Olga lived in a small apartment in the northeastern Ukrainian town of Zhytomyr with her second husband, two sons, 15 year-old Arthur and 4 year-old Nikolai, and elderly grandmother, the family’s matriarch. Due to her failing health and dependency on various medical devices, Olga’s grandmother occupied one of the apartment’s two rooms by herself, while the rest of the family was forced to crowd together in the second.
They all slept together on two couches and there was no personal space. It was an uncomfortable arrangement, and tensions ran high in their cramped quarters. To make matters worse, Olga’s husband, who had found only part-time employment as an insurance broker, spent all of his free time at home, poking fun at Arthur, Olga’s son from her previous marriage.
Day after day, Arthur would endure his stepfather’s abuse, including insults about his weight and mental capacity. Occasionally, the abuse turned physical. At school, Arthur’s low self-esteem and lacking social skills provoked regular ridicule from his classmates, and he was always excluded from schoolyard games and social gatherings. Arthur grew lonely and desperate for friendship. He would turn to his mother for advice, but Olga was always too distracted by her own issues to help him.
In addition to caring for her grandmother while earning a living as a manicurist, Olga was preoccupied with Nikolai’s slow development. At the age of four, he was still nonverbal, communicating exclusively through sounds and gestures. Nikolai also exhibited extreme hyperactivity, and he could not sit still and listen, which would frequently get him into trouble at kindergarten. Olga’s husband had no patience for Nikolai, and he would take out his anger on both Olga and Arthur.
As the trouble mounted at home, Arthur withdrew into himself, while Olga took up heavy smoking and drinking.
Olga did, however, find respite at the Zhytomyr Jewish Community Center, where she regularly attended Jewish events and women’s gatherings – but she would never bring her family along. After a while, community members started to realize that Olga was always alone. They also noticed bruises on her face, though she tried to hide them beneath heavy layers of make-up and a forced smile.
LifeChanger FSU was alerted to the situation, and the local coordinator reached out to Olga, offering to meet her for a cup of coffee. Olga happily accepted the invitation. At the café, Olga finally began to talk about her painful family issues.
Following that first meeting, the LifeChanger FSU coordinator sprang into action to address the family’s shared problems, as well as Olga, Arthur and Nikolai’s unique individual needs.
Arthur began working with a LifeChanger FSU psychologist to overcome his trauma, develop his social skills, and make lifestyle changes, including eating healthier and exercising regularly. He began swimming and playing other sports, loosing weight and feeling much better. LifeChanger FSU bought Arthur a stylish new wardrobe to fit his new slender frame. After joining the EnerJew youth group and attending his first Jewish summer camp, Arthur has transformed into a social butterfly. As his list of friends grows, so does his self-esteem.
Arthur was also checked by a doctor and an optometrist, who diagnosed him with a hormonal imbalance and vision problems. Both medical issues were treated, and LifeChanger FSU follows up regularly to make sure that Arthur remains healthy.
Nikolai worked with a speech therapist for six months and finally found his voice. He is also seeing a psychiatrist, who is working with him to control his hyperactivity. He is now able to focus in pre-school, and he even socializes with his classmates.
After a frightening violent episode, Olga left her husband, and LifeChanger FSU helped her obtain a restraining order against him. To cope with the psychological trauma of his abuse, Olga receives counseling. She continues to heal and is now able to be there for her sons when they need her.
Thanks to LifeChanger FSU, Olga, Arthur and Nikolai continue to flourish as individuals, which allows them to support each other and grow as a family. Healthy individuals make stronger families, and this family is finally where it has always wanted to be.