Eka Tkemaladze, 33, Tbilisi

“I was born in Odessa, Ukraine. What I remember from my childhood, is my house. We lived on the second floor of the so called “Italian Yard” type of a building in Ukraine … It was dusty, there were some planks, probably they were getting ready for renovation works.. I also remember a shaggy cat and the fact that I was for some reason without any clothes on at home, hugging this cat… I must have been four years old when I was playing outside in sand. A police car came to our yard and two uniformed policemen tried to push me inside the car… I started yelling. My mother heard me and I can remember her running down the stairs in her white nightgown and trying to free me from them, but they managed to put me in the car and take me away… I was taken to an orphanage full of children growing up without parents.

I think I stayed at the orphanage for one year. I cannot say I had many visitors, but two women did come to see me… Their visit lasted for 10 minutes; they had a good look at me and left. After a while, these two women came to take me away. As it turned out, one of these women was my mother (adoptive) and the other was my mother’s friend who later, when I was baptized, became my godmother. I did not want to leave the orphanage for Georgia because I already had friends there and I was pretty upset. In a few days they had a feast in our Tbilisi apartment, apparently, to celebrate my adoption. My mother was fifty then. I remember relatives closing in around me. I spoke Russian then and could not understand them, but judging by their expressions, I realized they liked me and were trying to communicate with me with their poor Russian. I was literally cornered and everyone was shouting something down me. I was mad at everyone for invading my personal space, something I don’t like even today. I felt like a doll in a shop window and angrily retorted to everyone. My mother did not allow anyone to speak Russian to me and, in a few months, I started to speak Georgian.

My mother was an unmarried woman and she gave me everything she could. It was the 90s, the dark years for Georgia, and I remember standing in the long lines of humanitarian aid, we did not have a countryside villa, and my mother’s coworker used to invite us to Zhinvali on holidays. Some relatives gave us food, some gave me clothes, and what I remember most bitterly, in childhood I wore shoes of either bigger size, or smaller size. My shoes never fit. Those were difficult times for everyone. Then my mother was dismissed from work. The reason she was given was that she was too old and they wanted to hire younger people. It was the worst time for me because I alone had to take a full responsibility for my mother and myself. Sometimes I worked as a waiter in a café, sometimes I cleaned. I worked all the time…

My mother would not tell me that I was adopted. Once I told her that I remembered everything and asked her to open up, but she never did. She must have been worried about losing me for good, but I love my adoptive mother and I could never leave her. I think it is not right to hide from a child that he or she is adopted, you cannot let anyone live in a lie… I was adopted at the age that I remembered everything and every night I persistently reminded this story to myself. I always thought that I would grow up and find my biological mother. I could not allow myself forget her because I remember how my mom was screaming back then. That is why, I never had a feeling that I was abandoned. I remembered well enough that they snatched me away, as if she was cut in half, so desperate was her screaming… still ringing in my ears. Later, I found out the reason the police had come for me. My mother had mental health problems and the government seized children from her… I was dying to find her and let her know that she had not lost me. This is what drove me to search for her.
I did not give up and accosted my adoptive mother to tell me the truth – the name and the address of my biological mother.. I was 28 already and probably, by that time, she had already been convinced that I would never betray her so she showed me the adoption certificate herself. She told me to have a look and give it back at once. Maybe what I did is wrong and kind of cheated her, but I retained the original and gave her a copy. I needed it, you know why? The mother who raised me loves me, but my biological mother who gave life to me loved me too and the reasons we got separated had been beyond her control.

I finally had the documented record that Ludmila Weinstein born in 1983 became Eka Tkemaladze. In this record they had changed my first name, family name, the year and the month of birth, everything… I was clutching this document, feeling, how should I put it, that I had all I needed to find my biological parents. With this document in hand, I started to change my life, go back to the roots…
I sent the document to Ukraine and asked for my birth certificate. It took me four years, which is not a short time, but I had been waiting for 28 years for this. I am a patient person… I received my, Ludmila Weinstein’s, birth certificate and traveled to Ukraine. I only had 100 US dollars on me and I only knew the address of my orphanage but I was not intimidated. Together with my friend from Moldova who arrived to help me out, I started search for my home and my parents at 5 a.m. every day.

In a nutshell, we found my orphanage, and there, the address of my biological parents… It turned out that my mother had mental health problems and, if I’m not mistaken, she was put into a mental institution at the age of 28. I had to live there because I was breast-fed but mother did not stay in the institution all the time… Well, I found my house and everything was the way I remembered. I met the neighbors who remembered me… Do you know what was most painful?! One neighbor was telling me my mother had died in the mental hospital, the other was saying she recovered and went to work somewhere, and yet another neighbor had a completely different story… I searched her in the entire Odessa, went to the police, where I was laughed at. I visited every psychiatric hospital and I even found the institution I had been in with my mother, and the director even remembered it… I even looked into the morgue.

I traveled to Ukraine four times. I was already recognized everywhere I went, I found my aunt and my cousins who live in Israel and the US but nobody could help me track down my mother. If she is dead, there must be some evidence of it. I still don’t know where she has vanished. On my first trip I discovered that I’d had an elder brother and he’d been adopted as well. I found out from the neighbors that he was homeless and they advised me against finding him. I went to all the organizations that fed homeless people. I checked streets and parks, I asked everyone about Ruslan Weinstein. Some people lied to me and took me to some shady places… It was not safe and I’ve found myself in weird situations, but I was not scared, because I was looking for my flesh and blood. I found every place where he had breathed, walked, slept, but I was late… I had died in 2008; he froze to death in the street…

At the moment, I’m not living in Georgia, but I arrive in Tbilisi every year, sometimes twice a year. And I talk to my adoptive mother online every day so that she does not feel lonely. She has a caretaker and she is happy about my success as an artist. Yes, my mother has egoistic love and wants to keep me physically close to her, but it is impossible because I don’t have anyone other than myself who could help me. That is why I’m doing everything for myself and for my mother, to keep her from hunger and cold. I am not afraid of any obstacle and I do not shun pain, just try to forget it soon and thus makes my life easier to live.

I also want to point out that I do not approve of the practice of adopting children after people are of a certain age so that they can have someone to take care of them when they are old. It is an insult to the adopted child. Apart from growing up, a human being needs opportunities to develop and this right must not be taken away from anyone.”