Update on Our Boys, Part 2

Like I said in the last post, amidst all the talk of war and surviving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s been quite some time since I’ve given you a good update on each of our boys. If you would like to see more frequent pictures and hear about what our boys are up to on the regular you can always sign up for our newsletter (form at the end of this post) or follow our team’s Instagram. But today I thought it would be fun just to let you know how each of our guys is doing and how you can pray for each of them, specifically.

You can find the first part of the update where I shared about Vlad, Boris, Ruslan, and Anton here.

Sasha, Yaroslav, and Vova are the newest members of the big Wide Awake Family and you probably feel like you know them the least. Back when the other 4 boys joined our fam I was active on social media and shared a lot about them. I really want you to know these three boys well too! They are so fun, precious, deserving, and wonderful. You would just love them if you met them face to face. I know it. They are impossible not to love. If you have any questions about any of our boys you are always welcome to write me! I love to talk about them to anyone and everyone. 🙂

Sasha joined our family in 2021, is now 16 years old, and lives in Side B of the duplex with Anton, Grant, and Lois the cat. Sasha (aka Sashulya) is the baby of the family (well, Sasha and Evie share that role…hehe). He is the youngest of our boys by a mile and is the cuddliest, most precious, sweetest, and squishiest ever. Everyone who meets him falls in love with his smile. When we were considering taking guardianship of Sasha we felt like the Lord told us that Sasha would bring us joy. That has been the truth. He had the easiest transition to family life and just brings us tons of joy with his singing and his wide smile that lights up his whole face. He thinks he’s smaller than he is and will try to climb you like a tree if he wants to be held. But, in fact, we are pretty certain that Sasha is going to turn out to be a giant. He’s growing like a weed and his huge hands and feet show no signs of that slowing down any time soon. He’s so big and just solid!

Sasha’s development is slow and he often seems to be in his own world. He’ll get fixated on a toy or a water bottle (his item of choice) and he’s a goner. But, some new developments are that he will now often turn his head when his name is called and when food is being cooked he’ll make his way to the kitchen in expectation. Those are big things! It shows that he is becoming more engaged in the world around him. Sasha is very musical and loves to sing. He can even count to 10! Now, he totally doesn’t know what numbers are or that he’s counting, but the team counts to 10 each day during yoga and he is repeating what he hears. He even does it with the same intonation as the team. It’s so cute.

Sasha loves cuddles, eating (I think he’s the neatest eater of our boys), his toys, old Soviet children’s songs, and being with the people who love him. We love Sasha deeply and are so very thankful God has put him in our family.

How you can pray for Sasha: Pray for Sasha to continue to become more engaged in the world around him. Pray for good control, or even healing! of his epilepsy. Pray for our team to have wisdom in how to best reach Sasha and teach him new things.

Yaroslav joined our family this past April, is now 27 years old, and lives in Side A of the duplex with Vova, Lesya, and Carlos the cat. Oh Yaroslav (aka Yarik, Yaroslavchik). Yaroslav gives us a run for our money, just like we always knew he would when we dreamed of getting him out of the institution. He is such a character! I think anyone who has ever visited the Isolation Hall at Romaniv remembers Yarik well. He is just someone that is impossible to miss. He is full of so much life, energy, charisma, and fire- you just can’t help but react to his energy. Sometimes I look at him and I just can’t believe that he is here with us and not at the institution. He was such a presence there!

If you’ll remember, Jed brought him and Vova straight out of the institution and to Germany where they were refugees with us in the church. It was a really miraculous story and I think that’s why it’s sometimes still a little hard to believe it happened. We don’t have official guardianship of Yaroslav and Vova but will start the paperwork process for that this next week. We’ll have a big celebration when they are legally members of our family, but in our hearts, they are already ours.

Yarik has grown and changed a lot since we brought him out of the institution in April. He walks so much better, it’s really incredible. He has good days and bad days, as far as mobility and coordination, but most of the time he is completely independent in his walking. He needs a wheelchair for longer walks, but around the house he is independent. He is learning, slowly but surely, about boundaries and the rules of how to live in a family, but he is sooooo smart. We know he’ll get it. He’s much smarter than we ever realized before. He understands cause and effect, consequences for poor choices, and all sorts of things. He likes “helping” in the kitchen and drinking coffee, but most of all he loves people. Yaroslav longs for love and attention. Like all the rest of our boys, after living a lifetime full of neglect and abuse, his need for love and attention is like a bottomless pit that will never be filled. Sometimes his attention-seeking behaviors can be pretty destructive and tiring to manage, but we know that his journey of healing has only just begun and it won’t always be like it is now. We have hope for his future.

We dreamed of having Yarik in our family for years. I’m so thankful that dream finally came true!

How you can pray for Yaroslav: Yarik has pretty fragile health, so prayers for his health and physical wholeness would be appreciated. We recently did some genetic testing but are still waiting for the results. We want to know how to best care for his physical body and hopefully, we’ll get some answers in that testing. Please pray for Yarik and his brokenness in attachment. He is highly emotional and extremely dysregulated, especially when it comes to relationships. Please pray for him to have peace in his heart and mind, and to better understand the immense love God has for him.

Vova joined our family this past April, is now 27 years old, and lives in Side A of the duplex with Lesya, Yaroslav, and Carlos the cat. I am so so excited to share with you about our Vova (aka Vovka, Vovchik)! Vova is doing absolutely fantastic and his journey of healing over the past 8 months has been nothing short of miraculous. I am just in awe of God’s love for Vova. When Vova was in the institution we heard a rumor that he had Phenylketonuria (PKU), but the diagnosis was not in his paperwork. Once we took him out of the institution and I began to read up on untreated PKU and its symptoms, the more I was convinced that Vova was suffering from that disorder. The wait to get testing and help for PKU in Germany was months long and we ended up returning home before anyone there could help us, but FINALLY, in September we got the official diagnosis. To put it simply, PKU is an inborn error of metabolism that prevents the body from processing an amino acid found in protein. For someone with PKU, protein is toxic to the brain and when left untreated, the person develops a severe intellectual disability. Our Vova’s PKU was untreated for 27 years. 🙁 The only treatment for PKU is a carefully controlled low-protein diet and the introduction of medical food, which provides Vova with a form of protein his body can use. In the US and most other developed countries when a baby is diagnosed with PKU their treatment is overseen by a team of specialists: a doctor, nurse, and dietician. But here in Ukraine, there is a doctor…and me. She basically gave us a couple cans of formula, a list of foods Vova can’t eat, and a wish for good luck. Ha! Let’s just say that my learning curve has been steep. But, over the past 3 months, our team has worked together and we have Vova’s PKU under good control. I do the research and math, write his weekly menu, and go grocery shopping for his special foods. We hired our friend, Inna, and she comes once a week to the duplex to cook for Vova. She has to weigh everything as she cooks and then portions out each meal by weight. Everything goes in the freezer and then the team just consults the menu and pulls out his meals for each day. It’s the only way a team of people could accurately treat his PKU. It’s a lot of work, but it’s going well!

At first, I think the team was a bit skeptical, and I’ll admit, I was too. We knew that some of the effects of untreated PKU are irreversible, but we hoped to see some sort of change after the diet was started, even if it was small. It’s just impossible to know which aspects of Vova’s disability are caused by the untreated PKU and which aspects are caused by him living in Romaniv all those years. The only way to find out was to begin treating the PKU and watch what would happen. I didn’t expect much, but Vova is changing and it is miraculous to watch! He is making so much intentional eye contact. He is happier, more peaceful. A previous doctor told us he had cerebral palsy because he was so spastic, but the geneticist (our PKU doc) thought the spasticity was more related to his untreated PKU. She was right. His muscles are still tight, but nothing like they were before. Untreated PKU has a really horrid smell and the whole house just reeked of it. No more! Vova smells fresh and clean every day. Vova used to yell a lot- kind of like a singing yell, but super loud and once he started you couldn’t get him to stop. He would randomly start yelling in church, in the car, anywhere. Now he barely ever does that and when he begins you can sometimes get him to stop just by talking to him. Another major thing is that he has started to toilet train! He was fully in diapers and had no interest in the toilet before, but now he will go there himself! He needs help, but he shows when he wants the toilet. It’s unbelievable. He is like a different person.

I am so thankful for our doctor here who has come to truly care for Vova and is so helpful to us. There is a wonderful community of Ukrainians with PKU who have donated their extra formula to us to get us by until the government starts to provide it to Vova in the new year. Our team has done a great job of following instructions and being careful with Vova’s diet. It is truly a team effort and we are rocking it. I’m just thrilled and thankful that Vova has this opportunity to truly LIVE. It’s just great.

How you can pray for Vova: Please pray for continued healing of Vova’s brain and body from the years of untreated PKU. Pray for a reversal of the harm it has done to his body. Please pray for Vova to grow in understanding of our love for him and God’s love for him and for him to learn to trust more. Pray that he would not be afraid.

Thank you again, for walking this journey with us. Thank you for loving our boys and caring about their lives. Thank you for supporting this work so that our boys could be free and live lives full of love. We are thankful!

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An Update on Our Boys, Part 1

We’re nearing the end of a doozy of a year and I realized, amidst all the talk of war and peace, I haven’t updated you on our boys in quite some time. This whole work exists because of them and for them, so I figured you might be wondering how they are doing! If you follow our team’s Instagram account or subscribe to our newsletter you have definitely seen pics of our fellows, but really good updates have been few and far between. So, consider this my end-of-year gift to you- part 1. We just have too many boys these days to try to write one big blog post about all of them. That’s a good problem to have! In this post I’ll share about Vlad, Boris, Ruslan, and Anton, and then in the next post, I’ll write about Sasha, Yaroslav, and Vova. Let’s dive in!

Vlad joined our family in 2015, is now 22 years old, and is living in Oregon Vladislav (aka Vlad, Vladik, Vladchik, Vlad the Builder, Vlad the Chicken Man) is doing fantastic! Many of you commented after his latest Youtube appearance that he was like a completely different person and I have to say that you’re not wrong. Vlad has grown and changed in ways we could have never imagined. When we adopted him 7 years ago he was barely verbal and whatever words he did have were barely intelligible. Now he is fluent in Ukrainian and English (and understands Russian) and is understood well by most people, most of the time. Vlad is crazy smart and crazy creative. We are so proud of the man he is becoming.

Vlad currently lives in Oregon with my parents. After our time as refugees in Germany, our Johnson family decided to make a quick visit to Oregon to see family and to do some Wide Awake business. Right before we left Germany to head to Oregon we had the idea to leave Vlad there for some time. Vlad has a lot of issues with his teeth and the structure of his mouth. Those issues have worsened drastically over the years and no one in Ukraine will even touch him. I get it- it’s a bit of a hot mess in there. There is an orthodontist in Oregon who years ago had offered to treat Vlad for free. We were thankful but knew we could never relocate our family to Oregon for the time it would take to treat Vlad’s mouth. But Vlad has grown, matured, and changed so much, we decided that he was ready to be in Oregon for his treatment without us. It kind of felt like a “now or never” moment. We asked my parents if Vlad could live with them, and they said yes! My mom just retired in May, so she has the time now to support Vlad that she wouldn’t have had before. I was able to visit Vlad there in November and he is absolutely thriving with my parents. We could never ever express to them how very thankful we are for their love and support of Vlad. It means the world to us.

In November Vlad began working in landscaping at a local company that employs people with disabilities. He only went to work once, then got sick, then visited us in Ukraine, but he arrives back in Oregon today and next week will get to begin working twice a week. He is loved by his church family and some of our friends back in Oregon. He is just doing great!! Also, his teeth are really changing. It’s exciting to see that progress. Vlad is happy, healthy, and thriving.

How you can pray for Vlad: Pray for peace in Vlad’s heart while he is away from us. He really does worry about us and our safety. He thinks about the war here and I know he feels a lot of emotions about it. Also, please pray that he would find friendship at his new job. I would just love for him to have a friend there.

Boris joined our family in 2017, is now 30 years old, and lives in our home. Boris (aka Bmo, Borya, Borka, Beemchick, Beemchick my Weemchick) has been in our family for 5 years! I can’t even believe that, but it also feels like he’s just always been with us. We love our Bmo. This year has been a rough one for our Mister Man. I mean, who am I kidding, it’s been a rough one for us all. But Bmo has really shown us with his body how stressful, difficult, and confusing 2022 has been for him. Navigating war, living as refugees, and then entering back into life in a country still at war has been challenging for all of our boys. Their understanding of the situation is limited, and for the ones who are nonverbal, it’s even harder because we don’t know how much they do and don’t understand and we don’t know what worries they hold inside of them. When we lived in the church all together in Germany Boris struggled soooo much. Who knows? Maybe he thought that was our new permanent home. Maybe he thought “Well, I guess this is what our life is now…” He was very vocal about his frustration with life there and he regressed in many of his skills and abilities. It was really heartbreaking to see, and actually, his regression ultimately helped us make the decision to return home to Ukraine. His suffering was painful to watch and there was nothing we could do to make it better for him. So hard. Transitioning back to life here in Ukraine has been good for our Bmo, but it has not been easy. It’s not like we got back home, the switch was flipped, and he was suddenly back to his old self. If only. No, it has been a hard road of recovery, but bit by bit he is getting back to where he was before the war began. We’re still in a war zone though, so some of our struggles will remain until the war ends and we can truly begin to feel safe and secure again…whatever that may look like. It’s honestly hard to imagine feeling truly safe again, but even still, we pray for God to comfort Bmo and bring him peace in his heart. He has made great strides since we returned home in July. We just keep loving him and helping him to feel secure in his place in our home and family. Boris is a gift to our family and I truly can’t imagine our lives without him.

How you can pray for Boris: Please pray for Boris to have peace and calm in his heart and mind. He is sooooo stressed much of the time. He even shakes because of the tension in his body. He isn’t harming himself, but he is very obviously not at peace.

Ruslan joined our family in 2018, is now 35 years old, and lives in an apartment with our team member, Luda. I would say that out of all of our boys Ruslan (aka Rus, Ruslanchik) has grown and changed the most over this past year. It’s absolutely incredible to see how much he has matured! Rus really doesn’t like change, especially when it is unexpected. He is a big fan of routine and knowing what comes next. So, as you can imagine, we were quite concerned about how Ruslan would do when we evacuated to Germany. I am amazed to say that Ruslan did amazingly well in Germany, and he even thrived there. If you would have told me a year ago that Rus would sleep in a room with 7 other people and do just fine I would have laughed in your face. But he did! He slept with 7 other people in one room. He lived with 39 other people in the church and was mostly happy. It was truly miraculous. One massive saving grace was that in Germany Ruslan was able to work. A place that employs people with disabilities took Rus and Vlad under their wing and the two of them were able to go to work 5 days a week. I think if Ruslan hadn’t had the stability of the work he would have really struggled in Germany. It was such a loving, positive environment and Ruslan really thrived there. We are so thankful for that experience.

After we returned home to Ukraine Ruslan began working at the electrical shop where Vlad used to work before the war. Our friend, Dima, really believes in the value of our guys and dreams of providing more work for people like our boys. His team likes having Rus there and Ruslan feels so proud to have occupation. He is slowly learning how to do different tasks and Dima even makes up work for Rus, just so he feels that he is helpful and needed there. It’s really great. Ruslan works at Dima’s shop Monday through Thursday for a little over 2 hours a day. We are super thankful to Dima for loving Rus and providing him with the possibility to work.

Ruslan is fun-loving, and caring, and really loves to pray and go to church. We love him so very much!

How you can pray for Ruslan: Pray for Ruslan to continue to grow in wisdom and to truly know that he is loved.

Anton joined our family in 2018, is now 34 years old, and lives in Side B of the duplex with Grant, Sasha, and Lois the cat. Our precious Anton (aka Antoshka, Antoha, Antonchik) has gained so many words over this past year! When we first took Anton from the institution he could say one word, the Ukrainian word for “God”. If you asked him who loved him he would answer “God”. Over the years he has learned to mimic a lot of words that people say and sometimes repeat after them, but this year he has begun to say a lot of words independently! It’s really great when he can express his wants and desires and we can only hope that his verbal skills will keep growing because I think better communication is key to helping Anton when his emotions are too big to handle. He is a high-emotion dude and in the past, any negative emotion would be expressed in anger. He is now able to sometimes express sadness too, which is a big step!

Germany was pretty rough on our Antoshka. Our living situation was basically like a mini institution and he absolutely did not thrive in that environment. It was no surprise to us that he struggled. Actually, I’m pretty amazed he held it together as long as he did! I didn’t really talk about it publicly, but in May we ended up sending Anton from Germany back to Ukraine to live with our team members that had remained here at the Homestead. Anton was struggling so hard and his aggression was growing and growing. He basically became a 1:1 and since there were so many vulnerable people living all together and no way to isolate him, there was just no way for us to keep people safe. It was actually a really tragic and impossible decision. We felt we had no option. We had to remove him from the church, but there was nowhere for him to go but home. Oleg and Maxim, two of our team members, were living here at the Homestead so Grant drove Anton to the border of Ukraine where Oleg met them and took Anton home. Although we felt we had no other alternative, it ended up being the best decision ever for Anton. We knew our guys could keep him safe and if things were to go bad here they could easily put him in the car and drive to Western Ukraine. We didn’t worry about his physical safety, but we definitely worried about his emotional state and how he would feel, being separated from all of us. His understanding is really limited, so we knew he would be super confused and sad. But, Oleg and Maxim did a great job with him and actually, once Anton was back here we knew it was just a matter of time before everyone else joined him. We are his guardians. We knew we couldn’t stay a couple of countries away from him for long. He just gave us the kickstart we needed. 🙂

Since returning home Anton has done fairly well. He has his good seasons and hard seasons, but overall I would say he has had more good times than bad times. He is surrounded by people who love him dearly and he knows it. He is happy, healthy, and growing and he is very precious to us.

How you can pray for Anton: Please pray for Anton to learn to care for others. Pray for him to learn to express his emotions without aggression toward others.

Thank you for loving our boys! I know much of the growth they have experienced is because of the faithful prayers of the people who love them. They are all on journeys of healing and we are so honored to walk beside them and to be their family. Thank you for helping to make their freedom possible.

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The Land of Deep Darkness

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

Ukraine is a country that has been plunged into deep, deep darkness. We are those people walking in darkness, living in a land of great darkness.

On February 24, 2022 when Russia began dropping bombs on cities all over the country we were immediately plunged into a great darkness. I remember a couple of days into the war when everyone realized that the rest of the world wasn’t sending troops to help. I remember the feelings that came with that realization: horror, disbelief, shock, anger, and isolation. Complete and utter isolation. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling that we had in those early days, the feeling of being forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world. Darkness. I saw a photo of air traffic flight patterns on February 25th and the emptiness that was Ukraine stood out like a sore thumb on the map. Cut off from the world, plunged into darkness, isolated, and under attack. So very vulnerable, our dear Ukraine.

But over the months Ukraine has risen above and shown herself strong, undefeatable. The Ukrainian military has made a laughing stock of Russia’s war machine and huge fans of us all. Their bravery, wisdom, and strength will never be forgotten.

Because Russia can’t seem to win on the battlefield they have taken to plunging Ukraine into another kind of darkness- a literal one. They have been consistently attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and have cast a literal darkness over much of the country. The lights have gone out all over Ukraine and we are truly “living in a land of great darkness.” But, like in Isaiah, there is more to the story. A light is coming.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.Isaiah 9:1-7

In this season of Advent, of waiting for Christmas, waiting to celebrate the first coming of Christ, we also eagerly and actively wait for Christ to come again. We cry out for his presence to fill us, to heal our land, and to make wrong things right. We pray for justice to flow and for the yokes that burden Ukraine to be shattered. We call for the Prince of Peace to rule and reign in this land.

Source: NASA 2022

It is a dark time in Ukraine, spiritually and physically, but we can see how God is with us even in the dark. The absence of light pollution allows the stars to break through in all their glory. The utter and absolute darkness of our village at night brings a hush to our homes and our hearts. The lack of electricity in the day teaches us flexibility, teamwork, how to conserve, and how to pivot our plans on a dime. The lack of electricity in the evening causes us to slow down, to be quiet, and to appreciate candlelight and headlamps in a new way. 😉

There is no doubt that many people in Ukraine are suffering incredibly during this time of darkness. Thankfully, it seems our power outages on the Homestead are briefer than most, so I do not want to romanticize the suffering of others. It is truly devastating, what is happening right now in our country. But I can only speak to my own life, my own little Homestead, which is more than enough to consume my heart, mind, and body. And I can tell you that although the immediate future looks dim, we are not a people without hope. We believe in God’s good character and we remember all He has done and is doing. Therefore, we have hope for the future. We believe a time will come when Ukraine will be truly free. We believe a time will come when a free Ukraine will value every one of its citizens and our friends with disabilities will live with dignity in the country of their birth. We believe that our God can do the impossible because we see him doing it every single day. When our boys laugh and sing and hug we see God’s redeeming, healing hand at work, his Kingdom breaking through into the present. Now we wait for him to redeem and heal our land. We call out for justice to flow like a river and for His Kingdom to break through all over precious Ukraine.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and make wrong things right. Bring your light into this dark place.

FYI, the Wide Awake Podcast is back up and running. You can find it wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. This week we recorded an Advent episode about Hope and Peace. I hope it is an encouragement to you as you prepare your heart for Christmas. ❤️

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Let’s Talk Food: Savory Ukrainian Recipes

Hey, hey, hey! Let’s talk about food. Yeah? I love talking about food. 🤷‍♀️ I love cooking, baking, trying out new recipes, and feeding other people. It’s a good thing I enjoy it because approximately 79% of my waking hours are spent in search of food, thinking about food, or cooking food. My kitchen is my office and my happy place. 😆 My favorite time is Sunday afternoon when it’s raining outside, and I’m cozy in my kitchen baking up a tasty treat. Add a podcast to the background and its perfection.

Ukrainian food is super basic and requires very few specialty ingredients. You could probably make most basic Ukrainian recipes with what you have in your fridge and pantry today. But it’s pretty yummy and the ultimate comfort food. Ukrainian cooking is ruled by the seasons. You cook what is available in the season and there are certain dishes for certain times of year. Fall/winter cooking in Ukraine is heavy on potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and grains. When we first moved here and I wanted to bake with pumpkin in the fall everyone looked at me like I had three eyes. “Pumpkins are for farm animals!” But, western influence has changed a lot over the years and now you can find smaller pumpkins for baking on the market. I’m happy people have come to their senses about pumpkins because fall baking requires it! 😊

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite (In English) Ukrainian recipes with you. Obviously, the most authentic recipes are the ones passed down from friends and neighbors, but the recipes I’ll share here are also great. Plus, most of them have been a bit westernized so the ingredients will be easy for you to find. There are so so many recipes that could be shared, but I decided to not overwhelm and offer up just a few yummy options for you to try. These recipes have all been tested and approved by my fam, our team, and our boys and are staples in our home. Try them out and let me know what you think! I decided to share only savory foods with you today, and next time we’ll cover sweets and baking.

Soup. Soup is a mainstay of the Ukrainian diet. Most Ukrainians are happy to eat soup every day and even for breakfast! Our kids eat soup in their school lunches every single day and parents would definitely be outraged if it was removed from the menu. Ukrainians gotta have their soup! I’m a massive soup-lover myself, so I can definitely get behind the Ukrainian soup obsession. Most Ukrainian soups are served topped with a spoonful of sour cream. Don’t omit the sour cream! It really does make a difference.

  1. Borscht. Duh. Now, my kids would correct me and say that Borscht is not soup- it’s just Borscht. But, it’s soup-like, so it will go first. Borscht is the National Dish of Ukraine, and there are as many variations of it as there are families. Every person will tell you that their grandma makes the best borscht. Some cook it with beans, some without (I’m in the “without” camp). You can use any kind of meat you like, or go meatless. I don’t really use a recipe anymore when I make borscht, but this recipe was my starting point back in the day. Do give it a go and see what all the fuss is about! Borscht Recipe
  2. Green Borscht. My kids like green borscht better than the traditional red. Green borscht is called “green” because it lacks the red beets but instead is packed with sorrel, a sour green that gives it amazing flavor. It’s also topped with boiled eggs which I was leery of at first, but quickly grew to love. So so yummy! Green Borscht Recipe
  3. Solyanka. This is my all-time most fave soup ever! There’s this little restaurant on the road from our village to Lviv in Western Ukraine that has the best solyanka you’ll ever eat in your life. I was happy to see on our way home from Germany that that little restaurant was still alive and kicking. Solyanka has dill pickles in it, but don’t let that scare you. It’s amazeballs. TRY IT. I highly modify this recipe, but it’s a good starting point. It calls for a lot of different meat, but we use just chicken and salami. Also- don’t skip the olives, lemons, and sour cream at the end. (Any kind of olives will do. You don’t need the special ones called for in the recipe) Here ya go: Solyanka Recipe, Solyanka Recipe in Ukrainian (This recipe is closer to how I make it- but with potatoes. If you can Google translate it, then go for it!)

Non-Soup Savory Dishes

  1. Banosh. My kids literally jump for joy when I make banosh. And it’s so easy!! Banosh is a famous Ukrainian dish from the Hutsul people of the Carpathian Mountains. When we all go to the mountains together with our team and the boys we definitely make it a priority to have lots of banosh. It’s a dish that holds a lot of special memories for all of us. Now, the recipe I’m attaching is a good base of banosh with bryndza (salty sheep cheese), but banosh is just meh if you don’t add other toppings. We like to add carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, bacon crumbles, and a fried egg to the top of our banosh, along with the bryndza. If you can’t find bryndza you can replace it with feta cheese for a similar salty taste. Banosh Recipe
  2. Olivye. This Ukrainian version of a potato salad is straight-up party food. Every holiday, birthday party, and special event is bound to have a big bowl of Olivye and I am there for it. There’s just something super yummy and satisfying about it. You must give it a go. It’s super important to chop everything small and into similar-sized pieces. The uniformity of all the little chunks with the mayo makes this salad something special. No big chunks allowed! So what if today’s not a holiday? Any day is a good day for Olivye. Olivye Recipe
  3. Grechka. If you’re planning to visit Ukraine anytime soon (you’re probably not, but…😂) then you’re going to have to learn to like buckwheat (“grechka”). I’ve noticed that it’s an acquired taste for most Westerners, but I can testify that you really can learn to like it. When we first moved here I was not a fan, but over the years grechka has become a comfort food of sorts. Our kids eat it at school for lunch at least twice a week and all of our boys love it. Enjoy this basic recipe for grechka with mushrooms. The recipe calls for dried mushrooms, but I usually use fresh, as that’s what I have on hand. PS: Despite having “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is actually a gluten-free food. Grechka Recipe

English Recipe Resources. These sites were my go-to websites when we first moved to Ukraine and I realized trying to cook “American” wouldn’t cut it here, but I couldn’t read nor understand recipes in Ukrainian. I learned the basics of Ukrainian cooking from these sites before I had friends to tell me what was up. They all have categories for “Russian and Ukrainian food”. Ukraine and Russia have many, many differences (as Russia is currently showing the world) but when it comes to cooking they share many of the same recipes and flavors. I hope you will try some recipes for yourself!

  1. Natasha’s Kitchen
  2. Olga’s Flavor Factory
  3. Valentina’s Corner
  4. Momsdish

Back to Romaniv- Finally!

Yesterday I finally returned to Romaniv. It had been at least 7 months since I was there last and it felt like a bit of a homecoming, to be honest. Grant and I were talking about it on the way home. He said it felt strange that he felt so comfortable there. I mean, we all know that Romaniv isn’t a “comfy” place to be, but I know what he meant. It’s a comfortable place for us because it’s exactly the right place for us to be in this time and space. Romaniv, the boys there, and other people like them, stuck in institutions out in the middle of nowhere are the reason we are here. God plucked us out of our cozy American lives and plopped us down here in Ukraine, at this time, for those boys and others like them. Knowing you are in the exact place where you are meant to be is a wonderful feeling, even if that place is terrible and smelly and unjust and sad. There’s just a comfort in knowing “This is my place. These are my people.”

When Jed and I first moved to Ukraine almost 9 years ago, we knew nothing. We had no language, only a couple of acquaintances, and everything was completely foreign. Banking, shopping, transportation, communication, school, church…we knew nothing about any of it. I felt like our apartment was a little American island. Every time I exited the building I was entering another universe, and I was destined to fail in that new universe. I made mistakes all.the.time. I still do, but they’re less of a big deal these days, or maybe I’m just used to it by now 😂. I would get heart palpitations just thinking about having to approach a stranger. My perfectionistic tendency to only speak when I was confident I was saying something correctly made me a silent bystander instead of an active member of society. The only places I felt like myself was at home and then with our boys at Romaniv. Sigh, “These are my people.”

Our boys don’t have impossible expectations of us that we’ll never be able to meet. I imagine their thoughts, “Just be with me. Sit with me and hold my hand.”

Our boys don’t care if we make mistakes with the language. “Call me by my name and tell me you love me.”

Our boys don’t hold a grudge if we’ve been gone from them for seven months. “You came back! I was waiting for you!”

Our boys love us just because we are. Our relationships have been built over years and years of just being together. Not accomplishing anything that the world values, but just sitting together, singing together, being present with each other. The friendship our boys offer us is a massive gift and one I am truly thankful for today.

The Dim Hidnosti team is returning to our rhythm of spending Thursdays with our boys and I’m so glad. They need us and we need them. They ground us. They remind us of our purpose here and of what’s truly important. Lucky us, to have friends like them.

Vitya, Sasha, and Kolya (photo by Grant ☺️)

If you are new to this community you might now know much about our boys at Romaniv. Romaniv is the institution where all of the boys in our family used to live. I have written about it a lot over the years here on the blog. I’m planning to do a podcast episode about Romaniv, so if you have questions about the place, the boys there, or our work there go ahead and ask! I’ll do my best to answer.

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