Alex Gilbert was adopted from an orphanage in Arkhangelsk in 1992, and traced his birth mother himself via social media
Situated in the north of European Russia, just 300 kilometers south of the Northern Polar Circle and with winter lows of -30C , Arkhangelsk is a far cry from Auckland, New Zealand.
But for 23-year-old Alex Gilbert, his story is very much a tale of two cities.
The TV production assistant was brought up in Auckland’s green North Shore suburb – but his “open and honest” adoptive parents have never hidden the fact that he and his brother Andrei were born in Arkhangelsk to Russian parents.
Armed with just the name of his birth mother written on his adoption papers, Alex first attempted to find her online in 2009.
However, his search did not yield any results, and he waited until 2013 to begin again.
In spite of the language barrier, on this occasion, he came across someone who could help – and the result was more than he ever hoped for.
Describing his incredible journey to Mirror Online, Alex explains: “I started searching through the Russian social networking websitesand .
“I searched under my birth mother’s last name which helped and I managed to find a community group under that name.
“I asked them if they could help and so several people sent out a message to people asking if they knew a Tatiana Guzovskaya, which some people answered ‘YES I do’!”
However, Tatiana had never revealed to anyone she had a son, which Alex admits caused some confusion during his enquiries.
Eventually, Alex got talking to Eleonora, a friend of Tatiana’s, who put the two in direct contact for the first time.
Journey to Russia
At the end of 2013, Alex made the huge decision to go out to his homeland alone to visit his birth mother for the first time.
He says simply: “I have always wanted to find her, always have wondered to myself ‘Who are they?'”
Understandably, Alex’s adoptive parents, Mark and Janice, had their reservations about such a big undertaking.
“They did say ‘please be careful’, as Russia is a huge country and anyone could scam me with false details.
“I made sure I was talking to the right people though and overall my mum and dad were very supportive.”
With a population of 143 million to New Zealand’s four million, Alex also admits to feeling anxious about what awaited him in Russia.
Finding both his birth parents in spite of the odds has impacted on Alex, and his own story moved him to help others in a similar situation.
In 2015 he set up I’m Adopted , an platform for other adoptees to tell their stories and hopefully find a way to trace their birth families.
And he has no regrets about this journey: “I feel the visit went really fast and quick, but I knew it had to be done. I felt completed doing it.
“I waited all my life and wondered what that day would be like. Even if it was a ten minute meet up I was still happy!”