President Obama: Help Russian orphans

A mother's plea for the U.S. and Russia to re-open adoption between the two countries Photo: Heather and Aleksander Boehm

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 — The Red Thread welcomes guest columnist Heather R. Boehm, a former attorney for abused and neglected children.  She adopted her  six-year- old son from Russia and remains a hopeful mother to a little girl trapped in a Siberian orphanage as wrangling between the Russian and U.S. government rages on.

“Mommy, is that where baby Anna will sit when she comes home from Russia?” my six-year-old asks as I drive.

“Well, that was the plan,” I replied, struggling to answer.

“Oh good!” my son says, “I’m so glad that I’ll have someone to share the backseat with me — and a sister adopted from Russia just like me. I won’t be back here by myself anymore!”

How do I tell a kindergartener that his baby sister may never come home? And who will tell her, and the 300 other children that met a family and were promised a loving home, that she cannot have that family and home because her family-to-be is from the United States of America?

Adopting a child from anywhere, including the United States, is fraught with endless paperwork, background checks, parenting classes, fingerprints, psychological and financial evaluations, health analyses, and more.

Adopting internationally adds the element of fulfilling not only the requirements of the United States government but also those of another country.

Adopting from Russia means submitting a stack of paperwork called a dossier to await a “referral” with a child assigned by the Russian Federation. We waited two and a half years for our referral.

My husband and I were anxious and nervous when we first met tiny Anna in a Siberian orphanage, but the minute we scooped her up and she gave us a big smile when we made silly motorboat noises, our hearts were hers. We got nine precious hours with her over the course of three days.

Before leaving Russia, we signed a notarized petition to adopt her. All we had to do now was get a court order approving the adoption. Back home, we gathered another stack of notarized and apostilled documents. But then, despite complying with American and Russian laws and regulations, everything came to an abrupt halt on December 28, 2012, when President Putin signed the adoption ban in retaliation for the American enactment of the Magnitsky Act. We were caught in global political hijinks.

The Russian Supreme Court permitted families with a court decree to complete their adoptions. The adoption ban did not address those families with a pending petition to adopt but no court decree. And the Russian Supreme Court has not clarified the issue. Anna remains in limbo.

To imagine never holding little Anna in my arms again feels like she has died. To explain to Aleksander that Russia will not allow his sister to come join our family is especially difficult will forever taint his view of his birth country. But it’s the thought of Anna spending the rest of her childhood growing up in an institution without a family when we were so ready, willing, and able to give her one that keeps us fighting for a resolution.

We, and the rest of the families that fell in love with these children, cannot think about just “moving on.” Love and family are bigger than politics, and if the governments of the world, including ours, cannot understand that, then shame on them. These children are human beings. This problem can be resolved by our governments, if they want a resolution.

“A person without a family is like a tree without fruits,” states a Russian proverb. Losing a biological family scars an orphan for life. To break the hope of a family a second time tortures these children who met their families and were promised a loving home.

Homeless and orphaned children anywhere in the world have the basic human right to grow up in a family regardless of country or citizenship. However, these children remain in institutions nearly devoid of opportunity.

Our government has failed to actively and efficiently resolve the dispute despite an opportunity for natural agreement on a humanitarian issue. Homeless and orphaned children anywhere in the world have the basic human right to grow up in a family regardless of country or citizenship. Our governments should not ignore that right. That is a tragic mistake.

Instead of actively negotiating Anna’s and all of the other transition cases, our governments have engaged in gamesmanship over the last five months that has no place in the life of a child. That lack of progress is a tragic mistake.

President Obama has the ability to address and resolve the issue when speaking with President Putin at the G8 conference in June. The American public should call on him and demand that he do so.

These children are the future, but what future will we give them?


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Andrea Poe

Andrea Poe is a veteran journalist, whose work has appeared in thousands of publications, including Town & Country, Marie Claire and Entrepreneur.  She is the author of several books and her work has appeared in many others, including anthologies and college textbooks. 

Andrea serves as editor of the Travel & Food section at The Washington Times Communities.  Her love of travel has led her to cover everything from remote villages in the Andes to her hometown of New York, from Paris to Pittsburgh, from Beijing to the Bahamas.  No matter where she travels, she likes to uncover the unusual and share with readers those often-overlooked aspects of a place and its people.  She dubs her column Raven’s Eye as a nod to her illustrious (and, yes, infamous) relative, Edgar Allan Poe, a writer who knew more than a little something about the quirky and unique.  

Andrea is also mother to Maxine, who was adopted from Vietnam in 2006, and is the inspiration for The Red Thread column on adoption at The Washington Times Communities.   Andrea is currently at work on a book on international adoption.

In addition to her work as mother, writer and traveler, she is the founder and president of Media Branding International, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations craft and promote their image in media outlets around the globe.

Find Andrea at andpoe@Twitter, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Contact Andrea Poe

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