‘A Kidney for Oleg’

Union Chapel 2 May 2017

This Union Chapel show is for my friend Oleg Viktorovich Semenko.

Oleg has kidney failure due to Glomerulonephritis and needs a kidney in order to survive.

Oleg and I met in 1988 in Weimar in the former DDR. He was in the Red Army and I was with my classmates from Heidelberg University. We met him and a bunch of other soldiers while visiting the various sights of the city. I had just started studying Russian at university and Oleg was very jolly and kind and we exchanged addresses as I attempted to communicate with my new and elementary Russian skills.

For three years after that we wrote letters back and forth. In 1991 I received an invitation to visit him and his family in the town of Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine. I stayed with them for six weeks and would often read Russian poetry with Oleg’s father, Viktor, in one of the beautiful parks in Chernihiv. It was an amazing and mind-blowing experience for a kid from a small town in Michigan. Oleg and I developed a deep friendship and I visited again in 1992. In 1994 I left Germany and went back to the States, and in 1995 my mother died of lung cancer and that, mixed with everyday life, resulted in my communication with Oleg becoming sparser and sparser until we at some point completely lost contact.

20 years later, Oleg found me on Facebook. I was overjoyed because I had been looking for him unsuccessfully. The news from his end wasn’t good. He had developed Glomerulonephritis which had led to kidney failure, and when he went to the hospital in Chernihiv, he was infected with Hepatitis C. In the meantime, his father Viktor, who was on a clean-up crew in Chernobyl had died leaving Oleg and his mother to fend for themselves on a tiny pension of barely $100 a month. Oleg has been on dialysis for over ten years and the prognosis is not good.

In December 2016 I returned to Ukraine after all this time to see Oleg and his mother, who also recently suffered a heart attack. Jobs are scarce in Chernihiv even for those that are not sick or disabled. It is a bleak situation. There are laws in the Ukraine which prohibit people from receiving transplants from non-family members and so Oleg’s only chance is to travel to Belorussia where kidney transplants are available and where he can be put on a waiting list. This will cost $60-80k so he cannot see any hope for change and is basically sitting around, waiting to die. I want to change this for him. Oleg and his family were always incredible to me and after reconnecting with him, I feel I must do something to try and help him and his mother get back on their feet.

All profits from the Union Chapel will go towards ‘A Kidney For Oleg’.