James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Russian roots reveal childhood links

Katya Murray and Alex Gilbert were independently adopted by New Zealand families from the same orphanage.
Katya Murray and Alex Gilbert were independently adopted by New Zealand families from the same orphanage.

An Auckland man who went to the other end of the earth to find his biological parents in Russia has chanced upon another person from the same orphanage living in New Zealand.

And Alex Gilbert says the fluke encounter has inspired him to look for others with the same background.

Mr Gilbert, a cameraman with Choice TV, recently featured on TVNZ's Sunday programme.

It showed him going to the old Soviet republic to seek out his birth parents. He and his adopted brother Andrei arrived in New Zealand as babies in the mid-1990s for a new life in Whangarei.

It was a moving journey for the 21-year-old, who knew little about his Russian roots.

His reunion with his birth mother, who lives in a 20sq m apartment in Rybinsk, was an awkward one, with language, time and possibly shock proving barriers.

The reaction from his father, a former soldier, who lives with his wife and two children in a comfortable apartment in St Petersburg, where he works as a trolley bus driver, was warmer and possibly unexpected.

The programme, which showed the Archangelsk orphanage in 1994 where Alex and Andrei stayed, also revealed a little girl in a high chair.

That girl is Katya Murray, whose adoptive New Zealand parents saw the programme from their Christchurch home and made contact with an equally surprised Mr Gilbert.

"Her parents adopted her from Russia in 1995 a year after me when she was 2. She thought it was a bit crazy."

Mr Gilbert met the interior design student recently in Auckland.

Through the help of Inter Country Adoption New Zealand, Ms Murray found her birth parents who are still together in Russia. "How she tracked them down was she got this thing where you can get a group of people to search through documents and names to see what they can find out," Mr Gilbert said.

"These people went up to the door of her biological parents' house and said 'you've got a daughter who's in New Zealand' and they were a little bit shocked."

Like Mr Gilbert, she remains in contact via Skype and Google translate with her birth parents although she's yet to make the trip to Russia.

Mr Gilbert said that not long after meeting Ms Murray he got an email from a New Zealand woman who told him she adopted her daughter from the same orphanage around the same time he was there. They're yet to meet but he hopes they will soon.

The chance meeting and correspondence has now sent him on a mission to find as many other people from the same orphanage - about 900km north of Moscow with at least 23 children there at the time - now living in New Zealand.

"I don't know the name of the place because there were at least 20 orphanages in Archangelsk," he said.

"But I was given all these old adoption magazines in the weekend, one has me and my brother in it when we arrived from Russia. There were all these other kids too, some from the Ukraine and others from Romania.

"That's where our starting point is. The more I could track them down the more information there could be about the orphanage. It's pretty empowering when you find out where you're from."

- NZ Herald

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