‘Heartbroken’ Ukrainian native wants to give back

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | May 10, 2022

Svitlana Poole moved to Marian at age 10 following adoption

Svitlana Poole, fourth from left, participates in a classroom activity as a child in Ukraine, her birth country. Poole, 24, was adopted at age 10 by Andrew and Mara Poole and moved to Marion. She currently resides with her grandparents, Anne and Barry Poole. (Submitted Photo | Special To The Compass)

MARION — When Svitlana Poole, 24, passes a home with the Ukrainian flag or a sign in support of her birth country on display, she wishes she could stop to show her gratitude.

“They send their love for the people by putting up the Ukrainian flag and colors,” she said. “It shows that they are in their thoughts. They are in their prayers. They send a little part of their heart to Ukraine to help them. I want to say ‘thank you’ for that small gesture, for letting people see that. Maybe they will think, ‘My neighbor’s standing up, so I’m going to put up a flag, too.’ I’m just grateful for all the people who have stood up.”

Poole’s early years in Ukraine were difficult. Due to her family situation, which she describes as a “mess,” she was homeless, living on the streets.

“I was out with other children. They were orphans as well,” she said. “I was getting food from neighbors, sleeping under people’s porches. I had a pet cat that I called ‘my guardian angel.’”

Svitlana Poole is pictured with her father, Andrew Poole, a native of Marion, who now lives in Minnesota. Through a connection with a Miles Jesu brother, Andrew and his wife, Mara, learned about then 8-year-old Svitlana, who was living in an orphanage run by the Miles Jesu sisters. (Submitted PHoto | Special To The Compass)

The authorities picked Poole up at age 6 and placed her in a state orphanage. She struggled with the strict structure.

“I remember being rebellious. Having that free life, living in the streets, being comfortable out there and, all of a sudden, these strict rules are placed on you,” she said. “You have a bedtime, a waking-up time, you have to go to school and walk in straight lines in uniform. I did try to run away a couple times. I didn’t get very far. Having one companion (her cat), my street friends and all of that, then, one day, you wake up and it’s all gone.”  

Poole’s next stop on her journey was life changing. The Miles Jesu sisters, a group of consecrated religious women in Birky, Ukraine, opened a home for girls.  

“Their facility was more family-like. They only took seven girls out of 90 children or more. I was in that group,” said Poole. “It was very much like a family home, proper schooling, (I) went to church every Sunday. We even had a chapel in the building, so we could go in the chapel whenever we wanted. You just felt the instant love that a child would get from a mother.”

Andrew and Mara Poole, who were living in Rome at the time, were in contact with the religious brothers of Miles Jesu. They were informed that there was a young girl in Ukraine who could be adopted. Svitlana’s mother had relinquished parental rights. The parents of the other girls in the home had not. Poole’s adoption started when Svitlana was 8 years old and was finalized when she was 10. She moved with her new family to Marion, where Andrew grew up.

“I didn’t speak any English. The whole setting was very different in the orphanage. You don’t get that father figure,” she said. “My family is Catholic. That was something we had in common.”

Svitlana was baptized at age 10 in Ukraine because there was no record of a previous baptismal certificate. Her adoptive parents attended and her godparents were represented by proxy. Fr. John Girotti is her godfather.

Mara homeschooled Svitlana and all of their other six children, including three who were adopted — a son from the United States and two daughters from Haiti.  

Svitlana maintained contact with the other girls from the Miles Jesu orphanage.

“We became like sisters,” she said. “I’d write them, and they wrote back. I sent them photos. They sent me photos.”

Some of the girls are now married with children. A few have entered religious life. Many are still in Ukraine, although some moved to Poland, said Svitlana, who now lives with her grandparents, Anne and Barry Poole in Marion.

She is thankful for family support of her heritage, including attending Byzantine liturgies, festivals and gatherings in Minneapolis, Minn., where her parents now reside. Northeast Minneapolis has a large Ukrainian community, said Svitlana. She appreciates the opportunity to experience food and traditional clothing from her birth country.

On Feb. 24, Svitlana said she was “heartbroken” to hear the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

“I wanted to go over there. I still want to go over there and help,” she said. “I’m still in contact with the Miles Jesu sisters. If I could figure out that it would be safe for me to go there, I would buy a ticket, fly over there and help in any way.

“I have a strong bond with the people of Ukraine. I would put my life on hold to go over there,” said Svitlana, who recently started her own liturgical sewing business. “None of that should have happened. It’s so sad.”

The Miles Jesu sisters operate a soup kitchen for the homeless and are now serving refugees form the eastern part of Ukraine. In addition to food, the sisters also provide clothing and shelter for mothers and children, said Svitlana. They need financial donations to support their efforts and to assist  a children’s infectious disease hospital.

To donate, make checks payable to Brenda Bricco and write “Ukraine Fund” in the memo line. Send donations to Premier Community bank, 230 Mavis Road, Marion, WI 54950.

“It’s very touching for me to know exactly where the money’s going. I trust these sisters with all my heart,” said Svitlana. “Those sisters sacrificed their lives to raise me and get me here. I want to give back to them in return.

“Ultimately, they need prayers,” she added. “God will never ignore a prayer.”

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