If we thought our journey yesterday was long, we were about to learn a thing or two today. We traveled to Volkhov, a small village 2-1/2 hours by bus from St Petersburg (keep in mind the first 30 minutes of the trip is maneuvering through the incredibly congested streets of the city). Volkhov was at one time the capital of Russia, as it was a small but powerful town centuries ago. Sailing, hunting, and fishing were the primary industries, along with defense through a sophisticated fortress set up along the banks of the Volkhov River.
Built in the 12th century, the Ladoga Fortress is situated on a hill overlooking the river. Inside, protected, is a beautiful Russian Orthodox temple. While much of the outer wall of the fortress has been compromised, the two towers and main structure remain intact. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the soldiers defending their land in what was deemed an impenetrable structure – thwarted by the river on one side, enemies had no choice but to try to gain access to the entrance on the other. Soldiers posted at the top of the fortress could see anyone who might be preparing to attack, and would launch an assault.
The fortress was strong enough to withstand attack and with it soldiers won many battles. But it was not strong enough to withstand indifference. The remote location of Volkhov led to its demise as other, more cosmopolitan locations began to be built in the country. What’s left is a very impoverished community with families struggling to survive. And the remains of that fortress.
But Volkhov does have a two beautiful bright spots – Rodnichok, a shelter for school-aged children, and Nadezda, an orphanage. Both facilities are home to some of the most intelligent and eager children we’ve met thus far. These kids are older and wise. They understand fully their situation, and their first question to us as we were introduced was, “Will you be back at Christmas, or maybe next summer?” I feel the answer must be “yes.” So does Brad.
We spent much time talking to the children in our special group (Brad and I are on the “Green” team), and a special treat for them was speaking to my pal Tasasha, who lives in Dallas, Texas. Several of the kids asked us to take pictures of them, and they even took our camera and posed so we would have lots of photos to choose from. They want a home, want a family. They’ve heard about the United States, and have seen a select few friends be adopted. Unfortunately, most of these kids still have family somewhere – family that doesn’t come to visit much, family that doesn’t stay around.
I weep as I write this. And like I said, those weathermen are wrong about Russia. Because there is sunshine every day in the faces of the orphans – just waiting to light up someone’s life.