. I appreciated her helping translate for us
but I knew that she couldn’t be with us the entire time. She really did
a great job during the day when we were with her.

We left the school and then went for a walk around the town. We
had a busy evening planned but I was enjoying my time here in
Arkhangelsk. That evening, Mihail had planned for me to go and visit
my half-brother and his wife at their place, which was near us.

It was another long day, but I had been enjoying my time here. I
knew that this would be my last night in Arkhangelsk, as the next day
I would be going back to Moscow. We had a good night and it went
fast. I was ready to go back to where we were staying for the night.
I knew that I would be going to the orphanage the next day for my
final visit, as I’d planned to visit them twice while I was there. It was
only going to be me, Mihail, and our translator Nastya, who would be
at the orphanage this time. It wouldn’t be as crowded as it had been
on Monday.

I woke up the next morning and I could feel myself starting to get
into a routine with the time zones. I didn’t feel as jet lagged this day
as I had been the past few days, but I was ready for another busy day
in Arkhangelsk. It was my final day here, but it had been a trip to
remember.

We had planned to see more friends for most of the day. Friends and
more friends. 119
Mihail wanted me to meet as many people as we could. I asked
Mihail if I could write a card for our translator Nastya, as I told him
how well she did with helping us these last few days. It was the least I
could do to show my appreciation. I know it’s not an easy lifestyle in
Arkhangelsk and I wanted to say thank you.

We went to a card store after looking everywhere until we finally
found the perfect place. I said to Mihail that we should all try and
thank people as much as we can in our lives. People never forget the
small things. I was happy to have done that and she was surprised to
get the card when I gave it to her.

It was my last day in Arkhangelsk, but I felt like I could have stayed a
little bit longer. The days went too fast for me, or it might have been
because I was always busy when I was there. I’d told the caretakers at
the orphanage that I would be back the following Wednesday, and I
was right. We were all in the car and I was back to where I had been
on Monday. This time I wanted to walk around with just Mihail and
Nastya to ask questions about the orphanage. I wanted to learn a little
bit more about the place. They showed me more inside than what I’d
seen on Monday when I’d first visited.

I saw all the rooms that they use to help the children. They have a
lot of therapy rooms for the children. Rooms that help them with
development, to help make them better. I was incredibly sad to
know that a lot of the sick children in the orphanage pass away. That
was emotional for me to hear as I felt like I wanted to do everything
I could to help, but the caretakers told me that, at times, there is
nothing they can do.

I wanted to walk outside and see where I’d played when I was a child.
They told me to follow them and they took me right to the exact spot.
Though the area had changed a lot, most of the play area was still
there.

They had changed my old play area to a garden to grow vegetables.
120 The grass area was still there which they all pointed out to me.
I also remembered the painting on the outside of the orphanage
from all my old photos and, to this day, that was still there. This was
a strange feeling for me. I didn’t feel emotional but when I could
recognise some areas of the orphanage from photos and videos, it
helped me really confirm that I was here. I was happy with that.

After a few hours of looking inside and outside the orphanage again,
we went back to the car to go see more friends. I had to be at the
airport later that afternoon and it was time for me to get back to
Moscow. What was disappointing for me was my flight had been
delayed for four hours. It was a long night getting back to Moscow,
but I was happy and satisfied that I had visited Arkhangelsk.

I said goodbye to everyone I was with at the airport. Mihail had to
board his flight home to Saint Petersburg while I waited with the
others. We just used our phones to talk that evening until late at
night. I didn’t get back to Moscow until one in the morning and I still
had a taxi to catch to get back to the place I was staying.

I finally got to sleep around 2 a.m. I was happy to have made it back,
but also very happy to have done what I had done. I was alright and I
didn’t complain. It was just a long night for me. To those who live in
Arkhangelsk, thank you. I really enjoyed my time there and I know
that I will revisit again soon.

I woke up quite late that morning and I had planned to go into the
city for the day. Instead of talking to adopted teenagers at Diana’s
charity, I was going to be talking with parents who had adopted
children.

121
Going Home
It wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be but I only had a few more
days in Russia until I had to go back home to New Zealand.

I had an interview planned in Moscow for a documentary which
sounded really cool. I had a meeting planned just before lunchtime
in a café. Diana helped me get to this café right on time, and
when I walked in that morning I could see cameras everywhere.
I didn’t know exactly what was going on but I was very interested
in what they would be making about me. I met with a woman
called Catherina Gordeeva. She is a popular Russian journalist and
documentary writer.

I had done a bit of research before I had met her so I had an idea of
what she did. She was planning to create a short documentary on
my story, and with everything I do. I sat down with her and told my
story. She was impressed and she actually started to get a little bit
emotional when I was talking about how family is important. I won’t
give too much of the interview away, but I was really happy about
meeting her and being involved in her project.

After I had left the café I had to quickly race to Diana’s charity to
meet with the parents who were waiting to meet me. I was looking
forward to this because I know that this is a different side of the story.
Not just from an adopted person’s side but also from the adoptive
parents. I was happy to answer any questions and that is what I did.

The talk was not short. It went for a few hours and, I have to admit,
some of the questions were incredibly hard to answer. I was in a big
room that they use for presentations.

I had a presentation all set up to show everyone. It showed my life in
122 New Zealand.
Photos of my family and information about my project. Many of the
questions that they asked were difficult because there was never a
perfect answer. One parent told me that her child is all over the place
and that she can’t decide the best way to search for her birth parents.

Many of the parents were worried that their children were too young
to search and that many want to search at a young age. I did tell them
that their children should wait until they are older. Searching while
they are still young can be hard, as what they might find out can be
disappointing. Children should wait until they are older so that they
can fully understand everything that is going on. That was my advice
to the parents.

I answered every single question that night, though of course it
really did make me think if I was really answering all of them right.
It is hard to answer these types of questions right and I know that it
always will be like that, but everyone told me that I did answer them
right so I was happy about that. I called it a night and I got back to
Diana’s place, knowing that it had been another productive day.

I was ready for my last full day in Russia. I was nervous, as I knew
that the next day I would be meeting people from the Russian
government. I shouldn’t have been nervous but I was. It was going to
be exciting for me as I felt like this was the beginning of something
big.

I woke up as I usually do, the next morning. I had to get on the metro
with Diana, who helped me a lot that day.

The first meeting I had was at the Civic Chamber of The Russian
Federation. This was where I was planning to meet Natalia who is the
legal adviser of the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the Russian
President.

I had sent a letter to Anna Kuznetsova, who is the Children’s Rights
Commissioner along with the President himself, Mr Vladimir Putin.
123
I was nervous about who I was going to meet but I was ready and
they were ready to meet me. I did my research on Anna Kuznetsova
but was unsure if I would be meeting her that morning.

I got to the place and we had to go through security and then
through to a big boardroom. Natalia was there along with Larisa who
is the head of the Children’s Rights Commissioner’s Office. I had my
presentation ready to go and as they all started to make a few jokes I
started to calm down. They told me to just wait a little bit as someone
else was on their way to meet me. It was Anna herself.

I started to feel nervous again but I knew that I had to pull this off. I
wanted to make them happy and I was sure they would like to know
what I do. Diana was with me most of the day, which helped a lot.
She was supportive and helped answer a lot of the questions on the
day. She knew my story well and she was able to explain and answer
many of the questions that I always struggle to answer.

Anna Kuznetsova came walking through to the room with a huge
smile on her face. I told her that it was great to meet her and, as she
sat down, I started to display my presentation. The entire time she
was impressed. She asked me a few questions about how the project
is run, who funds it and how do people find families. I told her that I
do all of this myself. All the funding is done with my own money and
that people were finding the families, the stories are shared around
but having a resource that can help directly for people would be great
too. It had been a long road with the project but I was happy with
where it was at, at this point. Especially when I am doing a lot of it
myself.

Anna told me that she was really impressed and that she wanted
to help in any way possible. I was happy with the outcome of that
meeting that morning. I feel like I did a great job going through what
I am trying to achieve.

I know that this project is just the beginning of something big.
124 It will take time but I believe in myself, that I can make it happen.
I left that meeting satisfied. I was happy that I had done it and I
was no longer feeling nervous. I was worried that I might have said
something wrong but wondered what I could have said wrong in the
first place.

The rest of that day was all radio interviews. I got to talk about my
project to several reporters that day. It was a busy day but, for myself,
I was happy about everything that had been going on. This was my
last full day in Russia and I was pleased about everything that had
happened. I also promised that I would make a New Zealand dinner
for Diana’s family. I didn’t let that promise go. I couldn’t make a roast
lamb as I searched everywhere for one, but I was able to cook a nice
roast chicken. Not such a bad idea.

It was the end of the day and, for all of us, it had been busy. Diana
was ready to go back home and I was also ready to go back to theirs.
We stopped at the supermarket to get the food for the dinner that I
was going to cook. I had a look inside with an idea of the ingredients.

I know this part of the story is starting to sound like a cookbook, but
you need to trust me on this part. I won’t talk too much about that
night with the dinner but I can tell you that they were really pleased
with the dinner I made for them.

I talked to Diana’s family about everything that I had done while
I was in Russia. I was happy to have completed everything that I’d
wanted to do. I’d made the right contacts and I’d met the right people.
I also achieved what I wanted to do with revisiting my orphanage.

It was a quiet night and the next day was going to be a quiet day. No
plans. Nothing at all. I knew that I had to be at the airport in the late
afternoon of the next day, so I decided to just relax that morning. I
didn’t wake up early and, in fact, I just looked at all the videos and
photos that I had taken during my time in Russia.

The next morning, I couldn’t believe that I would be flying back
home later that day. 125
I managed to pack everything up that morning. I made sure that I
had everything and, with all of the gifts that I had been given, I really
didn’t have much room for my own clothes. I was truly thankful to
everyone for the gifts while I was there. I couldn’t thank everyone
enough for them.

I spent that morning walking around the neighbourhood. Everything
was quiet and everywhere was cold. It had been snowing, so I wanted
to get some photos to send back home. I had been in contact with my
mum and dad, who were always interested to see what photos and
videos I had taken.

After lunchtime I did a final check of all of my luggage and I then
ordered a taxi to get to the airport. This was my last goodbye to
Diana and her family.

The taxi didn’t take long and I was at the airport soon enough. I
was going home. It was going to be an incredibly long trip home.
This time I would be spending almost a day in Beijing. I didn’t have
anything planned but I knew that I would be able to kill time there as
I was quite familiar with the area.

I checked in for my flight and I started to go to the gate. It was getting
into the evening so I decided to have some food before I got on the
flight. I wished that the flights were shorter but Russia is so far away
from New Zealand, so that is not always going to be possible. But I
will always visit without complaining about the flights.

Once I got on the plane I was ready to go to Beijing. The time did go
fast as I managed to sleep throughout the first flight.

I spent almost a day in Beijing but I killed my time by walking
everywhere, taking a bus out to different areas, then finding a lounge
to stay in for the evening before my final flight to New Zealand.

The final flight was the long one home. It was leaving at 1 a.m. and
126 when I started to board this final flight, I was happy.
Twelve hours and then I would be back home. It had been an
experience, once again. Revisiting Russia. This time I’d managed to
do what I’d wanted to do. I’d managed to achieve what I’d wanted to
achieve.

I am thankful to my parents for everything that they have done for
me. They are my mum and dad, and my birth parents are the ones
who brought me into this world. I thank my parents a lot for raising
me and making me who I am.

I also thank my birth parents for bringing me into this world and for
them making that connection with me. It has grown my family and,
since meeting them all in 2013, I not only have a New Zealand family,
but I also have a Russian family. Family is important for everyone.

Never rush to find your birth parents, if you plan to. Take your time,
and you must always be prepared for anything that comes your way.
There is no perfect story but there will always be support from others
who are adopted. Thank you.

127
Visual Gallery

128
A moment I will never forget.
Walking to meet my birth mother.

We walked and talked with many questions for each other.

November, 2013
Meeting my birth mother in Rybinsk, Russia 129
Here I am with my birth mother and her husband at the time,
Andrew. A small apartment, but she told me she was happy.

Walking around the streets of Rybinsk, Russia.

130
Saying goodbye was not so easy. The meeting was very quick.

When you arrive and leave Rybinsk. You will definitely see this.

131
After meeting my birth mother, the very next day I met my birth
father Mihail. A priceless moment.

November, 2013
Meeting my birth father in Saint Petersburg, Russia
132
Here he is writing a thank you to my mum and dad. A gift from
his family to mine.

This is my half sister Sonia. She didn’t know what this was. I told
her it was a lamb from New Zealand.

133
Leaving from Auckland International Airport

We had to wait a long time in Hong Kong before finally arriving
to Moscow.

October, 2015
Let them Talk (Going to Moscow, Russia)

134
Leaving Hong Kong International Airport

Hello Moscow!

135
I didn’t know when I would see my birth mother Tatiana again.
This was a good moment for me.

This is the TV Show ‘Let them Talk’ that plays in Russia. This is
from the start of the show. I forgot that it was a Russian speaking
language. I do have a translator but it was difficult to keep up at
times.
136
It was a big crowd.

The moment my mum met my birth mother for the first time.

137
My birth father Mihail was really looking forward to seeing me
again. He is always counting down the days.

Was good to see my dad hug my birth father Mihail. Incredible
to see everyone meet each other this day.

138
I was happy with everything that was going on. I had only
arrived to Moscow the night before and I was due to go home
the next day.

The host Andrey Malakhov knew about my story before I had
arrived to Russia. He told me that he was personally interested
in my entire story.
139
I got to meet my half brother Artem for the first time. I had no
idea he would be there this day so for me this was
definitely a surprise

140
After the show had finished, we all got to talk with each other
behind the TV studio. Many photos were taken with many gifts
being exchanged.

141
142
143
We also all had some time that evening to relax and talk. We
went to Red Square, found a restaurant and just relaxed after
everything that had been going on.

144
145
The I’m Adopted project is born. Here is some of the photos over
the years with the project.

September, 2015. I’m Adopted joke promotional photo.

The I’m Adopted Project
146
I started to host I’m Adopted meet ups. It was a great chance for
others adopted to meet and talk to each other.

147
The first I’m Adopted Birthday.
August 2016

148
Margarita was always proud of everything I was doing. I
thanked her for her help on this night.
149
I continued to host more I’m Adopted events for adoptees. It was
a great chance for all of us to talk about our own stories.

150
151
Good for me to point out that the I’m Adopted project is not
only a Facebook Page but also a community for adopted people
to reach out to each other. I use social media to run the project
as well as the I’m Adopted website. It’s a strong platform that is
helping many people adopted reconnect around the world.

I did a video on why I think this project is important. Doing
152 what I can to spread the message.
Was good to talk about the project when I could. I was proud to
have created a project that has now helped many adopted people
find their birth families and relatives.

153
I was on my way to Russia again. Here it is very early in the
morning here at Beijing Capital International Airport. I would
be leaving after lunch this day to Moscow.

Russia 2017
Visiting Moscow and revisiting my orphanage in
154
Arkhangelsk
In Moscow.
Getting more familiar with the city and of course the metro.

Visiting Red Square, Moscow.

155
156
It had been awhile since I last saw my Birth Father Mihail, but it
was my first time in Arkhangelsk since leaving
there when I was adopted.

Arkhangelsk, Russia
Revisiting the city I was born in and my orphanage.
157
My orphanage. The same art is still there on the outside that was
there when I left in 1994.
Below is some art that the children had been working on.

158
We were greeted with ‘Хлеб-соль’. A traditional way of greeting
someone. Bread and salt. The first time for me.

159
The same location that I use to play in when I was 2 years old.

160
Some help from my friend Nastya who did the translations
while I was there. Thank You!

161
I had the chance to teach Mihail some English while he had the
chance to teach me some Russian.

Thank You Arkhangelsk. Until we meet again.

162
I was back in Moscow for a few days. Some meetings to do and
some more places to see before I go back home.

While I was back in Moscow, I got the chance to talk to parents
who had adopted children inside Russia with the charity
‘Арифметика добра’. Thank You Diana for getting me involved.

163
It was an honor for me to meet Anna Kuznetsova, the
Children’s Rights Commissioner for the
President of the Russian Federation.
164
As well as meeting Anna Kuznetsova on my final full day in
Russia, I got the chance to visit some of the radio stations
around Moscow. Pleased to tell my story with them.

165
On my last day in Moscow I was happy to see some of the snow!
It was time for me to go home.

Another trip to Russia that I will never forget.

166
Special Thanks:

My mum and dad. My entire family. My birth parents in Russia
for giving me the chance to meet them. Everyone who is
involved with the I’m Adopted project, including everyone who
has shared their stories through the project. My ambassadors
with I’m Adopted and those who help translate the stories.
Thank You. I am happy to have helped you all connect. Thank
You.

To the people who have gone through this book to help make it
great. The editors and the people involved.

If I have missed you out, I am sorry. There is many of you who
have helped me and trust me, I know who you all are. The
support is incredible and I am just happy that I am helping
those around the world re-connect. That was my goal and I am
pleased to be achieving this goal.

Thank You!

Alex Gilbert

Thank You for the support

Janice Gilbert, Mark Gilbert, Andrei Gilbert, Mihail Kovkov, Tatiana Gusovskaia, Nastya
Andrianova, Diana Mashkova, Denis Salteev, Anna Kuznetsova, Katerina Gordeeva,
Margarita Subach, Katya Murray, Alexander Kuch, Sasha Kelly, The entire “I’m Adopted”
community, I’m Adopted translators, Natalia Trigubovich, Todd Barclay, Aaron Carotta, Jazz
Lopez, Lani Lopez, Shannon O’Donohue, Janna Lamb, Ivan Gaztanaga, Vera Kuzmina, Artem
Mihaylovich, Dina Ka, Vadim Kurilov, Wendy Hawke ONZM, The team at Inter-Country
Adoption New Zealand. Carolyne Meng-Yee, Ruth Schaffer, Ryan Boswell, Larisa Vertaeva,
Linda Kimpton, Stephen Butler and Janet McIntyre.
The End