“I had to hide in the bathroom”: Life in a Family that Has Given Refuge to Over 30 Children
Tatiana and Artyom Falin from Nizhny Novgorod are ready to host anyone in need, especially when it comes to children. Kids born in prison live with the family until their mothers are released. Whole families come here if they have nowhere to go. RT Documentary tells you the story of the big Russian family who has turned their home into a refuge. Don't miss the premiere of our new documentary tomorrow!
It’s always noisy in the Falins’ home. Seven or eight kids and teenagers always live here surrounded by dogs, cats, ravens, and turtles. Some wait till their parents fix their legal status or financial affairs. Others get adopted and stay in the family till adulthood.
Tatiana Falin is in her early fourties. She had been married to her husband Artyom for over 20 years now. They have two grown-up biological children, and many more foster kids. When asked how many children they have sheltered, Tatiana can’t even remember the exact number:
Even the kids who at some point reunite with their biological parents continue to see Tatiana as their “second mother”. One her adopted daughters married long ago and has her own children now whom the Falins consider their grandchildren. Former wards come to visit, and those who have gone too far call once a week or so.
In 2017, Tatiana was giving lectures in female prisons on building a relationship with a child’s guardian. Then, she met two mothers who asked her to take care of their kids – Sasha and Bella.
The thing is, kids under the age of three can stay in prison with their mothers if there’s a foster home there. However, as soon as they turn three, they are sent to a regular orphanage, where they usually wait for their mothers to be released, as not many potential foster parents are eager to adopt a child that they will then have to return to their biological mother.
The already complex situation of the Sasha and Bella was exacerbated by the fact their mothers were foreigners. According to Russian law, they were to be deported to their homeland after their release and couldn’t return for five years.
Tatiana had seen the children only once before taking custody.
“I was shaking all the way home. My husband was sitting in the back, trying to calm them down. But living in the female prison, they had hardly seen men before, and there was a terrible bearded man. But by the evening, they calmed down”.
“Being alone in the bathroom was a blessing”
Tatiana could not leave Sasha and Bella for a minute for the next two weeks.
“Being alone in the toilet was a blessing because as soon as I closed the door, they started screaming and banging on the door,” Tatiana says. “After two weeks, they agreed to let me leave the house for five minutes. They said, ‘Okay, we won’t cry.’ While I was in the grocery store, they were sitting at the door and waiting for me”.
Both Sasha and Bella got used to living in the Falins’ house. Bella is still living there, but Sasha had to leave: after his mother was released from prison, they had to go back to their home country – Nigeria.
“Sasha is a really open-minded child,” Tatiana says. “He got used to us very easily. We thought he would get used to Nigeria just as quickly, but no. He still cries when he calls us”.
“He says, ‘Mother, why did you bring me here to Nigeria? But, mother, I want to go back to Russia, to go back to Tanya. So we’ll pray to come back to Russia.”
“Like in a horror movie”
Alyona used to be the most problematic ward of the Falins. The girl was a victim of fire. Half of her body, including her face, was covered in burns, and her hands had been amputated. Now she is 15 and has settled in, but it was an absolute disaster when she first came to the family.
“Alyona’s mother drank and took no interest in her. So as a child, she wandered around the streets and never felt loved,” Tatiana explains.
Before taking the girl into custody, the family invited her to their home for a New Year. However, when she stepped into the house, the Falins realised that it would not be easy.
But the Falins didn’t give up the idea of giving Alyona a chance to have a loving family. After all, they thought, who, if not them, would be ready to meet such a challenge?
“I used to work after I put the children to bed, but when we took Alyona, my whole life was turned upside down. If I wanted to get some sleep, my husband had to sit next to me and prevent Polina from waking me up. At night I opened my eyes and saw her sitting on the bed in front of me and singing, and it was three or four o’clock in the morning. Just like in a horror movie,” Tatiana recalls the first moths of Polina’s stay in the family.
Polina tested her new parents: she looked for their weaknesses and did her best to exploit them. This is quite typical behaviour for kids who have been adopted: at first, they behave as if they are trying to get them back to the orphanage. But they need this provocation to make sure that the foster family loves them for who they are and can be trusted.
Previously, other foster parents had tried to adopt Alyona, but none of the attempts had worked out.
“Maybe, when Polina came to a place where everything was clear and correct: a mom, a dad, and biological children, she felt like a stranger there. And here, everyone is different. Everyone has their own stories, so I felt: if there is a place for everyone here, then there will be a place for her”, Tatiana says.
Everyone in need is welcome
Children are not the only ones finding refuge in the Falins’ house. They have hosted whole families that needed a hand and a place to stay. Tatiana and Artyom know for sure that people accept help in different ways: some, having gained a foothold, begin to fix their affairs, others become reluctant to make an effort and demand more and more support.
“A friend of one of the prisoners lived with us for almost six months. She met him when he was already in prison, went on a date, got pregnant. She had a complete mess with her documents: a citizen of Belarus, she had no legal status in Russia, she couldn’t even go to the hospital. She couldn’t get married either because she did not have a divorce from her husband, with whom she had not lived for 15 years. When her fiancé was released, they tried to get a free ride with the Falins. But in the end, they left and went to Belarus, to the girl’s family”.
But there was also a completely different case. The Falins hosted an Azerbaijani family doing their best for three years after their house burnt down.
“It was in December, on St. Nicholas’ day, as I remember now. They called me at seven in the morning and said that the house they rented had burnt down. We took them in, and the woman immediately got a job. When the opportunity arose, they rented housing, but it was a real challenge for a family of migrants with four children,” Tatiana explains.
Some time ago, the family moved to a large house. Before that, they had to accommodate all their wards in a two-bedroom apartment.
Although they spend most of their time with their children, Tatiana and her husband manage to work. Artem is a photographer, Tatiana lectures in prisons, writes articles, teaches.
“The daily routine is tailored to children. I work when I have a minute. For example, I write articles at night. Sometimes I take the children on business trips to prisons. The prisons are usually located in the taiga, often do hiking,” Tatiana sums up.
Did you like the story? To lean more about the Falins, tune in to the premiere of Our Big Russian Family tomorrow!