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“We want to live the way all people live”

Dima Batanin and Zhenya Koleda are 42 years old. They work in a woodwork shop and in a “Special Designers” souvenir workshop. Dima and Zhenya fell in love with each other in a neurological care home back in 2002. They dreamed of a time when they could get married and live independently. Now they are doing well — their dreams have come true thanks to the work of the “Blagoye delo”’s team.

Dima manually grinds wood figurines, seals colored glass for Tiffany’s stained-glass windows using a solderer and encloses the plants collected by Zhenya into two transparent plates. We call him the “sunshine of the woodwork shop” for his smile, kindness and openness. Dima has no legs below his knees since birth, so Zhenya helps him to go through the hills of Verkh-Neivinsky, where they live and work. Sometimes she literally carries him on her shoulders.

Zhenya is strong and brave, she likes doing sports, mostly skiing. She is not afraid to tell the truth and she adores animals. She grinds and paints wooden items in the woodwork shop. In “Special Designers” workshop she paints badges and composes herbariums. In her free time, she dances in the “Vmeste” (“Together”) dance studio, learns to play the flute, loves to walk and look at picturesque paintings, and listens to the songs by Yura Shatunov.

“I had made the first move. I liked her and that was it…”

Dima and Zhenya have lived in specialized orphanages since childhood. Then after their 18th birthday, they were transferred to a neurological care home. In 2002, they ended up in the same neurological care home of the village of Krasnogvardeysky, where they met.

“I had made the first move. I liked her and that was it. I gave her flowers, she loves roses dearly,” Dima says. But any relations between wards are prohibited in neurological care homes. Dima and Zhenya lived in neighboring rooms and at first “communicated through the wall.” Since they did not have the opportunity to get married, they vowed to each other that they would always be together.

They rarely managed to be alone together. There was also no opportunity to go outside the neurological care home easily — they could go to the store until five o’clock under written permissions only that were hard to get. Dima and Zhenya dreamed of living together outside the walls of the neurological care homes for a long time — they saw that the others had managed it and did not doubt their abilities. One day, an employee of the neurological care home told them that they could get help in the “Blagoye delo”.

“You will not be able to live on your own”

The guys decided to take a chance and agreed to participate in the “Sociopolis” supported living project and work in the workshops of “Blagoye delo” during that period.

“They were more like two scared animals, ready for anything. Even to defend themselves,” said Yuri Luzhkov, the head of the Department of employment and production, head of the woodwork shop. “Yes, we were more or less like hedgehogs,” Zhenya added. But then little by little they began to open up and communicate with different people.

At first, the supervisors helped them during the period of the supported living. They told the guys where to get medical or household care, how to calculate the budget or negotiate with neighbors. And, although the guys knew how to cook or do the laundry, they learned to live in a world without constant control and managed with it successfully. The decision to leave the neurological care home was the next serious step. So the struggle for independence began — it was necessary to collect a stockpile of documents and dare to achieve the cherished hope: purchasing an apartment.

Dima and Zhenya came to the “Blagoye delo” in July 2020, and in November 2021 they settled in their own apartment in the village of Verkh-Neivinsky. They saved up money for that and the part of sum had been lent to them. The photos taken on the day of the signing of the documents show the joyful and gobsmacked faces of two guys who began to live the way they really wanted, despite the fact that there were also some detractors stating: “Why do you even need an apartment? What will you do in it? You will not be able to live on your own”. Dima and Zhenya answer — but they`ve managed, after all. Everything works out fine.

We haven`t stopped dreaming

Now the guys have Tigra, the cat, agate shell snails, an apartment, a marriage certificate, people who support them, and a laser projector. One winter they told a wonderful story about how they turned on this projector and directed its light from the window to the snow near the entrance. Children began to play with colored iridescent lights, and the retired ladies danced aside — now Dima and Zhenya can create a fairy tale for others.

“I like working, and now I believe in miracles. At the neurological care home there were no presents, nothing for the New Year even for a birthday. We arranged the celebrations on our own. When I was there, I did not believe in miracles, in Santa Claus, I didn’t trust people. And here I believe, got used to everybody, they are so kind. For me the “Blagoye delo” is a family that lasts a lifetime”, says Dima Batanin.