After 22 years, Vesna Maric from Bosnia Herzegovina will go to meet her temporary stepdaughter Olga Lagutenok in Belarus this spring. In 1991 Olga was 10 years old when she spent a month with a receiving family in the Bosnian town Prijedor together with 175 other Belarusian children and 15 teachers. It was a part of a program for the rehabilitation of children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
Vesna and Olja were in touch for four years after her stay in Prijedor. But, between 1995 and 2012, they lost touch.
"Thanks to Facebook, I found some people from Slaŭharad, Olga’s hometown. A guy named Pavel went to her home address, but the Lagutenok family was no longer there. Afterwards he found her and we have been in touch again since summer 2012", Maric told Agency Srna.
Vesna remembers reading an article in newspaper in 1991 about how Yugoslavia’s capital Belgrade would accommodate children affected by the Chernobyl tragedy. She found the contact details of the persons interviewed in that newspaper article and asked to adopt a girl. She spread the word to her relatives, neighbours and friends, and one day, in June, Prijedor citizens welcomed 176 children and 15 teachers in the local sports hall.
"The scene was terrible. They had travelled three days. They called us one by one and we took kid by kid. Our girl was like a little frightened sparrow , wearing a red jacket fastened with a rope since it was missing the buttons. She had boots with heavy soles, and long hair. When I cuddled her, I felt like mothers usually feel after giving birth to a baby", Vesna recalls.
Vesna is the mother of two. Her daughter Marina /1977/ and son Nemanja /1979/ and her husband had planned to adopt Olga /1981/, but later they found out that the guests from the former Russia had come to stay temporarily only, and that adoption was not possible.
Olga was five years old when Chernobyl happened, some 300 kilometres as the crow flies from her home town. When she came to the Marić family, she was afraid of anything related to the soil.
"She started to cry when I served potatoes for dinner. Everything else was pretty fine. Olga told her parents that she lived in a house with both a ground floor and a first floor. She was amazed that we had our own car and our own colour TV. There were naughty kids in that group, there were ones who refused to stay in families which took them, there were various problems here and there, but our little girl was simply an angel", said Vesna.
All guests upon arrival received tests and medical examinations, as well as before the departure. The difference was more than obvious because for that month all of them had eaten well, rested and recovered, and the Russian Embassy in Yugoslavia had assisted in preparing events, tours and entertainment.
"The receiving families were of all nationalities. Regardless of the property, all of the children returned home with renewed clothing and shoes and gold jewellery. Within that month we became so tied to Olja that even long after her departure every mention of our little girl ended in tears", Maric said.
She said that a convoy of buses with Belarusian children on their way back home was escorted to Belgrade by the police. It was among the last which travelled along the Zagreb - Belgrade highway before war in ex-Yugoslavia broke out. The convoy of buses travelling from Belgrade to Prijedor could not use the highway anymore, and had to take a much longer route that went only through Serbia and Bosnia, and not Croatia.
Olga Lugatenok today is a young woman with a 12-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. She and her husband are employed, but she is currently on maternity leave which in Belarus lasts three years.
"We are in contact via Facebook and Skype. I am in contact with her parents too. Both of them are retired. I am also in touch with Olga’s friend Vitalina Dmitriev, who also spent a month with a receiving family in Prijedor. Yes, we do understand each other well. I was learning Russian a bit and if there is something we don’t understand while talking, we write messages and then it is much easier to understand", Maric said.
Vesna recently received a letter of invitation from Olga and submitted it to the Belarusian Embassy in Belgrade. Now, she is expecting a visa for her week-long stay in Slaŭharad. After almost 22 years she will see Olga again, the former little girl to whom she was once a mother.
Originally published: www.srna.rs