By Melissa Smalley
A chance encounter on social media has helped a South Cariboo teen connect with family members overseas that he never knew existed.
Sergei De Vries, who lives in Lac des Roches with his adoptive parents Eric and Piri and younger sister Veronika, has always had a healthy curiosity about his biological roots, but until recently hadn’t made any attempts to track down relations in his birth country of Ukraine.
Sergei, 16, was adopted by the De Vries from an orphanage south of Kiev in 2004, when he was three years old. Eric and Piri – who were born and raised in Holland and Finland, respectively – say they’ve always been open with their children about their Ukrainian roots, and have encouraged them to learn as much about their background as they wish.
It was during the start of the wildfires in the region last month that Eric – deputy chief for the Interlakes Volunteer Fire Department – decided it was time to join Facebook, in an effort to be kept up-to-date with what was unfolding throughout the community.
On a whim, Eric searched Facebook for Sergei’s surname at birth, which he had previously learned was an uncommon last name. The search produced only one result – a young woman who lived in Africa.
“We thought, ‘no, that can’t be any relation,’” Eric explains. “But then I noticed on her profile that her hometown was in the same district in Ukraine where Sergei was born. So I decided to send her a message.”
The next morning, the family was shocked to read the woman’s response:
“We are cousins.”
Sergei says he was excited to connect with Lillia, whose mother is his biological father’s sister. He has since also connected with Lillia’s mother – his aunt – and has also learned that he has an older half-brother who is currently living in Russia.
Through video chatting and text messaging – with the help of the Google translate app – Sergei has started to build a relationship with his new-found family members and has learned more about his father, who sadly passed away several years ago.
Finding each other through Facebook has been just as exciting for his relatives as it had been for Sergei and his parents.
“They had been wondering for some time what had happened to that little boy,” Eric says, noting they had wanted to help care for Sergei when he was a youngster but didn’t have the money to do so.
Though Sergei says he doesn’t have much interest in ever visiting his birth country, he is definitely planning on meeting his cousin and aunt as soon as he can save up the money to visit them.
For Eric and Piri, watching their son discover more about his origin in the Ukraine has been a “beautiful miracle.”
“It certainly helped us to forget about the fire for a few days,” Piri notes. “It has been really good for Sergei. It opens up a whole new chapter for him.”
And while Eric acknowledges that many adoptive families have different approaches when it comes to addressing questions their children have about their roots, he feels it’s important for Sergei and Veronika – who was adopted from another area of the country – to feel comfortable pursuing their heritage.
“We were always so open with them about where they came from,” Eric explains. “And every year comes new questions about what it was like in the Ukraine. It’s so important to know your roots.”