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‘It completely flipped my life around’: Man’s journey to find parents

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Two names on a piece of paper was all Alex Gilbert had to go on when he started the search for his birth parents. He would quickly learn one of the names was faked.

Two names on a piece of paper was all Alex Gilbert had to go on when he started the search for his birth parents. He would quickly learn one of the names was faked.

The 27-year-old has lived in New Zealand for most of his life after being adopted from an orphanage in the Russian sea-port city of Arkhangelsk when he was two-years-old. In 2013, he tracked down his birth parents. It was a very personal and emotional experience that sparked a long-term project.

"I have always known that I was adopted. My parents always talked about it to my brother and I," Mr Gilbert, a documentary filmmaker, told

"We grew up with a lot of Russian things in our house, Russian dolls, Russian souvenirs, all of that not to forget the many photos and videos that my parents took from Russia."

The search begins

The first time Mr Gilbert searched for his birth parents was when he was a teenager in high school. It was a quick Google check that returned no results.

Gusovskoi Alexander Viktorovich (centre) was adopted from a Russian orphanage in the early 1990s. His name was changed to Sasha Alexander Gilbert.Alex as a young boy in New Zealand.

It would be years later, after he had uprooted his life in Whangarei, New Zealand's northernmost city, to move to Auckland to study media that his serious search for answers began.

"I knew that my time then just wasn't right. In 2013, I started to search (again). It completely flipped my life around," he said.

"The only information I ever had of my birth parents were their names on paper. I had no addresses and no contacts for the orphanage. I had to work with what I only had, their names.".

His search for his birth mother returned little information other than an online community group of people who shared the same last name. He left a message in the hope of more leads. A few days later he received a reply.

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"I was able to track down where my birth mother was now. She had left my birth city Arkhangelsk and had moved near Moscow," he said.

"A teacher from her orphanage school - my birth mother grew up in an orphanage and still doesn't know her own family - reached out to me who knew of where my birth mother had gone to.

Alex enjoying a day out with his adopted mother and brother.Alex (centre) with his birth mother (left) and her husband (right).

"Someone In her town then reached out to me, claiming they knew her. It changed my life very fast."

Long held secret

As he waited for word from his birth mother, Mr Gilbert searched for his birth father. It would result in exposing a secret held for more than two decades - his birth mother had never told his birth father about him.

"The name of my birth father on my adoption documents was made up," Mr Gilbert said.

"I understood her (birth mother) life would have been hard. I never judge her for anything she did. She was struggling to make ends meet and she just never wanted to tell him."

Mr Gilbert would eventually make contact with his birth mother. She told him how she left Arkhangelsk where he was born and that she had been dating his birth father but closed contact after she discovered she was pregnant. 

"She was open about him and told me where he might be. I then reached out to a profile on social media trying to explain everything slowly. He couldn't believe it," he said.

Alex meeting his birth father for the first time in Russia in 2013.Alex (left) spent the New Year with his birth father and his family in Russia.

"It changed his life and he to this day is always in contact with me."

In November 2013, at age 21, Mr Gilbert travelled to Russia to meet his birth parents. It was an anxiety-laden trip awash with nerves and fears his birth parents would change their mind at meeting him. Both had remarried and had new lives.

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"I remember it very clearly, getting out of the car at each of the places - Rybinsk for my birth mother and Saint Petersburg to meet my birth father," Mr Gilbert said.

"I was waiting for this day for a long time. In a way for me to connect with my birth parents. It was always something I had always wanted to do. Not to connect with my 'mum and dad' as they are in New Zealand -  I am always clear with this. They are my birth parents who I wanted to meet." 

The first meeting

The first thing Mr Gilbert said to his birth parents, at their separate meetings, was hello in English and then hello in Russian. It was all he could think to say.

"I was so nervous and anxious. I just asked how they were, how their life is, all of that. I really wanted to see how they lived their lives and what they even looked like. I was happy to learn about them," he said.

Alex Gilbert (right) with his adopted parents and brother. Alex Gilbert (right) with his adopted parents and brother today.

"I look very alike to both my birth parents. People always say that I look very similar to my birth father Mikhail and that I have his humour. Which is a good thing.

"For my birth mother, I look like her too but with traits I am still wanting to learn more about that with her. I have not been with her that long to learn so much about her. We don't have the strongest relationship but I have been happy about meeting her the three times that I have. It means a lot to me. 

"Meeting my birth father and his family in Saint Petersburg every time I go there means a lot to me (too)."


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For Mr Gilbert, the impact of meeting his birth parents was deeply felt. It compelled him to create the online support project 'I'm Adopted' in 2015. It has also steered him towards his new project 'Reunited'.

"A few years ago we had an idea about creating a TV show about adoptees finding their birth families," he said. 

"We are currently filming the show now and we have some great stories to tell. The show will be broadcast later in the year. We have been filming stories here in New Zealand, Russia and in Iowa, Detroit, Alabama and Los Angeles in America. I am very grateful to be working on such a great project."

In the almost seven years since their first meeting, Mr Gilbert and his birth parents have stayed in contact.

Alex (right) with his younger brother Andrei (left).Andrei Gilbert (left) with Alex.

"I was with my birth father and his family for New Years that's just gone and it was incredible for me," he said.

"I was able to communicate with him in Russian and of course we had times where I had to translate a lot with my phone but it has been great. We keep in touch very often through social media."

As for his birth mother, she and Mr Gilbert regularly exchange letters. 

"She doesn't use a phone. But when we write to each other, they are long messages. She sends through photos of herself through to her friend who lives in the same city as her. She is in touch with me for communication with my birth mother," he said. 

"I have been lucky to have seen her multiple times in Russia as well as my birth father Mikhail."

Contact reporter Kate Kachor at

Source: 9News

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