Russian adoption ban wrenching for Utah, Idaho families

By Jim Heintz and David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19 2013 11:33 p.m. MST

During three previous trips to Russia, dating back to last June, the Bonners have met seven times with the girl they hope will be their daughter.

"She's an amazing little girl, very active, very bright," Jeana Bonner said. "It's very apparent that the staff at her orphanage take very good care of the children. … But nothing can replace a family. We plan to take care of her for the long haul."

The Bonners and Preeces are among 52 U.S. families who'd won court approval for their adoptions before the ban was signed. Hundreds of more families — perhaps 1,500 in all — were in some earlier phase of pursuing an adoption from Russia, and they too are in limbo.

Many listened in on a State Department conference call, and have been seeking assistance from their congressional representatives. But definitive answers are elusive.

"The information we have is very minimal — it's frustrating," said Joe Carrasquillo of Romeoville, Ill.

He and his wife, Jenna — both high school special education teachers — traveled to Russia in December to meet two boys they hope to adopt, and were dismayed as the ban began speeding through Parliament at the end of their visit.

"It was a real rough moment for us," Carrasquillo said in a telephone interview.

But his voice brightened as he recalled three straight days of meeting the two boys — one 3 1/2 and the other almost 2 — who live at different orphanages in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

"We know both boys would be a great addition to our family," Carrasquillo said. "You feel a bond to them already even after one visit, and every day you got a little closer."

He and his wife, who committed themselves to adoption even before they married, won't be looking to another country until they get a clear answer from Russia.

"We don't want to consider another option until we know this option is closed to us," said Carrasquillo.

Some families caught in the diplomatic limbo have decided not to speak publicly about their situation for fear there might be negative repercussions.

But Wendy Rella, a hair stylist from Bedford, N.H., said she and her husband, Peter, are taking an outspoken approach. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Alina, whom they adopted from Russia in 2009, and they were back in Russia last month visiting a 10-month-old boy they hope to add to their family.

News of the ban broke soon after they'd completed their 20-hour trip to Vladivostock, on Russia's Pacific Coast, to visit the boy.

"You feel sick to your stomach, wondering, 'What's the deal here?'" Wendy Rella recalled.

Since returning home, Rella has been writing to her U.S. senators, sharing her story with local media, and following the news in Russia — including a march Sunday in Moscow protesting the adoption ban.

"If we stay quiet, they won't know who we are," Rella said. "I'm afraid we're going to be forgotten about. I don't want people to stop marching, to stop talking about it ... I keep thinking we are going to get him home."

Like the Rellas, Kurt and Ann Suhs are hoping to adopt a sibling for a child they previously adopted from Russia — in their case, it's 7-year-old Ben.

Kurt Suhs, who works for an insurance company in the Atlanta area, said his grandmother was Russian. So there's an element of heritage at work as they try to expand their family even at costs that typically exceed $50,000 per adoption from Russia,

"Russians are good people," Suhs said. "You just have to hope people put aside the politics and do the right thing for the kids."

The immediate cause of Russia's ban was to retaliate for the new U.S. law targeting Russians accused of human rights abuses. But the ban also reflects long-brewing resentment in Russia over the 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.

UNICEF estimates there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia — and 105,000 live in orphanages. Russia has been trying to increase domestic adoptions and says about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child.

The number of domestic adoptions fell in recent years: Russians in 2011 adopted 7,416 children, a drop of more than 2,100 from 2007, according to Education Ministry figures published in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

The same report showed that Americans adopted 956 Russian children in 2011, 89 of them classified as disabled.

Chuck Johnson of the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption has commended Russia for trying to improve its child-welfare system, and was elated in November when the U.S. and Russia completed a long-in-the-works adoption treaty. Now, he's dismayed at the ban and its emotional toll on the affected U.S. families.

"The way the information is being given out is really cruel," he said. "This has been a very discouraging and bitter outcome."

For the Bonners, however, there's no option but to persevere — especially in light of bureaucratic setbacks last year that twice made them think their adoption quest was doomed.

"Two times it looked like there was no way it was going to work out, and we grieved through that," Jeana Bonner said. "It just hurts and is so painful.

"This time we're going to be a hopeful as possible. We're not going to give up until we've exhausted every possible avenue."

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