Home World Russia’s war in Ukraine halted adoptions. Now the orphans are forgotten.

Russia’s war in Ukraine halted adoptions. Now the orphans are forgotten.

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Russia’s war in Ukraine halted adoptions.  Now the orphans are forgotten.

KIEV — Wendy and Leo Van Asten first met “M and M” — a brother and sister from eastern Ukraine — when the children stayed at the couple’s home near Madison, Wisconsin, for four weeks at the end of 2018, as part of a program connecting Ukrainian orphans and foster children with American families.

The Van Statens family said the bond with the two children, who were then ages 12 and 11, was immediate.

“Four days after we met them, we were crying under the Christmas tree, after we put them to bed,” Wendy, 42, He said in a phone interview. “I just burst into tears and said, ‘I love them.’ I want these kids. I want to be their mom.”

The couple immediately began the adoption process, and have maintained contact with M and M – whom they call by their initials out of affection and to protect their identity. He visited the children four more times, for a period of 24 weeks. “Of course, there could have been more, but COVID-19 prevented them from making many trips,” said Liu, 44.

Nearly five years later, and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the past 18 months, it is not clear if the Van Atens family’s wish will ever come true.

Adoption can be a slow and bureaucratic process even in the best of circumstances. But the Van Statens and dozens of American families also hoping to adopt Ukrainian children face a much bigger hurdle: Ukrainian officials have held up international adoptions until the end of the war.

Nobody knows when the war will end.

With a year and a half since the invasion and the Kiev counter-offensive slowly regaining ground, many Western officials and analysts warn of a potential stalemate, in which no one wins or surrenders, and no one wants to sit at the negotiating table. . They say the war could drag on for years, a prospect that fills families like the Van Estens with despair.

Wendy Van Asten said the situation was “urgent”.

M and M are now teenagers, and at the age of 18 they will reach legal adulthood in Ukraine, making them ineligible for adoption. “They don’t have another chance to find a family if it’s not us, and we don’t have another chance for children if it’s not them,” said Wendy.

Wendy said: “M and M are the ones we consider our children, and if this does not happen, then it is the end for us.” “It’s M and M or nothing at all.”

The Van Astens and other American families find themselves trapped in the Ukrainian adoption system. In many countries, children for adoption are chosen at the beginning of the process. In Ukraine, this happens much later.

Many families have already hosted Ukrainian children through visitation programmes. But if they decide they want to adopt, prospective parents must be screened by an approved adoption agency and USCIS. And then the Ukrainian government must approve their adoption in general, after which they can apply officially to adopt specific children.

At that point, the Ukrainian system officially recognizes the relationship between the children and the prospective parents – a relationship that in many cases has lasted for years already.

Even in wartime, Ukrainian families can adopt Ukrainian children, as can international families who provided their children’s names before the start of the Russian invasion. But for the Van Astens family and about 200 other American families who were in the early stages, the process has been frozen.

Vasyl Lutsik, head of Ukraine’s National Social Service, the main government body working with orphans, said the freeze was necessary given the chaos of the war. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian children’s rights investigator Maria Lvova Belova, accusing them of war crimes in connection with the forced removal of children from Ukraine. Russia has rejected these accusations.

Ukraine’s decree freezing international adoptions calls for their resumption three months after the end of martial law. But Lutsik said orphans are a “weak class”. He added that children’s services were not operating at full capacity in Ukraine, as many offices were located in war zones or had their records destroyed.

In the first weeks of the war, thousands of Ukrainian children in state custody were evacuated, first to western Ukraine and then to neighboring countries and throughout Europe. M and M were taken with other children from their orphanage from Svyatohersk The Van Atens family said they lived in eastern Ukraine, then to Lviv in western Ukraine, then to Poland and finally to Sicily, where they lived in three separate locations.

Chantal and Aaron Zimmerman from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They want to adopt five Ukrainian siblings: Sasha, 15; Alina, 14; Seryozha, 11 years old; Nikita, 8; and Nastya, 4 years old. The children come from Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine, now occupied by Russian forces, but have been evacuated to northern Italy, where their orphanage is divided by age into three locations.

Nastya, the youngest of the children, stayed in Ukraine but Chantal said she did not know where she was. Sasha returned to Ukraine in early August to live in a nursing home near Zaporizhia.

The Zimmermanns remain in contact with the three in Italy via video and messaging apps. Chantal has also traveled there three times, and once with Aaron, when they were able to see the four children. “We are all stuck in limbo, but it is they who suffer the most,” she said.

One day Alina said to me: “We want to go home [to America].’ I said: Alina, your bedroom is ready. I’m doing everything I can. We do everything we can to get you home. “Just don’t give up,” Chantal said.

“Legally, they are not our children,” Chantal said, but added, “We have formed a relationship with them and we are attached to them,” and “we love them like our own children.”

The Zimmermans, the Van Estenses and others say they should be allowed to host the children until the end of the war, ensuring that they will be returned to Ukraine when Kiev authorities see fit to resume the adoption process.

“None of us are looking for a quick and easy way to adopt – they still belong in Ukraine and we respect that,” said Steve Heinemann, who with his wife Jennifer hopes to adopt two girls, Vika, 17, and Oksana. 15.

He presides over a group of families who are lobbying the US government and members of Congress to find a way to bring children to America to stay with the families they know – perhaps by sending a formal letter of invitation to the Ukrainian government. Heinemann says the families would like to bring about 300 Ukrainian children to the United States.

The families work with former New Jersey Sen. Raymond Lesniak and have met with State Department officials, as well as members of Congress such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota). Klobuchar’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

However, Ukraine’s position has so far been consistent: children can only travel to the United States if they are institutionalized, not with their families — even on a temporary basis.

The Ukrainians have said so [homestays are] “It’s not going to happen,” said Michelle Bernier-Toth, the State Department’s special adviser on children’s issues. “I think we respect the fact that Ukraine is a sovereign country and they are very responsible in terms of looking after the children involved.”

But families are also concerned about the children’s health and fear some of them will be trafficked. The majority of the 16,000 children available for adoption in Ukraine have been abandoned or taken from their parents due to neglect.

Pavel Shulha, president of Kidsave Ukraine, a US-based international charity that helps house orphans with their families, said the children’s plight is exacerbated “because the main trauma is abandonment”. By delaying their adoption, he said, the authorities were “repeating this trauma.”

“I understand that the country is in a difficult situation, there is a war,” Cholha said. “But at the same time, the child expects, believes, and the child has hope. Parents have hope and fears.” “Right now, we have a dead end,” he added.

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