Now Dasha Dovbenko has her own creative agency, she managed to collaborate with Lego, Cheetos, Louis Vuitton. Our heroine is engaged in charity work and helps those who are not so lucky in life.
But the path to this was not easy for her: first the “Baby House”, then the “refusenik syndrome”, panic attacks and tactless questions from others. Dasha told Lifehacker what helped her survive the difficulties and shared her strategy for dealing with problems in orphanages.
“Don’t roll an orange or you won’t be chosen”
The very first memory: an orphanage, a playground. I hide in the bushes and eat maple leaves. I still remember how delicious they were.
At a conscious age, I again decide to try them. I wonder what attracted me so much? I find a maple tree, pluck leaves… Disgusting. Apparently, I didn’t eat them from a good life.
The next memory is meeting my foster mother. Day dream. They wake me up. Opposite my bed is a window. Too bright. I don’t want to get up, but they force me to. We, three or four girls, are being led somewhere, as if under escort. I think, “It’s so cold. I want to sleep so much.”
They are taken to the director’s office. I look up and see my mother … I think: “God, it’s impossible to be so beautiful!” This is some kind of angel – descended from heaven, stands and looks at me. I see how she gives some signs to her father – she exchanges glances with him, gesticulates.
Then mom takes out oranges and gives them to us. I hate oranges. I take one and start rolling from hand to hand.
Then a four-year-old girl turns to me and whispers in my ear: “Don’t roll an orange, otherwise you won’t be chosen.”
How terrible it is that a four-year-old who has to run, jump and play thinks about such things! I don’t remember anything else about the orphanage. After meeting with my parents, my life was divided into “before” and “after”.
“I’m moving into my new house… And I’m starting to act disgusting”
When people apply to an orphanage, it does not look like this: they came, signed the documents and took them away. No. This is a long journey that can last six months or a year. Andin world, the adoption process is more light than in America or Europe. I was lucky that my mother consciously took this step. It wasn’t like she was just passing by an orphanage and she thought, “Oh, I’ll go get a kid who eats maple leaves in the bushes.”
At first, my mother could only visit me. Then she was allowed to take me for the weekend with the supervision of the orphanage. After each meeting, they examined me, looked at the state of my mother, checked the apartment, and so on.
She later said: “When I took you for the weekend, you behaved just perfectly. I thought: “God, do such children really exist?”. You neatly folded things, washed dishes, said “thank you, please.” And mom, and dad, and grandmother – all fell in love with me at first sight.
And now – all the documents are signed, like in a movie, they kick me out of the orphanage with a suitcase, I move into my new house … And I start behaving disgustingly. And so much so that my mother is in shock.
I didn’t put it on anything. I argued. She said: “Who are you to me?” Scattered things, rioted, hysterical, yelled.
Therefore, a week later, my mother ran to the orphanage and told the situation. The director gave her a large pile of books – here, read it. In one of them, the objector syndrome was described. It occurs if the child subconsciously understands that he has already been abandoned, that he is already unnecessary. And he connects this with his behavior: maybe he behaved badly or was guilty of something?
Most often, this syndrome manifests itself when the child is not taken from the orphanage for the first time. That is, at first, ten families will take it like a rag, use it, look at it and give it away. And this is such a psychological trauma! The child eventually becomes convinced that he is useless.
And when he finds himself in a new family, the refusenik syndrome turns on. So he checks: “You loved me when I was good, but will you love me when I am bad?” This is such a method of psychological protection.
When my mother found out about this syndrome, she immediately changed her attitude towards my antics. She began to hug me constantly, saying: “I love you – whatever you are. Even if you misbehave.” But I also had other oddities.
If you go to the “Baby House”, you can see how the children rock themselves before going to bed. They hug their body with their arms and roll it from side to side. Because no one hugs them, caresses them, lulls them to sleep.
It was the same with me. Plus, when I sat, watched movies, ate, I nervously swayed back and forth. At such moments, my mother tried to calm me down, squeeze me, saying: “Hush, hush.” As a result, this habit also disappeared.
“Some aunts on the street could come up to me and ask: “Do you know that you are adopted?”
Mom always said that I was her child. She adopted me on anonymous terms. All previous documents were destroyed, and there is practically no past me in any of the database. Only a DNA test can help to find out the truth. And also, if you take a birth certificate and bring it to the light, you can find the “UD” badge. It means I was adopted.
In addition, as a child, I was insanely similar to my father. The same. And when dad saw me for the first time, he thought: “Maybe I walked so well somewhere in my youth?” My father was actually my best friend. If they approached him and said: “Your daughter is adopted,” he would probably cripple this person. He had a tough stance: “This is my child. And that’s it.”
Therefore, I did not wonder whether my parents were my parents or not. But outsiders strove to say so. We then lived in the small town of Bobruisk. Mom was a very cool and popular makeup artist. So, of course, when she suddenly had a four-year-old daughter, it became clear to everyone where she got her from.
Some aunts on the street could come up to me and ask: “Do you know that you are adopted?” Or, for example, when I played on the playground, mothers sent their children to me, and they asked the question: “Are you from an orphanage?”
Then I didn’t understand anything and forwarded this to my mother: “Why did my aunt tell me that I was adopted”? She replied: “Once you got lost in the market. And then my father and I saw you on TV and took you home.” Soon we moved to , where no one knew us. And the questions stopped.
Later, when I was 12-14, my parents discovered the truth. I remember it happened like this: mom and dad called me into the kitchen. They said: “Dash, we need to talk to you.” I said, “OK, let’s go.” And they told me everything: that I was from an orphanage, that I had brothers, sisters, biological parents.
The first thought was: “What??” Complete rejection. And I said: “Well, it was and it was. We live on.”
When asked why he told me right now, my mother explained: “At a young age, it would be pointless to say something. If you remembered the orphanage and the former family, then, of course, I would help you promote it. But since you didn’t think about it yourself, I made up a story about the market.” She said she never intended to hide anything from me. She was just waiting for the right moment.
And now I think that the moment they told me was perfect. Of course, every family is different. And parents need to look at how the child feels – whether he is ready to perceive this information.
I would not tell this to a small child either, because his psyche is just being formed and this news can cause injury.
And as an adult, it would have been too late. I hear stories all the time when people find out they’re adopted in their 30s or 40s. And they are indignant why they were not told earlier. Perhaps this is perceived in such a way that life has been passed in vain.
Somehow I was in no hurry to tell my friends and acquaintances that I was a receptionist. It was adolescence – hormones played, I walked, hung out. The only person who found out about this is my friend Masha. We have been in contact with her since she was 11 years old.
We discussed it like this: “Estimate, I’m adopted.” “Oh wow! Cool, cool.”
Then, when more awareness came, I began to speak openly about the fact that I was from an orphanage. Everyone was surprised – how do I talk about it so calmly? And I thought: why should I be ashamed?
“I have a strong sense of energetic connection with my father”
At the age of 16, I started having panic attacks. Apparently, all my stress went into them. It was a very scary period of life for me and my parents. They didn’t know what was happening. Couldn’t work. They sat with me on the bed while I lay and suffocated.
Then I was sent to a psychologist, and after that I quickly recovered. New tasks have appeared: you need to look for a job, make your way in life.
I followed in the footsteps of my parents and wanted to find a job in the creative field. My father was an artist and my mother was a makeup artist.
From childhood, my father instilled in me a love for modern art. We constantly went to museums, he told me about painting. In the evenings, he often painted pictures, and I read aphorisms from books.
My father said that I should work in the creative industry – this is mine.
Therefore, I went to all kinds of circles, about 9-10 at the same time: dancing, swimming, football, fine arts, modeling, and a music school. I tried everything and through this I found out what I like best. I decided to connect my life with the visual arts.
I came to Artplay and said that she was ready to work with anyone – even as a cleaner. I was hired as a 5/2 trainee with no pay. I carried pictures, I was an errand girl. In parallel with this, the remaining two days I worked as a waitress in a cafe.
When I turned 20, I realized that I was already an adult, and an adult needs money. In creativity at that time I did not see any financial growth. Therefore, she changed her field and began working as an analyst, administrator in a restaurant – where they paid normally. All this I hated. I woke up, cried and went to work. I gave up creativity.
A couple of years later, my father died. This was the last straw. I got depressed. Did not work. I watched movies, ate and cried for days on end. My world has collapsed.
This went on for six months. But once I was washing in the bathroom, and I had a strong feeling of an energetic connection with my father. I distinctly heard his voice: “You should work in the creative industry. You are a creative person. You are a talented person.”
That same day, I started looking for a job. I took on everything: photo shoots, video filming, paintings to order.
At some point, I met a man who was going to open a gallery. He invited me to become his partner, and everything flew. So we opened the UMAM museum on the territory of Artplay.
“I managed to collaborate with Cheetos, Crocs, Louis Vuitton, Lego…”
I’ve been saving money all this time. When I managed to collect enough, I entered London for art management courses. There I learned how to communicate with creative people and sell my art.
Backin world, I realized that I needed to combine contemporary art and marketing design. And it worked. I immediately registered on Instagram *, posted the work. In two months, 5,000 people signed up!
Now I have my own creative agency and school for mobile creators. We do branding, illustrations, advertising. And everything is on phones or iPads.
People are used to the fact that cooperation with big brands involves complex motion animation, which requires a powerful computer to create. I break this stereotype.
For 2–3 years of work, I managed to collaborate with Cheetos, Crocs, Louis Vuitton, Lego, Garnier, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland. They didn’t care what device I was on. They came for my creative thinking and my ideas. Now we have contracts with companies scheduled until mid-summer.
“I wanted to show teenagers that life after the orphanage can be normal”
When I had money, I began to do more charity work. Even though I tried to help. At the age of 21, when I was working as a photographer, I was invited to an orphanage to shoot an event.
On it I met a boy Dima. When I saw him, I thought: “My God, how pretty!” The idea of adoption crossed my mind. I thought about it well and decided to give it a try. However, it later turned out that he had a family that had already taken him away.
Nevertheless, this case gave impetus. I realized that I have something to tell children who are forced to live outside the family. I want to give them support.
So I began to regularly travel around to orphanages. I just called, asked if I could bring some things, got to know the guys. I wanted to show teenagers that life after the orphanage can be normal.
With children from orphanages is not so difficult. But teenagers … They have so many injuries that you can go crazy.
I still communicate with 10-15 guys. We meet, walk as friends. They can call me and tell me about their problems. They can apply for financial and physical assistance or ask for lessons in the profession. For example, this is how one of the girls studied and now works in my agency.
I also have a psychologist whom I pay money to work with my guys and help them enter society as healthy people.
“Almost every year they made a new application to find me”
I met my biological family for the first time last year. I watched the program “Wait for me” – I adore it since childhood – and heard the presenters say at the end of the episode: “We have a website. Please enter your first and last name. Maybe someone is looking for you.” How many years I watched it, never paid attention to it. I just rewinded and that’s it.
But this time it clicked: “We should come in and have a look. What if someone is looking for my mom? Or dad. Or a grandmother. I didn’t think about myself at all. But when I did not find applications for their names, I finally decided to drive myself in: “Daria Dovbenko.” There was no such application, and I thought: “Well, ok.” She went to mind her own business.
Two hours later, I felt like I was hit on the head! I used to have a different last name!
I went to my mom and asked what it was. She didn’t remember. Still, a lot of time has passed, and all the documents have been destroyed. But two weeks later she suddenly said: “Your last name is Kuchinskaya!”
I went to the site, drove in: “Daria Kuchinskaya.” And I saw two applications. “We are looking for sister Dasha, born in 1994. She was adopted in 1997.” Shock. I showed it to my mom right away. And she confidently declared: “Yes, these are your relatives. Probably sisters. Looking for you.” I again have rejection: “Well, what the hell! I won’t respond!”
But my mother convinced me. She took another look at the site and saw that almost every year they made a new application to find me. So she began to gently persuade: “You understand that all these years people have been constantly looking for you? You at least respond and write that you are alive and well. So that they don’t worry and move on.”
I agreed and responded to the application the same evening. Almost immediately, the next morning, the manager “Wait for me” called me. The first question was: “Daria, how do you feel about filming?” I said that I needed to consult with the family, because this story concerns not only me, but also them.
Of course, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I told my mom that I would just write them a message. But she again convinced me: “Perhaps on the program you can draw attention to the problems in orphanages? That’s what you’re doing.” I thought it was a really good chance. This became my only motivation for participating in the program.
Katya, the sister who came to the program, did not know that they had found me. Therefore, my appearance was a surprise for her. Some details about my former family came as a surprise to me.
She had 10 children. We all lived in an apartment. But then the parents decided to exchange it for a house. And at the conclusion of the transaction, they encountered black realtors. Therefore, when we moved, the real owners of the house suddenly appeared, who put us before the fact: there are two months to vacate the housing.
The father had already left the family at that time. Mother, apparently, could not cope with the pressure and began to drink. And then she left the city altogether. All of us, ten of us, were alone in this house. Of course, representatives of the guardianship authorities soon came and sent us to different orphanages, and our parents were deprived of our rights.
Probably, for many, the first reaction is shock: “The mother drinks, the father drinks, they abandoned the children. Finished!” But I don’t get mad at any of them, and I don’t blame them. Every person does things that can be justified. The fact that my mother got drunk and left us … Well, alcohol generally does terrible things. God forbid we all find ourselves in such a situation.
If someone else were left with 10 children in the house from which you will be expelled in two months, without work and without a husband … I would see what he would do.
Now some sisters and brothers communicate with her and with her father, and I understand them. After all, parents are parents. And it is difficult to refuse them, no matter how bad they may be. The biological mother, as far as I understood, as she went down a bad path, did not leave it. But the father is not. I stopped drinking and got married.
For many years he went to the orphanage and helped his children. Therefore, the sisters and brothers say that he is good. But he failed to take any of them, because he had already been deprived of parental rights.
Whatever it was, I do not want to communicate with the biological parents. It’s one thing if I remembered them. And it’s completely different when they are strangers to you. You don’t feel anything for them. They will bring you Uncle Petya and say: “This is your father, communicate with him.” What for? Meaning? One blood is not an indicator.
In fact, I would like to thank them for doing so. Thank you for leaving me, after which I ended up in an orphanage and met my real parents. I love my mom and dad so much.
And with some brothers and sisters I communicate, call up, correspond. I almost never saw anyone. When I arrive in Belarus, we will meet and chat. And how it will develop further – it will be seen.
“We need to unite and help those who need support so much”
I would like to appeal to many people – especially those who support and propagate harmful stereotypes. Here’s what to keep in mind.
1. Everyone has psychological deviations, not only children from orphanages. My story, Katya’s story, the stories of many millions of people… They are all different. But we have one thing in common – psychological trauma. Everyone has them. It doesn’t matter where we come from – from an orphanage or not.
For example, it happens that a person lives in an ideal-looking family and grows up with an excellent student syndrome – this is also a psychological deviation that interferes with work and relationships. Many employees come to me who, faced with a single edit from the customer, begin to say: “I am shit.”
2. Drug addicts, murderers, maniacs do NOT just come out of orphanages. Yes, some guys, leaving the orphanage, really go downhill. But not because they are bad, but because no one worked with them. Children from biological families in which their parents did not give a damn about them can also start using drugs, stealing, and killing.
I looked at the statistics: who in the Russian Federation is most often convicted of murder? Almost always – those who grew up in a biological family.
Perhaps someone will think: “How can she talk about this if she herself was lucky to get into a good family?” Yes, I’m lucky. But there are many examples of other people who were not adopted or adopted.
Take even my sisters and brothers. They grew up to be good people: they work, support their families, travel. Yes, they may have injuries, but not those that interfere with society. Orphans are not aggressive, they are just broken.
3. People from the orphanage have a fate completely different from yours. And if such a person has committed some kind of shit, you need to try to understand him. For example, to this day I still have a negative trait: if I feel that a person is becoming close to me, I begin to behave disgustingly. Do not pick up the phone, dynamite, move away. No matter how I worked it out with a psychologist, nothing came of it.
But I have learned to warn those who are dear to me about this. When I understand that I want to merge, I explain everything to the person and ask him to just wait a little. Relatives understand.
4. Adoption, adoption is for life. Those who want to “try”, I think, should not even be allowed near children. A la “if it takes root, I’ll take it.” You can’t do that, the child is not a dog.
After all, my mother could also come to the orphanage and hand me over: “Take me away, this girl is not suitable.” But she did not, for which I am very grateful to her.
5. You can’t tell a foster child that he owes you something. Just like any child! My mother was once told a wise thing: “You take your daughter for yourself. Don’t you dare tell her: “I gave you a normal life”, “Yes, if it weren’t for me, you would have rotted in the orphanage”, “Yes, you owe me life to the grave.” And I agree with this. You can’t do that.
6. We need to talk about problems in orphanages and fight them. What we have now is a disaster. The orphanages are full. Some of them abuse children. God forbid, if there is at least one nanny who sincerely treats her work and treats her pupils kindly. But the rest can be understood – who will go to work for a penny? We need to unite and help those who need support so much.
7. Please donate your time and come to the orphanage to talk to the children. Don’t care for gifts. They care about simple human communication, understanding how it is when you are not alone, when you are interesting, when you are not labeled as “orphanage”. There is nothing more valuable than attention.