The Journey of a Lifetime—Higgins to study abroad in Russia and research heritage
Lena Higgins, 19, of Bainbridge has lived in southwest Georgia for as long as she can remember—but she was born in the Ukraine.
Her story to joining a southwest Georgia family is a journey in itself and now she’s preparing for the journey of a lifetime. Through Valdosta State University’s Study Abroad Program, Lena is planning to study in Russia while seeking answers about her biological family.
Anna Lena Higgins was born on September 18, 1997 in Simferopol, Ukraine as Anna Pavlovna Fedotova. Although, her original Birth Certificate indicated that both of her biological parents were of Russian decent. Lena’s parents were told by the Director of the “Elochka” orphanage, that Lena was the 9th child of the biological mother. Her mother gave her up for adoption because she could not afford to feed her newborn daughter. During this time, Ukraine was going through an extreme economic downfall, undergoing their first election since the Soviet Union fell —and the orphanages were overflowing with children needing families.
Meanwhile in the southern United States, the Higgins desperately wanted a second child. They began researching domestic adoption, but they found out the wait time was longer than they wanted to wait. Then one evening while watching the news, they saw a piece on a Tallahassee Attorney that was doing international adoptions in Ukraine. This peaked their interest and they immediately contacted the attorney. Within six months they had completed all of the required paperwork, home studies, and all approvals through Embassies, Immigration and State Departments.
“We left the US the first week of January 1998 and made our way to Kiev, Ukraine to the Center for Adoptions of Ukraine. There was a catalog full of baby pictures—and that’s where we first found out about Lena. This is where we first saw the picture of Lena and made our decision to travel to Elochka orphanage in Simferopol, Ukraine on the island of Crimea,” said Kelly.
It took a week and a very crazy adventure for them to arrive in Simferopol, but It only took one look for her parents to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. As soon as her father saw the blonde, blue-eyed five-month old, he said to his wife, “That’s our daughter.”
Kelly Higgins, Lena’s mother, was a bit skeptical of adopting Lena at first. “I was afraid because she was so little. She was five-months old and under five lbs.”
Baby Lena’s diet consisted only of watered down yogurt. There were no diapers and pins, only a rag wrapped around her.
When the Higgins got there they only had two hours in the morning with her and then two more hours in the afternoon. During these visits they would feed her formula they had brought to the orphanage for her
“We did this for five weeks and she finally began to put on weight,” said Kelly.
While in the Ukraine, there were issues with the attorney and the adoption agency. The agency began blocking the attorney from adoption cases in the area. This was not going to stop the Higgins. They were determined to take their daughter home and with the assistance of the American Embassy the adoption was made possible.
Kelly Higgins was in Ukraine for a total of six weeks of which the last three were on her own. Her husband had to return home to run their business that they owned. Then the day finally arrived when she could take their daughter home. On March 12, 1998, Kelly was able to leave Ukraine with their new little girl. After a three-day-stay in Warsaw, Poland, to acquire Lena’s Visa to travel into the US, they were headed home to Bainbridge, GA.
Lena Higgins arrived in the United States on March 18, 1998, on her six month birthday. A pink ribbon adorned their mailbox to welcome the new baby girl. The entire family was there to welcome her and fell in love with her. She was a true Higgins.
This summer Lena is taking the trip of a lifetime through Valdosta State University’s Study Abroad Program. From June 24 to July 27, she will travel to her native homeland and study in St. Petersburg, Russia. While there, she plans to study Russian Language, History and Culture all of which will fulfill college credit requirements through the University of Georgia. While there she also intends to research her birth mother based on her birth certificate information.
Lena said, “I’ve always been curious about my parents ever since I knew I was adopted.”
The young student is a little nervous, but anticipates the idea she may find her birth mother and biological siblings.
“I’m scared of what her reaction might be if I do find her,” she said. “She might not remember me or want to know me but either way I hope I will know what she looks like and who she is.”
Lena is a 2016 graduate of Bainbridge High School—and recently completed her freshman year at Bainbridge State College. She plans to receive her Associates of Arts degree and major in Biology at BSC before transferring to UGA to study Veterinary Science. She was the 2017 BSC Foundation Study Abroad Scholarship recipient.
To help Lena with her travel expenses for her educational endeavor to find out more about her culture and birth mother, the Higgins have set up a GoFundMe account. For community members who would like to give a monetary donation—please visit https://www.gofundme.com/lenahiggins.