A former Russian adoptee raised in Whangarei is helping other adopted people share their stories.

Alex Gilbert, 23, was adopted from an orphanage in Archangelsk, Russia by Janice and Mark Gilbert in 1994. He was 2 years old at the time.

Unlike his brother Andrei, who came from the same orphanage at the same time, Alex had always been curious about his birth parents.

"Alex always said from a young age, I wonder what my birth parents are like, I wonder what they look like. Whereas Andrei has always said 'nah, not interested'," Mrs Gilbert said.


Having just turned 21, Alex made the momentous decision to travel to Russia to find his birth parents, flanked by reporters from TVNZ's Sunday programme.

The relationship, while "slightly awkward" at first, has blossomed, particularly with his birth father.

"I don't keep in touch with my birth mother a lot. It only happens on her birthday, to be honest," Alex said.

"But my birth father? I am always in touch with him, every week. He sends me photos and messages all the time. That's awesome."

Alex used advice from an adoption agency and his own research to find his birth mother, who in turn gave him the information he needed to find his father. He wrote a book, My Russian Side, about his experiences.

Having access to more first-hand accounts of other people's adoption stories "definitely" would have helped him, thus his new project was born.

"After the [TVNZ programme aired], I had a lot of adopted kids contact me. It was interesting to hear other people's views and opinions on it. It's good to share a story like that, because a lot of people don't like to talk about it."

Alex set up a website and Facebook page under the banner "I'm Adopted", which shares the stories of other adoptees from around the world. He has 16 case studies so far and wants to expand into doing video interviews, using his skills as a professional television production assistant.

The journey to find his genetic parents has turned out better than he had hoped.

"It's made a bigger family. My birth father is always asking about mum and dad. Occasionally, my parents will send a gift over to Russia and go 'thank you for keeping in touch with us and opening the world up a little bit more'."

He is learning Russian and has a Russian girlfriend, whom he met through a social group in Auckland.

"I definitely feel a little bit Russian. I've met a lot of Russians in Auckland - Kiwi Russians."

Alex is now looking at tracing other children from his orphanage who were adopted into New Zealand. Visit imadopted.org to learn more.