My heart is exceedingly heavy. This morning, I learned of the unexpected passing of Yana Ishchenko. Yana was not just an excellent translator, she was a dear friend.
I first met Yana about six years ago while visiting Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine. My wife and I we were seeking to adopt a very special girl in what we thought was an obscure part of the country.
Yana had once been employed at the orphanage, where she was a trusted caregiver. Caring for orphans came naturally for Yana, probably because she had spent much of her own life without a father. Empathy can truly enhance certain abilities.
When Yana left the orphanage to resume her studies, she kept up with the kids from the orphanage. Yana never judged the kids, but she wasn’t fooled by them when they misbehaved. They accepted her correction. When we would arrive at the orphanage with Yana, the kids would flock to her. The girls loved catch her up on the latest news, and comment on the latest trend she was wearing.
Yana had some funny quirks in her behavior. Going out to eat with Yana was always fun, because she loved sweets. She would eat them while the rest of us ate entrees. Her favorite dessert was a bowl of fruit with cream. Yana’s laugh was infectious, and it was pretty easy to get a laugh out of her.
I will never forget one snowy visit we paid to a local official, who had a document we needed. I was encouraged to bring a box of chocolate as a “thank you.” I opted for the big box. When we arrived at the building, there were other local people who were also waiting to meet with this official. Yana suggested I hide the candy, so that it would not look improper. So I shoved the box under my coat. It was a long wait, and every time I moved, the cellophane wrapper made a loud noise and the people stared. She could not stop laughing. I am sure we looked like a couple of nuts, because nobody in Ukraine laughed that much.
For those of us who adopted kids from Zaporizhzhya, Yana was indispensable. Her ability to translate was impressive, and we demanded that the facilitators hire her. She always knew what to say and how to say it to people in various parts of the process we endured. Yana also helped comfort me at a time when my new daughter was terrified of me, and the uncertain life that awaited her half a world away.
As you read this, pray for the mother and brother that Yana left behind. There was also a group of students, pictured with me at the top of the page. Yana taught them English, and they thought Yana was cool for bringing Americans to talk with them. Of course, they loved her. She never earned much money, but those relationships pulled her back to them twice a week for several years. The void that Yana left in the lives of those children will be felt for quite some time.
Yana, we love you. We will miss you.