Ukrainian orphans stranded as American families struggle to save them from war

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Hundreds of Ukrainian orphans slated for adoption in the United States are stuck in limbo as their prospective adoptive parents try to pressure authorities to give them a loving home.

Americans Jenny Bradshaw and her husband Holt, who took in an eight-year-old Ukrainian orphan for a month earlier this year, are among a group of some 200 ‘future adoptive parents’ seeking to adopt from Ukraine .

These international foster programs are designed to give children a break from institutional life and give them a little window into what stable family life is like.

Bradshaw and his family felt an immediate bond of love with the girl they were harboring and said Katya would complete their family. When Katya returned home to Ukraine, the Bradshaws immediately began the international adoption process.

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Then, as the process to bring Katya to the United States began, it all came to a halt when Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine.

All international adoptions were quickly suspended. Bradshaw and other families who can no longer complete the adoption process simply want to bring the children to the United States to provide temporary shelter while the war in Ukraine continues.

Katya is from the Odessa region, which has come under intense shelling from Russian forces since the war began on February 24. Luckily for Bradshaw, the international adoption coordinator in Ukraine was able to provide Katya with a phone. The Bradshaws were able to keep in touch with her and know she was safe. Bradshaw was taking Russian lessons, and Katya was able to speak a few words in English.

“The lessons are usually enough to say, you know, ‘I love you. How are you?’ I’m going to ask her how her day is going. I ask in Russian and she answers in English. But right there, after the invasion, she said this funny word “voyna” several times. And I asked the translator , and that was the Russian word for war,” Bradshaw said.

They had contact practically every day, and Bradshaw reminded Katya that the family had not forgotten about her.

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Odessa, located along the Black Sea in southwestern Ukraine, is a major port city and an integral part of the global economy. It has also become a prime target for Russian forces trying to take control of Ukrainian port cities.

Shortly before Russia’s massive bombardment of Odessa, Katya was evacuated to Romania in early March, briefly losing her phone en route. Bradshaw made the trip to Romania in April, eventually visiting Katya for a few days.

And what she saw was disheartening.

“I watched Katya and other orphans play on piles of construction debris with stray stray dogs,” Bradshaw said. After meeting with her for a few hours over the course of four days, she was told by Romanian officials that she was to have no further contact with Katya.

“They won’t give him letters. They won’t give him packages,” Bradshaw explained. She couldn’t even send basic necessities like underwear, socks and pajamas, and she was under a zero-tolerance policy from the authorities. Romanian officials will not respond to emails or relay any messages to Katya, she said.

Bradshaw and her husband haven’t spoken to Katya in over two months.

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The family live just outside of Washington, DC in northern Virginia and have contacted their two US senators – Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. But the senators’ offices told him the issue was a “work case.”

“Senator Warner’s office is aware of ongoing issues regarding adoptions from Ukraine,” a spokesperson for Sen. Warner, D-Va., told Fox News Digital in a statement. “The office is working (to) continue to engage the Department of State regarding the challenges families face in this process and to facilitate lines of communication during this difficult time.”

Bradshaw also met with a member of Kaine’s office, but there was no progress.

“A member of Sen. Kaine’s team met with a group of parents who were facing problems in the adoption process following the war in Ukraine,” said a spokesman for Sen Kaine, D-Va. , to Fox News Digital. “We are seeking additional information from the Biden administration on this matter and considering steps we can take to help address these issues.”

At first, the State Department had regular calls with the prospective adoptive parents, but was unable to provide much information.

“He kind of got lost in the halls of the State Department,” Bradshaw lamented.

Katya and other children who come to the United States for short-term residential programs do so on nonimmigrant visas. According to the US State Department, children who entered the United States on a nonimmigrant visa are not considered orphans under US immigration law, while Ukrainian law prohibits adoption of Ukrainian children outside Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has expressed concern to the United States over the removal of children from Europe and travel to the United States

The problem is that prospective adoptive parents have to work directly with the Adoption Authority of Ukraine for individual cases. So it’s basically beyond the control of the US government. Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy announced on June 11 that foster programs could resume in some cases, but would not apply to children considered orphans.

“Adoptions are not possible at this time, and it can be extremely difficult, in circumstances like the current conflict in Ukraine, to determine whether children who appear to be orphans are truly eligible for international adoption and immigration to under U.S. law,” a State Department spokesperson said. .

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Bradshaw continually reminds officials that she understands adoptions are no longer possible now. She just wants to bring Katya to the United States for temporary shelter while Ukraine is still ravaged by war from Russia.

Children like Katya who travel to the United States to host programs do so with the permission of the Ukrainian government and with a United States nonimmigrant visa valid for one-time entry into the United States and only during the narrow date range of the program, according to the State Department. A child needs a new nonimmigrant visa to travel to the United States again.

The Bradshaws and other families want to provide temporary respite and remove children from harsh living conditions across Europe.

“We’re all saying we want to be able to have these children in our homes, shelter them with loving families instead of sheltering in dire conditions across Europe,” Bradshaw said.

Kelly Dempsey, an attorney who represents some families, told Fox News Digital, “The answers we’re getting are that adoption is not possible at this time.”

“We believe that these families represent the best child protection tool available to these children and advocate for the U.S. government to engage with Ukrainian authorities to allow the children to come temporarily to the United States while the Ukraine is defending itself against Russian invasion and under martial law,” Dempsey added.

Dempsey has two specific demands for the US government.

“Formally and specifically invite children to the United States for respite care in the homes of American families who know and love these children through the issuance of tourist visas,” she said. “And advocate and encourage Ukraine to allow children to be released to travel to the United States on tourist visas.”

Despite the lobbying campaign in Congress, apprehension also remains among various international organizations. Save the Children, an organization that provides humanitarian aid to children in crisis and conflict areas and has a team on the ground in Ukraine, also expressed concern about the risks of international adoptions during the massive waves of refugees, even though many of those seeking to adopt the crisis-affected children are well-meaning, the organization told Fox News Digital.

Major roadblocks remain, but Bradshaw and other families are unwavering in their efforts to provide loving homes for Ukrainian children displaced by Putin’s war of aggression.

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