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'Siberia is indeed a land of superlatives: bigger than Europe and the US combined, with the biggest gas reserves in the world'

For star American swimmer Jessica Long, it will be an emotional homecoming

By Kate Baklitskaya
22 February 2013

Entirely on her own initiative, Jessica - who will be 21 later this month - is going to Siberia to see her biological mother Natalia, 38, and father Oleg, 37.

'I was waiting for this moment for 21 years and I want it to be special'. Jessica Long pictured during her very first swimming lessons

In her young life, Jessica has been an inspiration to millions of Americans - and people from all around the world - and now she wants to go back for the first time to where her remarkable journey began at Bratsk, in Irkutsk region, from where as a seriously disabled child she was adopted by Americans Beth and  Steve Long.

After her stunning haul of five gold and two silver medals in the London Paralympics, the media found and publicised her biological parents and siblings. 

Jessica told The Siberian Times that she has not yet spoken to them because she wants their first encounter to be face to face.  

She also reveals that it 'breaks my heart' that other needy children are now banned from being adopted from Russia to the US under a new law signed by President Vladimir Putin, and explains her hope this year to visit the Bratsk orphanage from which she was adopted. 

The Russian government has justified the law on the basis of acts of violence and murder perpetrated in a few cases against adopted children. 

'There were only 17 negative cases and hundreds and thousands of adoptions when kids got a loving family and opportunities for better life,' Jessica said in an interview from Colorado.

'These children did nothing wrong.

'It's so sad that they are deprived now from the right to be happy. It's such a sad law. I think Vladimir Putin should go and visit orphanages as well'.

Jessica Long goes back to Siberia


Jessica Long goes back to Siberia


Jessica Long goes back to Siberia

The beginning: Jessica is pictured before the surgery and months after, trying to put on her new limbs and learning to walk. Pictures: youtube VoA video

Asked if she has yet had contact with her real parents, Jessica said: 'No actually I didn't. It's very special for me so I'd rather meet them face to face.

'I was waiting for this moment for 21 years and I want it to be special.

'My American parents were open about me being adopted. I knew that my biological parents are over there in Russia and always wanted to meet them.'

She emphasised: 'I plan to go by myself. I'm so looking forward to this trip and think about it a lot. 

'I think after the London Paralympics, I wasn't ready to go yet, though I wanted tot - but I think now it would be better. I was confused a bit, didn't know what to believe. I was overwhelmed, wanted to learn more about Russia and think I when I go I will be ready'.

Jessica Long goes back to Siberia

Heart of gold: Jessica's American father Steve Long pictured very soon after she was adopted

In September 2012, The Siberian Times revealed the truth about Jessica's past; namely the pressure the young parents came under to give up a child who was disabled because they would not be able to cope. 

'I feel so sorry. At that time, there was fear, I got scared. I had to leave her behind. But I did think that I would take her back,' said her Russian mother who was 18 at the time, a little older than her boyfriend Oleg, Jessica's biological father.

'Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so,' said Natalia. 

'In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.

'I was alone in Siberia, without my mother and father. Where would I go with her, if I had taken her? Doctors told me to leave her behind - said that I could not help her... I called her Tatiana, after my elder sister.'

Her father Oleg Valtyshev how doctors pressured him to make a quick decision. 

'I don't want to say anything bad about the doctors. They said: 'The girl has deformities and you are young, it's going to be hard'.'

Both Natalia and Oleg have expressed their pride in Jessica's extraordinary achievements.

The couple later married and now have three more children one of whom - Dasha, 13 - is also disabled and who they care for themselves at their home in a village in Irkutsk region some 3,850 km ( 2,350 miles) east of Moscow. 

Jessica Long goes to Siberia

Jessica's Russian parents now have three more children one of whom - Dasha, 13 - is also disabled and who they care for themselves at their home in a village in Irkutsk region some 3,850 km ( 2,350 miles) east of Moscow. Picture: Rossiya TV

Her visit this year comes amid deep controversy between Russia and the US over children - like her - adopted by US parents.

Such adoptions to the US have been banned by the Russian government under legislation known as the Dima Yakovlev Law, named after a Russian boy who died in his adoptive father's care after he was left alone strapped inside a car for nine hours.

Many see the measure as direct revenge for American legislation banning Russian officials involved in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in detention after alleging large-scale fraud by such officials. 

As well as meeting her blood parents, Jessica intends to visit orphanages such as the one she lived in before her adoption.

Q: How long are you aiming to be in Russia?

Jessica: I don't know yet but I would like to meet my biological parent and visit orphanages. These two things are very important for me, but I didn't think about the timing yet. 

Q: How much do you know about Siberia and about the region you were born to? Are you trying to learn more now? If so, what are the books you are reading/websites/films? 

Jessica: I use Twitter a lot and read stuff on Twitter. Actually, I don't have much time because of my tight schedule but my dad's a lot of help. He reads and sends me interesting articles about Russia and that's how I know about the main things that are happening there. I hope to learn more about Russian writers and movies when I go there.

Q: Do you speak a bit of Russian? Are you thinking about learning some?

Jessica: Haha - actually I'm in the middle of learning Russian and can say a couple of words like 'Privet', 'spasibo' and 'kak dela?' but I'm trying to learn more. Hope I'll know more by the time I go to Russia. 
Jessica Long goes to Siberia


Jessica Long goes to Siberia


Jessica Long goes to Siberia

Jessica's father Oleg Valtyshev said doctors pressured him to make a quick decision. 'I don't want to say anything bad about the doctors. They said: 'The girl has deformities and you are young, it's going to be hard'. Pictured top to bottom are Jessica's sister Anastasiya, father Oleg, mother Natalia. Pictures: Rossiya TV

Q: What are your thoughts over Dima Yakovlev's law?

Jessica: The one that was a reply to the anti-Magnitsky law? It breaks my heart. I think it's just so unfair.

Yes there were bad cases but no-one is looking at the great options that they are taking away from the poor kids.

I don't know what my life would have been if I stayed in Russia. But here I'm loved by my family, I'm a Christian, I got the education and I'm a swimmer.

But the most important is that I'm loved, and every child wants to have a family, to be loved.

I don't know much about Russia but I want to learn more and I'm going to use my voice. I hope it will make a difference.

Q: Would you aim to try and see anyone from Vladimir Putin's or Dmitry Medvedev's administrations? 

Jessica: I'm willing to meet people from Putin's administration. Actually I would love to tell them my story. As I said, this new law just broke me down.

There were only 17 negative cases and hundreds and thousands of adoptions when kids got a loving family and opportunities for better life. These children did nothing wrong, it's so sad that they are deprived now from the right to be happy. It's such a sad law. I think Putin should go and visit orphanages as well.

Q: Do you have any Russian friends? 

Jessica: Yes, my friend Maria Koreleva who works at the Olympic Training Centre here in Colorado, where I am now. She's from Russia and she helps with the preparation for the Sochi Olympics. She also helps me with my Russian.

Q: What else in Russia would you like to see? Would you like to take the Trans-Siberian train? 

Jessica: I would love to - but I don't plan to do it this time. This is just my first visit to Russia and this time I'm coming to meet my parents. And also visit some orphanages. I want to visit the orphanage where I stayed and some others, to meet the children and see how they live there. And I would love to come and visit some places later.

Jessica Long goes to Siberia

Jessica has been an inspiration to millions of people from all around the world - and now she wants to go back for the first time to where her remarkable journey began at Bratsk, in Irkutsk region. Picture: Jessica Long, Octagon 

Q: Are there some Russian/Siberian people that inspire you?

Jessica: Sadly I don't know many Siberian people, but I'm grateful for all the support that Russian and especially Siberian people show. Thank you so much, it's very important for me. Russia is my home too. I think about it a lot and it feels great to know that there are people there who support me. I want to say thank you to all of them.

Q:What do you want to do in future?

Jessica: I'd love to be a public speaker. I think my story can inspire people. I would love to share my story and use my voice to help others.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

Jessica: I don't have much free time nowadays but when I have I like spending it with my family and friends. Right now I don't see them very often as I'm in Colorado but my Dad drove my car here on Saturday. It took him three days. And we spent the weekend together going hiking. I love going to church, drinking smoothies.

See our earlier story on Jessica here 

Comments (7)

Have a great trip to Siberia and teach the world how Americans and Russians can respect each other and live in harmony.
DAVE, CALIFORNIA, USA
30/07/2014 08:35
0
0
Jessica, I wish you all the best. You deserve to be proud of yourself! You have worked so hard physically, and you have extended yourself graciously to your bio parents with no grudges. You have awesome opportunities ahead to enjoy lots of family and experiences. May you enjoy all the blessings God has in store for you...Godspeed!!!
Chris , Spokane, Washington, USA
25/02/2014 12:15
0
0
Your story means so much, not only are you inspiring, you also have a story like mine. I was also adopted from Siberia Russia. Angarsk actually. I am about your age, 20, I wish I could take that one trip to see my home.enjoy
Brittany , U.s
23/02/2014 09:53
0
0
some years ago while in the military and station in south korea, a good friend said mr wilson god has given you the greatest gift of all, being an american. To this day i can only think about what was said and what it did to me, even now years later i feel the same. So please allow me to say this to you, God has given you the greatest gift of all
levern, el paso texas
23/02/2014 08:34
1
1
so so much luck to you Jessica - have a great trip to Siberia! Your life is an incredible example of a truly strong spirit and an unlimited love. God bless you
Liudmila, Russia
02/03/2013 00:53
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@thoughtful Russia: who are you to judge?!
Monica, UK
23/02/2013 22:44
12
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many people in Russia would say that Jessica's parents do not deserve her
thoughtful , Russia
23/02/2013 16:46
0
12
1

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