In December of 2012, Russian politicians announced a ban on all adoptions of Russian children by American citizens, including the mid-process adoptions of children that had already been matched with an American family. This stunning move was largely viewed as retaliation to a law that U.S. President Barack Obama signed on December 14th called the Magnitsky Act, which imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.
The Russian ban on adoptions, called the Dima Yakolev law, came into force on January 1, and it is still the source of contentious debates in Russia. On Jan. 22, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced that the Russian Supreme Court ruled that adoptions legally finalized before Jan. 1 will be still allowed to go through, to the vast relief of many agonized U.S. families.
In mid-January, deputies from the Fair Russia party submitted to the lower house a bill that could annul the adoptions ban. The legislative initiative was based on a similar public petition organized by Novaya Gazeta daily and signed by over 100,000 people.
The Fair Russia proposal will now go through required procedures in the State Duma and in March it may be considered by the lawmakers, although Russian legislators have stated it is unlikely that the bill will be supported by the majority of deputies.
In light of this news, I want to share with you a guest post recently sent to me. It is a Portrait of Russian adoption, and it removes this discussion from the level of politicians and focuses it where it belongs -- on the Russian children who are living in orphanages.
Portrait of Russian Adoption
By Amy Repp
Back in the 1990s, news reports started surfacing about conditions in Romanian orphanages after the fall of the Ceausescu regime. My family has roots in Eastern Europe, specifically some in Romania, so I watched these reports with a heavy heart. I remember telling my (younger) self “I will do something about that, some day”.
Flash forward to spring 2008, I found myself at the age of 37 years old, single, with no children. Not exactly what I had pictured for my life. Perhaps I had been too involved with my career and establishing myself. However, after three world events in three weeks (Children removed from a Texas religious sect; Myanmar Cyclone; Chinese Earthquake) that displaced children from their parents, I made comments to a friend about adopting. Suddenly, it all made sense.
As a single woman, my adoption choices were more limited. Our foster system in the United States is designed to reunite children with their parents, even in cases, unfortunately, where it is not in the best interest of the child.
However, as soon as I read “Russia”, I knew where my children were. I have always been intrigued by the country: so big, so powerful, so similar and yet different from home. A good friend of mine growing up had family from the former Soviet country of Ukraine. As an adult she had visited Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, and volunteered in the summer retreat for Ukrainian orphans. She shared her stories and pictures with me, but little did she know what a deep impact she had made on me.
In May, 2008, I set out on my adoption journey. I found an agency in my home state of Michigan who specialized in Russian adoptions. The owner adopted two children from Russia herself, also as a single woman. The plan was to submit my paperwork to Moscow City. Then suddenly, in July, 2008,while waiting for US govt. approval, a little boy, Chase Harrison (aka Dima Yakovlev), died after being left in his father’s hot car all day. I was shocked, saddened and sickened. Sadly, you read about this happening almost every summer, in many countries. I personally don’t understand how it could happen, but it obviously does. I don’t claim to know all the details of the case, but was surprised to see that the father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Shortly after the incident, Moscow City closed to single women. My agency suggested another region, Vladivostok.
At summer’s end, shortly after receiving US government approval, I received word that my papers were received and approved in Vladivostok. My birthday came that fall, at the end of September. I was sad that I had not heard anything yet about my future child. Two days after my birthday, I received information that I had been matched with a child! I was traveling at the end of October. One of my best friends had agreed to travel with me, and we were VERY excited. It was a LONG flight, through Seoul, Korea – 20 hours in flight, 32 total travel time including layovers in Los Angeles and Seoul.
Arriving in Russia, I was a ball of nerves. What if she didn’t take to me? How would I feel about her? But soon, the time arrived and I stood outside a brick building in Artyem. I knew my daughter was inside. As we waited outside for clearance to enter, a caretaker brought out a little girl for some playtime. It was late in October, so she was dressed in a winter coat, hat, and gloves. I could see big brown curls under her hat as she bent down to smell one of the last remaining flowers on the playground. She giggled to her caretaker. I remember telling my friend, “if I could have a little girl JUST like her, everything would be perfect”. We were called inside. As we sat in the lobby putting little blue booties on our shoes, my translator told me, “look, here she comes now”. It was the girl from outside with the curls.
I spent four days that week with Tatiana, at the Artyem baby home, but I knew on day one, that we were meant to be together. I was told that week that she had been declined by many Russian families because her birth mother had abused alcohol. Her medical stated she had a small hole in her heart and a malformed gall bladder. The social worker told me that she would probably have ADD (attention deficit disorder). Friday of that week, our last day together, was her 2nd birthday. I wanted to bring her (& her group in the baby home) a cake, but was told no. So I brought her a small balloon, a bear on which I had recorded my voice to speak to her, and some new clothes. I left her group some apple juice, some baby yogurt, some baby biscuits and more clothes. I cried leaving Vladivostok that day.
It was a LONG winter! I worried every day about her. I was scared something would happen and I would not be allowed to return to her, or someone else would step forward to adopt her. I had hung pictures in my house of my little girl, her bedroom was ready and suitcases were packed. Finally in early February, I heard news that a court date had been scheduled. I returned in early March and was reunited on International Women’s Day 2009, with my soon to be daughter.
Court was that week: the judge was firm, but kind. She listened to my case, from the social worker and from the baby home report. She asked me a lot of questions about my ability to raise Tatiana as my daughter. The hardest question was around abuse. I cried during my response, as I cannot understand how anyone would willingly hurt a child. Thankfully, after a brief recess, the judge returned and my case was approved. After 10 days, my daughter was mine!
We spent the day gathering paperwork, and finally headed out to her baby home to pick up her. She was 2 ½ years old and had almost never left that brick building. While her passport was created and we waited for our VISA to enter the US, we spent the week, bonding, in Vladivostok. It was still cold, but when the sun was out, I showed her the Sea of Japan and other sites around our hotel. I promised to bring her back one day.
A year later, I felt my journey was not complete. As a single mom with an only child, I wanted to make sure that after I was gone, Tatiana would not be alone. In March of 2010, I started the search for my son. I dreamed of traveling back to my friends in Vladivostok. I LOVED my translator, my driver and co-ordinator, they were my family away from home. But that was not meant to be.
My paperwork had just reached Vladivostok, when in early April, 2010, Torry-Ann Hansen sent her son Justin (aka Artyom Savelyev) alone on an airplane, back to Russia. Torry, a single mother, had also adopted from Vladivostok. I was FURIOUS with her. Most of the adoptive families I knew were. I suspect she was having challenges with a son who was adopted at an older age, but what she did was inexcusable. Vladivostok, in return, closed to single moms.
Things seem to be stalled for my second adoption. I spent the summer enjoying my daughter, knowing that if it was meant to be, it would work out. In early December, I received word that I had been matched with a little boy in St. Petersburg, Russia. My dream city! In February, the same best friend and I set off to meet my son. This time we flew the opposite direction – through Amsterdam directly into St Petersburg. An easy trip, compared to Vladivostok! Even in the brutal cold, St Petersburg has to be one of the most beautiful cities on earth. It is breathtaking.
The beauty of the city, however, was second only to the little boy, I met that week. I sat on the couch in baby home #6 – Vasilyevsky Island and watched as this adorable little 1 year old boy toddled in. His story was different than Tatiana’s: not much was known about his birth mother. She entered the baby hospital from the street, while in labor. She had no passport with her, but from the name she gave, it is believed she was from Kazakhstan. She left in the night, without releasing her rights to Alexander. Officials tried to locate her but the address she gave was fake as well. They petitioned the court on his behalf to have her removed. I am eternally grateful for these people. If they had not done this, my son would still be sitting in a baby home. When I returned that April for court, I was asked repeatedly if I could love him because of “how asian” he appears. I laugh at this because my family all tells me he looks like my (German) father!
Tatiana is now 6 years old. She is the sweetest, most caring girl you could ever meet. She adores her brother and is SMART in school. She is in the top reading group in her class and constantly receives praise from her teachers for being kind and sweet. She loves princesses, and can swim like a fish! She crosses the monkey bars like a natural born gymnast! She makes me laugh EVERY day.
Alexander is now 3 years old. He worships his big sister and tries to do everything she does. He gives the best hugs and just wants to be loved. He loves to sit on your lap and snuggle. He loves books and ANYTHING related to cars. He especially loves my father, his grandfather. Coming from a world with few men in the baby home, this is a great bond for him.
The Russian adoption community in the US is a “small world”. Many of us have gotten to know each other “virtually” through blogs and facebook. I feel an instant connection to those who have shared my experiences. This summer we have planned a large “Russian Adoption Reunion” in Orlando at DisneyWorld. This will be a great chance to meet those whose adoptions we have all followed, the people who supported each other during the emotional adoption period. And it is a chance for our children to meet other children who they have so much in common with.
My adoption friends and I have watched from afar, the proceedings in Moscow, with baited breath, hoping surely this ban would not happen. I have friends who are in process, some were waiting for court dates, or other travel. One had court the DAY President Putin signed the law into effect. They are scared, sad and horrified that they will never see their children again. This was my worst nightmare. We have watched, through tears, the brave thousands of beautiful Russian’s who have taken to the streets in protest of this law. I live in the north, and I understand the cold. The fact that these people risked not only the cold, but also the retribution from speaking out against this law has warmed my heart.
I can’t imagine my life without my two Russian beauties. I am forever grateful to Russia for connecting me with my children. I have made 5 different trips to the country and each time fell more in love with the people and customs. I am praying this opportunity is not taken from all those children left behind in Russian orphanages today. The stares on their blank faces, I will NEVER be able to shake from my mind.
By Amy Repp
Amy Repp is a native of Michigan and mother of 2 beautiful Russian born, American raised kids. She is a sales rep by day, real estate investor by night with dreams of spending more time dabbling in photography.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.