"There Were Many like Us:" Stories of Russian Orphanhood

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Aine O'Connor, Hope College
In 2012, the Russian government decided to ban all transnational adoptions of orphaned Russian children to the United States in response to US sanctions on Russian officials. The decision left tens of children and their American families in limbo. Banning children from their family raises several questions on culture, government power, and the rights of a child to determine their own well-being. This conflict between the child in crisis and the Russian government goes back decades. From Stalin’s insistence on every Russian thanking him for their “happy childhood,” to shocking photos of state-run, destitute orphanages, to the adoption ban, the power of Russian dictators have their hold. When a child is denied the right to a family, how are their voices heard?

My digital timeline project, called “There Were Many Like Us:” Stories of Russian Orphanhood amplifies the unheard voices of these children and tells modern Russian history from this perspective. By compiling both oral histories of the children and secondary research into an accessible timeline, the convoluted chronology of Russian laws and movements surrounding orphan life is clarified and elaborated for the English-speaking audience. For years, contradicting laws and changing leadership buried a narrative not just of grief or pain, but of resilience. My digital timeline emphasizes visual imagery and lucid prose. Many of the featured images will engage, enrage, and empower an audience to learn more about the child behind the picture.

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