Russian Orphan Teo Caught as Putin Blocks U.S. Adoptions
Kip and Kim Blackman call him Teo, a dark-haired, dark-eyed Russian orphan who is small for his 19 months and not yet walking or talking.
Embracing him in a children’s shelter in Volgograd in October, they promised to bring him to Hedgesville, West Virginia, to meet their four biological children, who sacrificed summer camp and vacation to ease the $50,000 adoption costs.
On Dec. 28, imminent placements of 46 orphans with U.S. families halted as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a measure banning adoption by Americans. The law cut off the third-biggest international source of parentless children for U.S. families, who took in 45,112 Russians from 1999 to 2011, according to the State Department.
“I thought for sure if this makes it all the way to Putin’s desk, he’ll stop it, because who would do that?” Kim Blackman, 38, said by telephone Dec. 31. “We are still praying that they will allow us to get our son and bring him home.”
The Blackmans, even as they raised their own children, always wanted to adopt.
“We felt really strongly there are so many orphans out there,” Kim Blackman said. “I know people who have adopted from Russia and other countries and even locally. We really felt in our hearts that if we could help a child, it was the right thing to do. We have plenty of love in our home and our hearts. We can’t help them all, but we can help one.”
That help is now on hold.
Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, called the Russian law “politically motivated” in a statement issued Dec. 28. Congress passed a bill last month to impose a visa ban and asset freeze on Russians tied to human-rights abuses, including as many as 60 who may have had a role in the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for London-based Hermitage Capital. He had accused Russian officials of a $230 million tax fraud.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s ombudsman for children’s rights, said the departures of 46 children were canceled, according to the Associated Press. The U.S. hoped that Russia “would allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families,” according to the statement from the State Department.
About 1,500 U.S. families were “somewhere along in the process” from applying to finalizing, according to Lauren Koch, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Council for Adoption, a nonprofit lobbying group.
“How do you say to a little child in an orphanage, ‘No one’s going to get you after all?’” she said Dec. 31. “To look them in the eye?”
About 700,000 Russian children are parentless, she said. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2011, Americans adopted 962 Russian youths, according to State Department statistics. The only countries that sent more children to the U.S. were China, with about 2,587, and Ethiopia, with 1,732.
The four Blackman children “were absolutely thrilled” to open their home to another, Kim Blackman said. Together, she and her husband, an airplane pilot for the National Guard, decided where they could cut expenses. They quickly surpassed the estimated cost of $30,000, for application fees, home study, legal and professional charges and travel, and expected to spend more than $50,000, mostly for the international flights and hotel stays.
“We did have to cut back a lot,” she said. “The kids couldn’t go to camp in the summer. We couldn’t take a big family vacation like we normally do and Christmas was a lot smaller than normal. They were fine with that.”
In October, Kip and Kim Blackman traveled from their hometown, population 320 and 64 acres (26 hectares) in West Virginia’s eastern tip, to the Volgograd orphanage. The city, once known as Stalingrad, is home to 1 million people on the Volga River between Kazakhstan and Ukraine in southern Russia.
“It was like finding out you were pregnant,” said Kim Blackman, recalling the first time the couple looked at Teo’s file. “You start to love this child already.”
Blackman, citing an agreement with Fletcher, North Carolina-based Christian World Adoption, declined to disclose the child’s birth name, personal details and exact location. She said he was in an orphanage with about 100 children who appeared to be clean and well cared-for.
He was “very, very tiny for his age” and seemed to have developmental delays, including not talking or walking, which isn’t atypical for children in his circumstances. Still, he seemed happy, accepting the gift of a teddy bear and sitting on their laps as they paged through a family photo album.
“He likes to be held and he likes to be played with,” Kim Blackman said. “He’s just a beautiful little boy.”
She recently was in touch with a non-American couple who were in the orphanage at the same time, and they saw Teo once more before leaving with the child they adopted.
“They told me the staff put the teddy bear and the photo album away in a closet so he doesn’t have it,” she said, her voice cracking through tears. “That broke my heart.”
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