Ivan Razumov of Belarus was driving along the road towards the capital city of Minsk one evening when he noticed a small girl with a dog running along the highway.
He instinctively sensed something was wrong. He kept driving for a few seconds, but then stopped the car. He sat puzzling over why a child this young was alone in a field, thinking perhaps her parents were nearby, but he just hadn't seen them. He looked back. No, the girl was alone and there was no-one else in sight. Just empty fields and miles of highway behind her. She was running toward him.
As she approached, he was struck by her appearance: unkempt hair with a dirty face and clothes that had clearly been unwashed for some time. Her hands and sandalled feet were filthy. She looked to be about four years old.
"What's your name?" he asked. "Zhenya… Fedorovich… Vladimirovna," came an insecure answer. As he asked further questions, he came to understand that the child was on her way to the next village. She wanted to buy some ice cream because there was nothing to eat at home. When Ivan asked Zhenya where her parents were, the reply was heartbreaking. They were both passed out drunk.
Zhenya went on to explain that she had been running for a long time. Her legs were tired and she had fallen and hurt herself. Ivan was both shocked and saddened by what he had heard and seen. He gave Zhenya some water, a sweater and a blanket to warm up with. As this seemed to be a serious situation, he decided he had better call the authorities. It took an hour for the police to arrive. Meanwhile, Zhenya shared more and more about home life. She chatted on and on about her mother and stepfather — both dysfunctional alcoholics — her two brothers, her puppy named "Baby," and her grandmother. Despite what seemed to be a home without much structure or love, Zhenya was a little girl full of spirit and seemed quite taken with her new friend, sitting on his lap and regaling him with stories.
When the police and a social worker arrived it was already dark. Ivan waved goodbye to the indomitable little girl as she was driven away in the police car and wondered what would become of her.
The next day he couldn't get her out of his mind. He decided to call the police station for an update. The officer he spoke with said that social workers had visited the parents at home. They lived almost 10 miles from where Ivan had spotted Zhenya earlier that evening. When the authorities entered, Zhenya's mother was passed out on the floor and her stepfather was slumped over the kitchen table. They were both so out of it, they weren't even aware of the social workers' presence in the room. It was clear that this was no environment for a four-year-old.
Ivan was relieved to hear that Zhenya wouldn't have to return to such an unstable home. He visited with her in the children's hospital a few weeks later and brought her some ice cream.
She was thrilled to see him. "I was waiting for you," she said sweetly. He was so taken with her vivacious personality and so concerned for her future, that he and his wife had already begun contemplating if they could adopt her. They had only recently had a second daughter and their older daughter Eva was only a little older than Zhenya. However, the adoption process can be complicated in Belarus and of course any blood relatives would be a first solution. Zhenya had already had a few visits from her aunt and cousin. So it wasn't clear at first where Zhenya would end up.
But a short while later something rather wonderful happened. As her story caught the attention of the press, Zhenya's biological father heard about it and came forward. He had not been married to her mother but had been sending child support and visited on occasion. But he wasn't aware that Zhenya's home environment had gotten so bad. He said would be delighted for his daughter to come and live with him and his wife. And that's exactly what happened. After an initial trial period, the courts awarded full custody and Zhenya found a happy new home life with her father.
And as if that wasn't enough good news, she also got to keep her friend Ivan, even getting together with his girls for occasional playdates. How lucky that he happened to be driving along the highway that day!
Here's a picture from one of their recent get-togethers. Eva and Zhenya almost look like sisters.
These two dads certainly have turned Zhenya's life around. It's hard to imagine what hardships she must have suffered but thanks to Ivan's attention and all of the caring police officers and social workers who followed up on her situation, she found a loving home and a friend for life.