Three Wishes

Sasha (th) og Roma_small

Block after block of flats rise white and massive against the pale winter sky. The thermometer outside Ozerky subway station is literally giving us the cold facts about the weather: – 25 degrees Celcius (-13 °F ). We are in Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg. It is early morning. People are rushing towards the subway entrance to get out of the cold. Everybody seems to be in a hurry; everybody except the two young beggars who are trying to get a few rubles from their fellow citizens.

We watch the depressing performance from a distance. The boys can be no more that 11-12 years old, and they shiver in their worn-out, dirty and ragged clothes. Half an hour and zero rubles later they give up. We approach them as they leave the station. The interpreter explains who we are, and why we are roaming the suburbs at this time of morning.

─Can we have a word with you? We want to know what it is like to live like you do in a city like this.

─Why not, the eldest answers and shrugs his shoulders.

─But don’t even think of bringing us into one of the cafes. We get kicked out the minute the staff sees us, the boy in the red jacket explains and leads the way to the nearest block of flats.

─The lock is broken, he explains and kicks the door open. Without a word the two lads walk side by side towards the open elevator. They push the top floor button and wait until the doors slide closed with a squeaking sound. After half a minute in silence and another squeak we find ourselves in a corridor where a metal staircase leads up to the roof of the building.

─My name is Roma, and this is my mate Sasha, the one in the blue jacket tells us.

─Do you live on the street?



─Our parents drink. They are alcoholics.

─Are you brothers?


─For how long have you been living like this?

─Four years. We were friends before, and one day we decided to run away from it all.

─Where do you sleep at night?

─Right here, in the corridor. Sometimes in parked trains and buses, and in the summer in parks and under bridges.

─But surely there must be orphanages that take care of boys like you?


─Why are you living on the street then?

─Are you cops? We don’t like cops. They beat us.

─We’re not cops. Absolutely not!

─Why do you ask about the orphanage, then?

─Because it’s our job to ask questions and tell people the answers.

─We have run away from the orphanage many times. If the police find us they bring us back. But the orphanage is worse than the street.

─Why so?

Roma stops talking, and only shakes his head. The answers he has given us seem to have emptied his brain. All of a sudden his eyes are watching something only he can see. The sore skin around his mouth and nose reveals his unhealthy habit even before he opens his jacket and pulls out a plastic bag with some sticky glue inside. He inhales the hunger healing and brain damaging fumes and keeps staring at his secret place with eyes that slowly lose focus.

Sasha reaches out for the plastic bag in Romas hands, but we manage to keep him from inhaling by asking him about his life. Sasha is not the talkative type, and every question is answered by single words like “cold”, “hard”, “dark” and other similar adjectives. It is clear that we have to come up with something better if we want to keep him in our world just a little longer.



─You know the fairytales. The ones where the hero is given three wishes as a reward.


─If you were given three wishes. What would they be?

All of a sudden the unwilling look in his eyes is gone. He lowers the bag.

─My first wish is for Roma here to get a new jacket. He almost freezes to death in that blue piece of shit. My second wish is to get one single night in a clean and warm bed. And my last wish is that mom and dad will stop drinking so I can move back home.

His young, yet rusty voice echo and die in the corridor as he cover his nose and mouth with the bag and breathes in the poison. The interview is over…

PS – After this interview Roma and Sasha was taken care of by a Russian NGO. Roma got his jacket and both of them were given food and shelter. This all happened back in 2004. Today the two boys are in their early twenties – if they are still alive.


27 Responses to “Three Wishes”

  1. […] The story of Sasha and Roma is heartbreaking. Two boys living on the streets of St. Petersburg. Sniffing glue the only comfort in their young life. This is a story Øystein brought back from a visit to Russia some years ago. Read the whole story on Øystein’s & Otto’s Blog […]

  2. Unfortunately there are far too many like Roma and Sasha in this world. Some are getting help and many others fall between the cracks..

  3. It would be wonderful if we could hear from these two today. I’d love to know how they survived and what they doing. It seems like such a sad way to be forced into adulthood but unfortunately they are not alone. Many more like them are trying to fend for themselves.

  4. Too heartbreaking… sometimes I don’t even want to know anymore… I want to pay more taxes to help these kids… I can’t help on my own.

  5. Hurts to know kids are suffering

  6. Too sad for words.


  7. victoriaaphotographyictoria Says:

    Incredibly sad to read this, but I guess it’s only one of thousands of stories of this nature.
    They were so young to be living on the streets.
    I wonder where they are now?
    It would be nice to think they have jobs and accommodation, but like you say – are they still alive at all?

  8. stoires like this bring us back to earth and hopefully make us all more sensitive to those who have less. no one should be cold and hungry, especially not children.

  9. No words… I so badly want to reach back to help those boys…..

  10. if the parents cannot provide, it is the responsibility of the state to intervene, and the intervention should not only apply to the children but to the parents as well.

  11. That’s heartbreaking.

  12. why hardships exist like this sad one makes one wonder the purpose of it all. here, Sasha’s first wish goes towards the well being of his friend…the first thought is perhaps there is no reason ever to not practice empathy. unfortunately this lesson comes through the extreme suffering of these two boys. it breaks the heart to know about these situations and feel terribly helpless. i hope the Russian NGO was not the orphanage the boys feared about…

  13. Their story is so heartbreaking I’m at a loss for words. I know there are street children sniffing glue all over the world and I’ve seen them on the streets in southern Africa, but I cannot imagine how they survive in a harsh climate like Russia.
    I’ll never forget your Romanian post where the daughter wished her parents would stop drinking. This is another post that everyone should read. ((sigh)) Thank you for telling the world.

  14. Heartwrenching. The three wishes are such basic human necessities that it really drives home how tragic life is for so many children. Thank you for making us aware of this story.

  15. I so admire the way you approach people with openness to hear their stories and to really listen with your heart. It must break your heart every time. I do hope these young boys, now men, found a way to move ahead and find a level of security. The odds certainly weren’t in their favor, and this is just one more heartbreaking account of how alcohol and drugs and hopelessness steal lives. I am hushed a bit.

  16. A tragic story. Lets hope they have moved on to a much better life by now. It’s unfortunate that there are so many stories like this, where no one takes responsibility at all.

  17. It breaks my heart to hear their stories. Children are meant to be cherish, protected and be well provided for but reality is, millions of children are victims to the many cruelties of our society like poverty, abusive, irresponsible , addicted parents, indifference of a community, local and global to human suffering. We need to spread the wishes of these boys and those who share a similar misfortunes. We need to care. We need to be moved. We need to respond. If we can’t feel with this words, “─My first wish is for Roma here to get a new jacket. He almost freezes to death in that blue piece of shit. My second wish is to get one single night in a clean and warm bed. And my last wish is that mom and dad will stop drinking so I can move back home,” then that is sad. Thanks.

  18. This is definitely a heart breaker. It is amazing you were able to give us a more positive ending for these boys. The ending that seemed set for them was far worse.

  19. Touching story… its very unfortunate for them to have such non caring parent!!

  20. Sterke inntrykk! Forferdelig at det er så mange barn som lider i denne verden!
    Takk for at dere deler!

  21. oft times it ia difficult to look at the truths that surround us…

  22. Saying a prayer for those two boys, their parents, and all who walk similar paths. Thanks for making us feel their heartaches.

  23. You are doing a good thing bringing these stories out to the world. I think we all take for granted what we have and forget how very difficult life is for others. Thank you for the reality check. I hope I live to see the day when suffering like this no longer exists.

  24. Very moving story. I’m glad you acted instead of being bystanders. It takes bravery to write and act as you have.

  25. This is a very compelling story…reminds me of when I conducted disease investigations in Phoenix and encountered these “huffers” on the street and, occasionally, in the clinic. Their brains seemed fried…the person lost inside with no way out….such sadness.

  26. Well told but so heartbreaking!

  27. hello!,I love your writing so much! percentage we keep up a correspondence extra about
    your article on AOL? I need an expert in
    this space to solve my problem. Maybe that is you! Having a
    look forward to look you.

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