Episode 1: “The Boy Who is Fascinated by Cameras”

Berdychiv is a small city in northern Ukraine. It has a population of 90,000. It’s painful to imagine that just a few decades ago, the Gestapo had killed half of the city’s population.

One cold winter in 2006, a baby by the name of Bogdan was brought to the hospital for “frozen limbs”. He was 10 months old. It was fortunate that he arrived at the hospital when he did. It was later discovered that he had frost-bite. He almost lost his limbs. After the hospital treated his frost-bite, they noted in his medical record that he had a heart condition and he had club feet. His parents never came back for him, and he was left under state care.

They also noted in Bogdan’s records that he could not speak. When he was hugged, he would not know how to hug back. They declared that he was severely retarded. Bogdan was eventually transferred to the Berdychiv Special Orphanage School. As an orphan, he joined the over 800,000[1] orphan children in Ukraine. He spent the next 5 years living at the Berdychiv orphanage.

As an orphan, he didn’t need a crystal ball to foretell his future. According to the Ukrainian Ministry for Family, Youth and Sports:

  • 7/10 don’t think they will get a good education or a job after leaving the orphanage
  • 4/5 are afraid of leaving their orphanage
  • only 1/4 of all orphans eventually get a permanent job
  • only 1% get higher education
  • 1/5 become homeless
  • 1/7 attempt suicide
  • 1/2 end up in prison

But like any child, he wasn’t aware of such things.



One day at the Berdychiv orphanage, he was greeted with a surprise visit from Maya and Tamara. Tamara had joined Maya as a translator, motivated by her passion for photography. Her hero, Alexandr Glyadelov, dedicated his life to humanitarian efforts, such as producing photo documentaries of socially deprived children and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Like Alexandr, Tamara wanted to give the world a window into the lives of these children, so that they would not be forgotten.

Despite being extremely shy, Bogdan has a strong curiosity for cameras. He is fascinated by them. As Tamara took pictures at the orphanage, he felt compelled to introduce himself.

Meanwhile in Indianapolis, George, a supervisor/paramedic for the local 911 ambulance service and his wife, who manages a dental office, had both been considering adopting a boy from Ukraine. George tells us his story:

I had read up on Ukrainian adoptions. I have to say, I found your page completely by accident. I typed in “Berdychiv orphanage” into a search on the internet and your page popped up. You will never believe how surprised I was to see a pic of Bogdan there. It looks like we were there just a couple of weeks after you.

While I was researching online, a woman came into my wife’s office with her newly adopted teenage daughter. As it turns out, this woman had adopted several children from Ukraine and runs a non-profit to help families adopt children from Ukraine! She helped us make arrangements to travel to Kiev, Ukraine, to meet with the Social Development Agency (SDA).

We decided to bring our 13 year old daughter to visit Ukraine with us, because we wanted her to be as much a part of the adoption as possible. I felt that she needed to experience the culture and country; to see where her brother was coming from to better understand the obstacles he was going to have to overcome.


Visiting Ukraine

On arriving in Ukraine, we were met by our facilitator (and translator), Irina. At the SDA, we were shown photos and given the background on about a dozen or so children. When I saw the photo of Bogdan, it almost spoke to me. I talked with my wife as we went over the photos and she agreed that we should travel to see him.

We traveled to the Berdychiv orphanage the next day. After we arrived, a doctor came to talk to us about Bogdan’s medical history. She said that he was severely retarded and that he could not speak. She made sure we understood all of his challenges. It almost felt like she was trying to talk us out of considering him.

He was later brought into the room by one of the women from his building. He was dressed nicely. Initially, he would only look at the ground and he would not make eye contact. My wife, daughter and I got onto the floor and played with some matchbox cars we brought with us. This made him smile and he started to play.

When it was time for him to go back, I hugged him, and I felt that same as I did the first time I held my daughter. I was so happy I cried. After the visit, my wife and I discussed it and she felt the same as I did.

We spent the rest of the week visiting him twice a day. Over the course of the week, we discovered that his feet were fine. Once he got over being shy around us, we couldn’t stop him from talking, and he was so bright that he was learning a few words of English and had figured out how to work my iPod.


Facing the judge

After we had made up our minds, we now had to face the judge and the legal system. Irina helped us file all the paperwork, and we tried to ask for a court date that would allow us to complete the adoption in one trip.

Unfortunately, the judge we were assigned to said that she had 30 days to set the date… and then set it for exactly 30 days later. This meant that we had to return to the US and wait 30 days before coming back to Ukraine for the court hearing. What’s worse is that this also meant that we had to leave Bogdan for 30 days; after we had bonded so closely.









The day we had to leave, we spent the morning at the orphanage with Bogdan. We played with cars and bubbles. We took a lot of pictures and sang and danced with the music on my iPod.

Just before we left, we left a scrap book with pictures of our family, our house, our dogs, and our church at the orphanage. The women who cared for him said they would show it to him every day. We all cried as we left. We felt like we were abandoning him and worried about his reaction to our leaving for a few weeks. He was already calling us Momma & Poppa, and were worried that he would feel abandoned by us.

It was a miserable day for the whole family.


Separated for 30 days

When we arrived back in Indianapolis, we felt like a part of us was missing. Home just didn’t feel like home. My wife went back to work in the dental office, and I returned to my job for the local 911 ambulance service. In anticipation of welcoming Bogdan into our lives, we prepared our home and made a room for Bogdan. We also made other arrangements like the school he would be attending. Then, we anxiously counted down the days until we would return to Ukraine for Bogdan.

Finally, on Nov 8th, it was time to leave for Berdychiv. That Sunday was going to be the first time we got to see Bogdan in about a month.



As we arrived at the orphanage and were walking up to the building, my wife and I were both scared to death about how Bogdan would react to us leaving him. Suddenly, one of the children looking out the window recognized us. He turned to yell for Bogdan.

A few seconds later, Bogdan popped up in the window and screamed, “Momma! Poppa!” He then sprinted from the window and escaped outside without his shoes on before the woman watching him could catch him. We got his shoes on and then played for a couple of hours. We were all thrilled to see each other!

Later that day, it was time to meet the judge.

We had taken pictures of our home, the room we had prepared for Bogdan, our yard, and the school he would be attending. On the day of the hearing, we gave them all to the judge for her review. The temperature outside was in the low 40’s that day, and the courthouse was probably about the same temperature inside. We had to wear our coats for the entire hearing. While we were going through the paperwork, the judge sent for Bogdan to be brought to the courthouse.

Being his shy self, he wouldn’t look up at the judge. But when he saw my wife and I, he ran right to us.


The judge’s decision

After the hearing, we waited anxiously for the judge’s decision. 4 long hours later, we were called to go back to the courthouse. The judge announced that he would be ours! We cried as we thanked the judge. We were in heaven!

Our daughter didn’t join us on this trip, so I had to return home early to be with her. My wife stayed in Ukraine to finish the paperwork, and to bring Bogdan home after the required 10-day waiting period. By sheer coincidence, everything was done and they were ready to return on Thanksgiving day.

I had to work a 12 hour shift that day, so my sister-in-law picked my wife and Bogdan up in Chicago. They got back just after I got off work at 6pm. Meanwhile, my daughter was at her mother’s for the weekend. We swore the rest of the family to silence so we could surprise her when she came home on Sunday night. When my daughter returned, she was ecstatic to finally get her little brother home! It was really a Thanksgiving to be thankful for!

In Berdychiv, Bogdan was a boy that almost everyone forgot about.
In Indianapolis, his name is now Curtis. And Curtis has a family.


Latest update from George:
We have had ups and downs since we got him home. Mostly ups. Curtis is picking up English really fast and communicates his needs pretty well. We have taught him to give hugs and kisses. Yes, he didn’t know to squeeze back when giving a hug and he didn’t pucker up when kissed. He says “I Love You” a lot and loves doing his ABC’s and counting in English. He has helped put up the tree for Christmas and has gone to see Santa. He even smiled when he got up on his lap. He loves bath time and grace before a meal.

He has been to our family pediatrician and an international adoption clinic. After examining him, they have found no heart defect and nothing wrong with his feet. He has a slight speech impediment caused by being “tongue tied,” which is easily correctable by a qualified dentist.

He is small for his age. Our doctor has him as being in the 5th percentile in both height and weight. The doctor at the clinic said that for being in an orphanage, this is not unusual. They have also said that he is developmentally behind by a couple of years, but that is to be expected since he has been in an orphanage for over 5 years.

They believe he should catch up quickly once he has one-on-one interaction and once he is in school. They have found no indication that he has any retardation or mental illness. They were impressed that after just a couple of weeks he is already starting to count and say his ABC’s in English. He is slated to start school on Jan 3rd in an English as a second language kindergarten.

He loves riding in the car and cuddling up on the couch with Momma and Poppa. He plays a lot with his sister and loves it when she practices her clarinet. He is adjusting well and is so very loved. I think he is very lucky to get a home and a loving family, but we as a family are much more lucky to have found him. He is truly a blessing and he has brought so much joy and happiness to our family. We are forever changed by the experience, and we are richer having found him.

He is still fascinated by cameras.

* The name Bogdan means “gift from God”, like Jonathan, Matthew, Theodore, or Nathaniel.


Submitted by Maya Rowencak.



3 Responses

  1. Shelly R.

    I love this story because the family adopting Bogdan is my aunt and uncle! I get to meet him in person this weekend! I can’t wait to meet my new cousin!