When some terrible or unexplained events take place, there are always lots of nosy people around. Journalists, eyewitnesses, neighbors, strangers. People take photos with their phones, peep into the windows, discuss what is happening. Reporters make their stories, do their best to know the details. Policemen do their job gloomily. But there is always another side behind this. There are participants, people affected by the situation. And when the gapers and journalists leave, and it is time for bystanders to go back to their business, emptiness, and grief remain. Victims keep catching glances for a long time; they cannot hide from it. These glances have only one purpose – to understand how people cope with itas if the others want to determine if you are broken, or still the same.
2008, the small town of Mozhga (population: 49,000), little Ulyana is six years old. She lives with her mom and dad. Everyone loves her; her parents are young and beautiful. Her mom is 29 years old; her dad is a little older. Mom and Ulya go to their friends to wash their clothes as their washing machine has broken down and they haven’t had time to buy a new one. While the clothes are washed, they go for a walk, then drink tea at the mother’s friend, and return home after a while. The door is closed from the inside; dad is not opening. They knock and ring. The door cannot be opened from the outside if it is locked with a key from the inside. Mom gets nervous; they make a decision to break the door. They come in. Ulya follows her mother, and almost at the same time, both of them see that dad has hanged himself.
The police arrive, mom tries to assure everyone that he could not have done this by himself. There are vodka and three glasses on the table. The father was an athlete and did not drink at all. Mom keeps saying, «Even if he drank, did he do that out of three glasses in turn?». Ulya is not afraid, only for her mother. She is crying; she is pale.
The criminal case is closed very quickly – a suicide. After some time, the mother meets Vitalik. Vitalik is kind; he is only 24, but ready to take care of her and Ulya. He offers to leave for Izhevsk, where he has an apartment, and they can start a new life. Mom agrees, and they move.
A year later, mom tells Ulya that soon she will have a brother, and in 2010 Danila is born. Ulya is supposed to go to the third grade, and Danila is one year old.
It is morning, Ulya is in her room, she hears her mother’s cry, «Knife, Ulya, bring me the knife, quick!». Ulya runs and sees that her mom is holding Vitalik’s legs, while he is in a slip noose with a terrible red face. She grabs the knife; mom yells that she should climb on the table and cut the rope. Ulya is trying hard; the knife is blunt; she can hardly reach the rope. Vitalik’s face is close. Mom hurries her and tries to lift him higher. «Cut it! Cut it!» she shouts.
Finally, the rope becomes thin enough to break. The body falls, and mom starts removing the noose from her neck. Then an ambulance arrives, and he breathes again. Vitalik recovers consciousness.
Ulya doesn’t know what they have been talking about, as she has been with Danila. She remembers that her mother came to her late in the evening and said that Vitalik has calmed down, and everything is fine, so she can go to sleep. When they wake up, Vitalik is away. That night he hanged himself in a garage.
«After Vitalik’s funeral, my mother gave way. Totally. I know that he has left a note. But she has never shown it to me. She started drinking and degrading. I saw it with my own eyes. I asked her to stop; we agreed that she would be sober when I came home from school. But when I did come, she could not even talk. I babysat Danila. It was very hard; often, I had no idea why he was crying, for example.
Our neighbor felt sorry for us and fed us. Then the police officer came, I was alone at home with the baby. No food, no mom. She was walking somewhere. We were taken to the hospital, and she was given a warning, and for the first time, they gave us back, but very quickly they took us again. They took me to the shelter, and Danila was taken to the asylum for infants. It was autumn, the beginning of the 3 rd grade. I remember that in the winter I asked them to take me to my brother, they agreed, and we met. Almost immediately after that, Vitalik’s parents took him away. They didn’t want to take me, well, it’s like I’m not related to them and grown-up. I was transferred to the orphanage.
Mom visited me once, but she was not allowed to come in because she was drunk. Her parental rights were limited, but she managed to pull herself together, she stopped drinking and got a job. A hearing was scheduled to lift the restriction. She came drunk to court, so her custody was deprived. She never tried to renew it again».
Ulyana has been living in the orphanage for almost nine years; she is 17 now. She is in 10 th grade. She is professionally engaged in athletics; she studies and dreams of entering a physical education university. For three years, Ulya has been one of the most active and diligent students of the Chance program. She takes lessons in English, Russian, Mathematics, Biology, and History. Ulya wants to pass the Uniform state exams as best as she can to be able to choose the university.
Her grandmother doesn’t want her to communicate with her brother; sometimes, she allows them to speak on Skype. Danila is already 9; now he doesn’t really understand that his grandmother, whom he now calls ‘mom’, took him after his father’s death. The grandmother is afraid to hurt him; she is afraid of the questions of why his sister lives in an orphanage instead of being together. The last time Ulya saw her brother in person was a year ago.
«He lives well, they pamper him, love him, he has a phone, a laptop, and get a lot of care. I am glad that he grew up in the family».
When a child turns, they are allowed to leave the territory of the orphanage. «The first thing I did was going to my mother. She was, of course, drunk. It was hard to see her in such a condition, and I did not know what to talk about. She has not seen Danila for eight years. I always called her in advance, warning her that I would come, I asked her not to upset me, not to drink. But she always got drunk anyway».
Ulyana remembers how one day, they wanted to take her to a foster family. A woman arrived; she already had two adopted daughters; they were planning to move to a new apartment. «Then I thought, ‘why?’ Why did she want me? Why me? And then she said that when they take me, it would be impossible for me to communicate with my friends from the orphanage, so the next day, I refused to go to her and refused to meet».
Five days a week, Ulyana goes to track and field training, she shows great results and coaches appreciate her perseverance. «It takes a long time to get here – 2 hours, besides there is a home assignment I have to do every day, but am ready to put up with it for my training!».
«My birthday is on September 24 and grandmother, Vitalik’s mother, I mean, called me on September 23 and said, “Ulya, don’t cry, but your mother has died.” I had a terrible tantrum. I saw my mother in August, and we separated badly. She said, “Why should I live if you and Danila were taken from me anyway.” I got angry because it was her fault. And that was the end; nothing could be returned, she passed away two years ago. I had a lot of troubles, but I always try to find a way out. The guys around are very different, and you can’t know if they will stay with me or not. I’ve learned it from my childhood – everyone is different, and you need to get on well with everyone».
Many were interested in the life of a family with such a non-typical story of tragic coincidences, but no one offered a helping hand. A young mother left alone with two children could not cope and tried to escape reality with the help of alcohol.
«The Chance program, my online tutors, are not only about studying but also about support. After all, parents do homework with their children and discuss things with them, and we have these people, we have their attention, it is so nice, they are not just teachers for me. We have the training and are taught the things that others learn in a family. An adult from the outside is the most important thing; if it were possible, I would give a personal mentor to every child from an orphanage. Everyone should have someone. It’s fair».
In a year and a half, Ulyana will leave the orphanage. This means that we have a year and a half to give this amazing girl maximum attention and support.
*All raised funds will be used to pay for the lessons for Ulyana and other children from her orphanage