Editor’s note — this is part one of a two-part series. Part two will be published in the Sunday, Sept. 10, edition of the Community Common.
In a city of black and white, an endless gray cloud covers the streets, reigning supreme on its endless victims.
A land of color exists, but only as a fairy tale. And to the people who have been blinded by this colorless life, it’s a land far, far away.
Nadia Karnatova was a 9-year-old girl held captive by a dim world with no chance of escaping toward the light. She was one of nine children whose father was an underground minister in their home city of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Her mother raised all nine children in a three-bedroom apartment.
Karnatova’s family was poor. Her mother used their bathtub to wash clothes because they didn’t have a washer or dryer. According to Karnatova, the siblings had to raise themselves because their mother was constantly busy with chores and their father was constantly traveling, preaching the gospel.
“He sacrificed his life and he gave his time to God,” Karnatova said. “Looking back, I can see, because of all of this, my parents focused on God so much and God never left us.
“We pretty much survived on donations from other people. Everything we had, food and clothes, furniture, anything in our house it was given to us by others. There were days were my mom didn’t even know what she was going to feed us the next morning. But my mom was a prayer warrior. She would stay up all night and pray to God. She would see these visions and dreams, and God would answer her in a dream.”
Karnatova’s mother, Lubov Prokhnevskaya, showed her faith in God as her children were about to start school. She prayed as hard as she could because she didn’t have any money and her children were lacking basic necessities, such as clothes and shoes.
God showed her a vision of a package, which contained clothes and other essentials. A few days later, Prokhnevskaya received a call from a friend, telling her a package had been sent from America that was donated to low-income families.
“That’s a little example of how God took care of us,” Karnatova said. “Once she got it, it was full of clothes. We were able to go to school and have things that we needed. My mom relied on God a lot.”
Another answered prayer came courtesy of Samaritan’s purse.
It was the holiday season and while most people are stressing about Christmas decorations or making another trip to the mall to compete for those last-minute, super-saver deals, Prokhnevskaya felt a different kind of stress. She didn’t know if there was even going to be a Christmas.
While she was trying to figure out how to provide Christmas presents for her nine children, Prokhnevskaya received a phone call from a local church, inviting them to attend a special Christmas event.
“They told my mom to bring all of her kids, that it was going to be fun,” Karnatova said. “Of course, my mom knew that there was going to be presents.”
Prokhnevskaya was relieved. Instead of a disappointing holiday, her kids were going to have a “sweet” Christmas. To Ukrainian children, “presents” didn’t consists of toys or cloths, “presents” were filled with candy, oranges or bananas.
“That’s something we didn’t eat everyday,” Karnatova said. “Candy was not something we eat everyday. Oranges was a special treat. If we got Bananas, we felt like we were out of this world.”
Little did Karnatova or her family realize what was waiting for them at the church. Excited over their pre-conceived notions, Prokhnevskaya packed bags for her nine children and they began their journey. The family had to take a subway, ride a bus and walk several blocks to reach their destination.
Once they reached the church, Karnatova could feel the excitement.
“I remember walking up to the church building, you could hear the music outside. It was so loud and exciting,” Karnatova said. “I was so excited to get inside. There were so many people. You could spot the American people right away. We called them the ‘happy people.’ They were walking around smiling.
“We were not happy at that time because we lived in a gray cloud. We would go to school with teachers yelling at us, telling us how dumb we were, how we’d grow up and be nothing. Then we’d have to come home and face our parents being poor, and struggle to provide for us. We kind of lived in the gray clouds.”
Karnatova remembers singing together and listening as the leaders preached to the crowd. Then, the moment she had been longing for finally arrived. She was holding her shoe box.
“What is this? It’s not a bag full of candy,” Karnatova questioned. “We found out there were presents in there and that was exciting for all of us, because we never got presents.”
Karnatova was holding her very own Barbie doll.
“I was a 9-year-old girl and Barbies were really big back then. Barbies were something that the rich kids had, not me,” Karnatova said. “I never even dreamed of having a Barbie.”
There was a rich girl in Karnatova’s neighborhood. She used to invite all of the other neighborhood children to her house to play with her toys, because she wasn’t allowed to take her toys to the outside playground. Her parents were afraid her toys would get stolen.
That girl had her own Barbie doll. Every time Karnatova had the opportunity to play at her house, she would quickly find the Barbie and play with it as much as she possibly could, because she knew once she left the girl’s house, Karnatova had to face reality once again.
“I would try to get as much out of that Barbie when I had it and enjoy those moments as I could,” Karnatova said. “So, when I saw that Barbie in my box, you could imagine how I felt.
“This is something I never dreamed of. It felt really good to have my own toy — my only toy. And it was given to me. I didn’t have to work for it. I didn’t have to do anything for it. I think to this day, that’s why I remember that Barbie.”
With most 9 year olds, Karnatova couldn’t wait to get back home and show her friends. The next morning, Karnatova took her prized possession to the playground and passed it around to her friends.
“They were so amazed. Me, the poor kid, brought a nice toy outside,” Karnatova said. “I felt so special because I had never done anything like that. I had never brought anything nice for my friends to share.
“I felt so good. I felt like I could take something nice outside to share and people were going to spend time with me. I felt very special. They were all around me, asking, ‘Can I play? Can I play?’ I just felt so special.”
However, because of the generosity bestowed upon her, the 9-year-old “poor kid” decided to share the only nice toy she possessed. Karnatova witnessed how happy her friends were to play with the Barbie, so she arranged sleepovers. Every night, she allowed a different friend to take the toy home and play with it, with the agreement of bringing it back to the playground the next morning.
“I would not see it for days, but it didn’t matter because it made me feel special,” Karnatova said. “It made me feel happy to see them happy. It made me feel good that they wanted something that I had, because I didn’t have anything nice. I actually felt like a kid.
“If everyone understood the power of giving — when you give, you make the other person feel special. The other person feels so good to receive something, they want to explain it to other people. But you can’t put it into words, that’s why that person feels encouraged to give, because he wants other people to feel what he felt. It’s like a never-ending cycle.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1927, or on Twitter @crslone.