War complicates Virginia family’s efforts to adopt Ukrainian girl

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Shortly after meeting the energetic, dark-haired, blue-eyed 9-year-old Ukrainian, Jenny Bradshaw, her husband and their 17-year-old twin daughters were smitten.

They had thought about and researched the possibility of adopting an orphan from abroad and realized after a month-long exchange program in December with Katya at their home in Centerville, Virginia, that now was the right time. She fits in well with their family.

Katya – whose full name is not used for security reasons – enjoyed helping fill the dishwasher, boil eggs, bake cookies and play dress up. She had fun going to parks and museums and helping feed the family dogs. The family took her to a semi-private Russian ballet class while she was there and Bradshaw said she “loved it”.

But since the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, the family’s efforts to adopt him have stalled.

More than 200 adoptions are completed each year from Ukraine to the United States, according to State Department statistics. But those stopped because of the war, say adoption experts and State Department officials.

Now Bradshaw and her husband, Holt, are part of a group of expectant parents in the United States who are lobbying Ukrainian adoption authorities, State Department officials and congressional leaders to try to raise awareness of their fate. And while the families wait for normal adoptions to resume, they want the dozens of Ukrainian orphans like Katya who have already been on exchange programs in the United States to come and stay with them for a few months.

“We’re not asking for a special exception or bypassing the full adoption process,” Bradshaw said. “We just want to give him a break and respite from the war.”

Becky and Terry Shinault, who live near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said they hope to do the same and give another young Ukrainian orphan a few months in their home and away from the war zone.

They took in the teenager, whom they call K and whose full name is not used for security reasons, twice last year for brief stays as part of an exchange program, and later decided they wanted to adopt him.

Exchange programs are designed to give children a taste of American life and a break from their respective orphanages. They don’t encourage or discourage adoption, but simply allow Ukrainian children and their American families to learn about other cultures, according to the families and American officials who run them.

Shinault recalled how fun it was to see K, who recently turned 14, is learning to swim, speaks English and loves dogs and the family horse.

“She loved being an only child and getting all the attention and getting a break from all the other kids,” Becky Shinault said. They had planned to welcome her back this summer as part of the exchange program, but war broke out.

For now, the Shinaults are desperate to get K out of Ukraine. even temporarily. K lived in an orphanage in Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, and was evacuated on the first day of the war to another facility in western Ukraine, according to Becky Shinault. She said she was sometimes able to talk to K in online message chats, use Google Translate to communicate, but internet and electricity are often spotted.

“She wrote to us recently and said she misses us ‘a lot and wants to come to us,'” Becky said. “But she said, ‘This war doesn’t allow me to fly to you.’ ”

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), one of the Capitol Hill leaders who met with the families in DC, said in a statement that she applauds “the efforts of these families who are trying to protect and provide for the needs of Ukrainian orphans”. She added that “I hope conditions will improve very soon so that international adoptions can resume.”

State Department officials said in a June letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that they had been in contact with the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy and the Ukrainian Embassy in DC

David Bonine, a senior official with the State Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs, wrote in the letter that his department “has made it known that many American families wish to continue the adoption process and temporarily house children in the United States. “.

But he said “the Ukrainian government has made it clear that adoption is not possible at this time and does not allow children to participate in foster programs in the United States.”

Attempts to contact adoption and orphanage officials in Ukraine and Romania were unsuccessful.

Experts have said that it is not uncommon for adoptions or exchange programs to stop during and immediately after natural disasters, wars or other emergencies, because there is such a high risk that parents or other relatives come forward once the situation has calmed down. There is also a high risk of children falling into human trafficking circles.

Kelly Dempsey, a Charlotte attorney who has done international adoptions for 15 years, said there are at least 40 families in the United States who are in similar situations and want to provide respite care for orphans they they had previously met through exchange programs. She said the families had already passed the necessary background checks, home visits and other approvals when they served as foster families for Ukrainian orphans, and that many of them were in the middle. of the adoption process when the war started.

“We disagree that these children should be separated from American families they know,” said Dempsey, whose clients live across the United States and try to help Ukrainian children aged from 6 to 17 years old.

“The short-term solution is to allow children to come on temporary visas to the United States and only return when it’s safe, and then resume the adoption process,” Dempsey said.

“If we can get them out of bomb shelters, refugee camps and other dangerous situations and put them into the homes of families they know and love them, that’s definitely better.”

For now, Katya – along with the other orphans at her facility – has been transferred to an orphanage in a rural town in Romania. Bradshaw went to visit her that spring and let her know, she said, that “her American family has not forgotten her.” She said Katya showed her how she learned to use roller skates.

“We hugged,” Bradshaw said, “and she clung to me.”

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.

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