John Banks’ adopted Russian daughter returns the love

Article from here.

She came to New Zealand unable to speak a word of English after being rescued from a Russian orphanage.

Thirteen years on, Auckland mayor John Banks’ adopted daughter Natalia is repaying the favour she is about to graduate as a nurse and wants to work with children in need.

Natalia, who turns 21 on Tuesday, says her life has been a fairytale and had Banks and his wife Amanda not adopted her and her two brothers, Sergei, 17, and Alex, 15, she would be probably living in squalor on the streets of St Petersburg. “I would be having babies, washing dishes… or worse.”

She said when she returned to the orphanage on a visit a few years ago, she was told she was the only girl who had been adopted from the 40 who grew up with her.

Banks says he will never forget the day he met Natalia. “At the gate when we arrived at the orphanage she pulled her head up into the Lada car and said through an interpreter: “If you take me home with you, sir, I will sing and dance for you forever.”

“It was a good line it worked,” he says, although he reckons he’s still waiting for a song or a dance.

He takes the credit for encouraging her to become a nurse rather than a lawyer. “We saw she was very caring, compassionate and kind and I don’t know too many lawyers who are caring, compassionate and kind.”

Natalia, who works in Auckland City Hospital’s emergency department, says that after she graduates in 10 weeks, she’s keen to do more training in paediatric nursing and use her skills to help deprived children in Africa.

“They need a lot of help over there.”

She remembers little of her eight years in the orphanage. “So much has happened since I was eight and I have so many good memories now.”

Banks, who was known as “Papa John” to the children, recalls the first-class trip back to Auckland with his new family. “All the kids wanted to eat was cheese and potatoes and not the beautiful food being turned on in first class.”

When they were growing up they used to attend his political meetings. “They’d sit in the front row and clap all the way through my speeches.”

Banks cannot understand why inter-country adoptions are so heavily restricted.

“The argument that Natalia would have been better off with her 39 mates in the military environment of that orphanage rather than here in a home with love and hope is flawed.”


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