Ukraine Adoption 2000s

“You’ll get over empty next.” I heard it all.  “Blah, blah, blah.”  I was 47 years old and I enjoyed children.  I wanted more; he was 60 and had two children in their 40s.  My daughter was 30.  My husband, Charlie, tried to convince me that I was nuts; I explained, “Get on board or get out.  I don’t need a man to adopt children.”  I meant it; he got on board.  I have a 400 page, single typed diary from our International Adoptions.  This is the Reader’s Digest version.

Finding an Agency

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My Ukrainian Angels.

In January 2002, I called Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan; after all they are locally  the “big boys” when it comes to adoption.  I was sure they could help us out.  I saw their advertisements everywhere.  We were too old; I was devastated.  I spent several days feeling very sorry for myself, and being very ugly to Charlie.  He may have looked sad on the outside, but I was positive he was jumping up and down inside, and that was not acceptable.

After a few days of self-pity, I got back online and began doing some research on adoption.  I couldn’t understand why there were so many ads on television about the need for families to adopt children and then turning viable candidates away simply because of age; we had been married over 20 years that should be good for something.  Nothing about it seemed right.  It didn’t take me long online, to discover that the age thing was an agency restriction not an adoption restriction.  Next, I requested information from Hands Across the Water (HATW) in Ann Arbor and Adoption Associates of Jenison.  The packets arrived about the same time.

The entrance of the NAC.

Ukraine Adoption Agency

The disparity between the agencies became apparent very fast, and I learned that I had made a lot of assumptions about adoption that just wasn’t true.  Every agency charges a different price, they all have slightly different requirements, and they all specialize in something different.  I immediately called the references that were included with the packets to determine what else I needed to know; all of the adoptive families were very informative; one couple was over 50 and adopted a toddler internationally.  Next, I contacted some folks in the community I knew had adopted to ask about the experience that they had with their agencies, and finally, I ordered documents from the state to determine if there were any complaints about the agencies.

Admittedly, I liked Hands Across the Water because the owner, Kathi Nelson, was by far the most responsive when I called for information.  Also, Ukraine adoption agencies were tough to find because of Ukraine’s restrictions against placements.  Kathi called back promptly, and she had done everything that she said she would do so I called and registered for their February 12, 2002 introductory meeting.  I raced home from work that night; we ate dinner and quickly headed off to Ann Arbor for the 7:00 PM meeting.  I was so nervous just knowing that we would be the odd couple.  You can’t imagine how glad I was to see a wide variety of couples including one gay couple.  Everyone there asked questions, took notes, and listened intently; Kathi showed a video of an orphanage in Guatemala and described her own experience as an adoptive parent.

Ukraine Adoption Requirements

On February 18, 2002, we talked to Kathi and got started with the process to adopt in Ukraine.  We needed eighteen documents in all that had to be authenticated by the State of Michigan, the United States Department of State, and the Ukraine Embassy.  Plus, we needed the approval from Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).  I started a check list and viewed it like a scavenger hunt.  I got the paperwork done, authenticated, and to Kathi on Friday, June 14, 2002.  The wait began.

Adoption Roller-coaster

Adoption is like being pregnant without a due date.  I experienced all the same emotions as when I was pregnant: moody, weepy, hungry, and nauseous.  Pregnancy guarantees an ending date – nine months.  Waiting for a placement can go on indefinitely.  What we had going for us is that we were interested in boys approximately 6 – 7 years old.  Amazingly, when couples give birth it is typical for them to want a boy first and then a girl.  In adoption, it is reversed and typically people want a girl first.

The Call

The call came on Wednesday, June 19, 2002 around 1:00 p.m.  Natasha, our facilitator, emailed Kathi–our appointment is July 4th, in the morning, at the National Adoption Center (NAC) in Kiev, Ukraine.  I threw up.  We immediately made flight arrangements; most airlines have reduced rates for adoption.  It’s still expensive, but it’s called humanitarian travel.  We also had to buy gifts, about twenty of them in the $5 to $20 price range, purchase clothing donations for the orphans for which we got very lucky and Wal-Mart at a large $3 rack of children’s clothing we cleaned out.  Then we had to get clothing for ourselves together; less is more.  I purchased a washable multi-piece outfit that came with loose fitting pants, skirt, blazer, and multiple tops.  I wore that outfit almost every day for three weeks.  Ukrainians don’t have many clothes, the women working in the social services industry there will wear the same thing every day and their clothes seldom matched.

Ukraine Adoption Cost

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Sleeper district in Kiev.

I do not share our Ukraine adoption cost, because I feel that attaches a price tag to our children’s heads.  Some people think they can then decide if we paid too much!  Besides, it’s nobody’s business.  I will tell you that we found a couple who paid less than $5,000 total for their trip and all, and we found a couple that paid close to $30,000.  I suggest you do your homework before you commit to an agency.

You will need to carry large amounts of clean cash while in the country.  While in Poland, one woman told us that she put all the money through the washer and dryer and then ironed it.  We all laughed; clean money is free of any markings including the highlighting that’s put on bills to make sure they are not counterfeit.  Banks need plenty of notification to have enough cash on hand and each bill has to be inspected by hand.

Travel to Ukraine

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Lyuda #1, Leonid, and Natasha. First translator, driver, and facilitator.

Finally, Tuesday, July 2, 2002 arrives and we are off to the Grand Rapids airport by 1:30 p.m.  The airport x-rayed our luggage and made us open the one with all the toilet paper and orphan donations.  Toilet paper in Ukraine is in limited supply and it can’t be flushed in their sewer system, but it was recommended we take it with us.  We had 30 minutes in Detroit before boarding to Amsterdam.  In Amsterdam we changed our watches ahead six hours from 2:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.  It’s a huge hub; the terminal looks like a shopping plaza.  We finally found D51 to Kiev; I stared at everyone once we got there.  I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone; my adult son would resemble these people.  Once on the plane, we discovered there were several other couples there to adopt children too.

Natasha and Lyuda #1 (this Lyuda was with us for only a few days, knew little English) were waiting with a sign and our driver Leonid (the husband of the Lyuda #2 who joined us a few days later as translator, she was excellent) helped with our luggage.  We went to the grocery store and spent $48 grivna for some food and were taken to our apartment just down from the grocery store.

The Apartment

For the first few days in Kiev, our apartment was on the 5th floor in two rooms: kitchen, living room with a bed built into the wall and also a pull out couch.  There is also a bathroom with hot water. Hot water is a rare find in Ukraine.  The tub is in a separate room from the toilet.   There is no air conditioning or fan; those items are too expensive for most Ukrainians, but there is a nice breeze blowing; it’s 90 degrees outside.  Our room is in the sleeper section of Kiev and the buildings look like they were built during WWII.  Kiev is divided into two sections: where people work, and where people live thus getting the name the sleeper section.  There are a lot of buildings made out of wood; ours is overlooking a bar, a small lake, and a church.  Our landlady is a nice woman 60 years old; she shows us how to use things including the television.  Natasha will call at 7:30 a.m. and be here at 9:00 a.m.

National Adoption Center (NAC) – Kiev, Ukraine

My Original Diary Entry for “The 4th of July” 2002

Thursday, July 4, 2002.  There should have been fireworks; it’s the BIG day, and it’s the 4th of July; of course, only the US celebrates that holiday.  In Ukraine, it is nothing special, but I will never forget it.  Natasha called at 7:30 a.m.; we were already awake.  We ate our oranges; out of four, three were good.  I showered, shaved and we both got ready to go.  I decided to wear contact lens and my skirt and sleeveless ruffled top.  It’s Georgia USA hot here.  There are few air conditioners in the country and only one or two window shakers inside offices inside the Ukraine adoption center; the halls we wait in are dark, hot and crowded with other families and their entourage of workers.  My skirt was perfect for the heat with buttons going all the way up the front since I could regulate the length of the skirt by leaving a few buttons undone.  I wore my SAS black sandals; those are the best walking shoes around, and we are going to walk miles.  We’re supposed to give Natasha all our gifts this morning.  Good, less to lug around; as I look out the window I see tall apartment buildings made of wood in probably the 1940’s.  The inside of our apartment has a kitchen, bathroom, and combination room; it’s comparable to a studio apartment very nice and clean.  Our facilitator, translator, and driver arrive at 8:45 a.m. to go to the NAC.

The National Adoption Center of Ukraine was a grungy building that we entered through a side door; I saw pictures of the door online, but I’m still concerned whether I’m dressed good enough.  The feeling walking through that door is like being pushed into the delivery room; you’re finally there, but it’s far from over.  I’m very apprehensive on what to expect next.  The décor and offices were much like the offices in the US in the 1960s.  Old wooden furniture with two workers to an office and a pair of old chairs in front of each desk.  There were no computers in the room, only dozens of notebooks stacked on wooden bookcases built onto the walls; the notebooks were filled with pictures and descriptions of children; the notebooks were all by region and within the region the children were by orphanage.  We looked at pictures, but they really didn’t mean anything since most of the pictures are of 5 years old and the kids in the pictures are already 13 years old.  Of course, all the descriptions are in Russian, so we are clueless; we are at the mercy of the Ukrainian’s generosity.  We waited there until about 12:30 to meet with Mrs. Kunko, the director.  She didn’t ask us anything; Lyuda (our driver’s wife) went in with us as the interpreter.  Lyuda went to the lawyer too.  Something’s wrong with the Ukrainian notarized documents, all documents must be notarized individually ours was not; Natasha took care of it.  Mrs. Kunko wished us “good luck.”  She’s very pleasant, smiled some, and looks grandmotherly; they are expecting her to retire soon.  We waited a few minutes and went in to see the psychologist.

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Sasha, 11 years-old.

The psychologist was a middle aged woman who seemed a bit indifferent, almost unhappy we were Americans.  She handed us the pictures of two cute 7-year-old boys, and Natasha got us some books of older children available.  We looked through half of the book; the psychologist told Natasha that the first two were the best.  She also passed us 2 brothers, but we decided on one; Oleg.  He has dark hair, dark eyes; a cute little boy.  The other boy is blond; they are from different regions.  Oleg’s orphanage is a five-hour drive by car.  Natasha will go back to get the letter that says we can meet him, and she’ll see about Charlie’s suitcase at the airport.  They’ll be back at 7:30 for dinner.  It was closer to 8 when they arrived.  No luggage yet, hopefully tomorrow!  We travel to the region first thing on Monday.  We went down town for pizza, which was good, but nothing like American pizza, and we each had a beer.  They took us back to the apartment and said they will come tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. for sightseeing.  Charlie and I sat in the window of the apartment, read books, and watched the people walk around outside.  Natasha said it was a safe area, so we went for a number of walks and even found an Internet cafe.  We have found the Ukrainian people to be very helpful.

The First Region

We traveled to the region and learned that Oleg was not as described.  The workers at the orphanage were very upfront with us and said they were sure he had fetal alcohol syndrome.  We didn’t want to deal with that, so we decided to go to another orphanage.  Natasha got permission from Mrs. Kunko and we traveled the next day to Berdyansk, Ukraine.  Berdyansk was about a six hour drive south from the first orphanage, and it is on the coast of the Sea of Azov which is part of the Black Sea.  There were four children available at that orphanage: an eight year old boy, an 11 year old boy, and a brother and sister who were actually 12 and 13 years old.  We got to the orphanage, which was nothing like we expected: old block/brick building like the high schools in the USA built in the 1900s.  Maintained very well with little financial resources; it had beautiful stained glass windows in the hallways.

Zaporizhia Oblast

Ukraine2Zaporizhia Oblast, Oblast means province or state; Ukraine has 24.  Ukraine was the bread basket for the former Soviet Union, and it doesn’t take long traveling through the countryside to see it.  The farm land is lush and having grown up in a farming community, I’ve never seen anything like the fields in Ukraine.  There are miles and miles of wheat and sunflowers.  Many of the large farms in Ukraine are owned by people from other countries including the USA.  The equipment we saw used in the fields would make most large farmers in the US very jealous.

The country is rich in history and parts of it date back to the old Roman Empire discussed in the Bible.  Don’t miss out on some of the many museums and private museums while in the country; I saw artifacts dating back over 5,000 years.  We don’t have history like that in this country, and it’s well preserved.  It’s important to spend time learning about your Ukraine kids adoption procedures, but take time to learn about their country of origin too.

Restaurants – McDonalds

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Stained glass in the hallway at the Berdyans”k boarding school.

The capital is also named Zaporizhia and it hosted one of the few McDonald’s in the country.  We stopped there for lunch, because it was fast.  We found most restaurants in Ukraine to be very slow, but we were told that they often had to go purchase the food after you ordered it, and then prepare it.  It was all very good.  We arrived in Berdyansk and traveled through a narrow alley and there was the orphanage.  Natasha told us all the kids were at camp, so we went inside to meet Valentina, the director, and we were sent to the camp.

Summer Camp

The children’s camp was directly on the sea and children were sent there from all parts of the country.  It was like a YMCA summer camp; there were even children there from wealthy families in Russia.  We weren’t there very long and we were introduced to four children: Bogdan, Sasha, Kohla, and Masha.  They all walked into an office and shyly sat down.  We were told by Valentina that Kohla and Masha were brother and sister and would not be separated.  Natasha began talking to them, and then we asked a few questions too.  We mostly studied each other.  The meeting didn’t last very long and we all left.  Then we had to decide if we wanted to take any of them, or if we wanted to go to another region. They were all older than we had originally wanted to adopt, but it was real obvious that they were all nice children.

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The library in the Berdyans”k orphanage.

Decision Time

Charlie and I didn’t sleep much that night, but we decided to take Kohla and Masha.  We went to get them the next day at camp and then rode back to the orphanage.  Valentina had Kohla show us some of the awards he had won at school and then we saw a picture of his older sister Luida who had won even more awards.  Valentina said that Luida would have to give us permission to adopt them since she was 18, but that would be no problem.  Ukraine will not allow a child to be adopted internationally if there is a close relative that is opposed to it.   Valentina got on the telephone to call the NAC and immediately we knew that something was wrong and we were removed from the room.

Russian Yelling

We could hear Valentina yelling in Russian two rooms away.  Natasha came and got Kohla and Masha and they were wisked away, then Natasha came back and said the NAC said they were not available.  Turned out the psychologist was angry because we didn’t take Oleg; she told Natasha that he could get help in the US.  Turned out that Sasha was the only one available; he was a cute little 11 year old guy with sandy colored hair and one blue and one brown eye.  Ukraine believes different colored eyes to be good luck.  I wanted two children and Charlie wanted one, so that was why we went with Kohla and Masha first.  We took Sasha, and Charlie assured Valentina that we would come back to get Masha and Kohla.  I could have fainted; I had to threaten to divorce the man to adopt one.  We had never discussed adopting three.

Opeahaa, The Hotel on the Sea

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Opeahaa Resort on the Sea of Azov. Alex getting ready to dive in.

Charlie and I didn’t want to return to the apartment we had stayed in the night before because there was no fan and a ton of mosquitos, and there were no screens on the windows.  We had been terrorized all night long in the smoldering heat; I even rolled up in a sheet just to keep the mosquitos away.  Our driver drove us around until we found a hotel on the sea, Opeahaa.  We rented an air-conditioned room; it was a resort that the Russians used when they came to Berdyansk.  There was a restaurant, bar, two pools, and beach front.  Alex told me just a few days ago, that he had never seen a pool until then.  It was all good, we were walking distance from the farmer’s market.  From that point on, everything seemed to go very quickly and before we knew it we were in Warsaw, Poland at the US Embassy.

Warsaw, Poland

From Kiev we traveled by car to the Sheraton Hotel in Warsaw, Poland to complete the paperwork so Sasha could enter the US.  Poland is another country rich with history; we took a tour of the area destroyed by the Nazi’s during WWII and we visited Old Town.  We even saw a parade.  We saw technology in Poland that was advanced compared to what the kids have in the US; I felt like we were back in Japan.  By now, Charlie decided that Sasha whose given name was Alexander was to be nicknamed Alex.  After all, he’s soon to be a full American citizen.  The first entry in the United States will be Detroit Metro Airport, he will go into immigration a Ukrainian and when we walk out he will still be a Ukrainian, but he will also be a full US citizen.

In all, we were gone for three weeks.  By January 2003, we had heard from Natasha and the paperwork was in place at the NAC for Kohla and Masha, so we started all over again; by October we were a family of six children.

Learning English

The biggest struggle we had with all three of our children was learning English.  I bought all sorts of games that we played over and over again.  One of Alex’s favorites was concentration memory games.  He beat me every time, but we all had to name the picture on the play piece.  He got very good at it very fast.  We played Uno and always had to say the number and color on the card as we played.  He could do that before we left Ukraine.  We did not hold Alex back when we got to the US, we placed him in the 5th grade which he would have entered in Ukraine.  We held Marsha and Kohla both back a year or they would have entered high school less than a year after entering the country.  We ended up skipping 8th grade with Kohla, but Marsha did the entire 8th grade too.  Age wise, Marsha would be fine, but Kohla would be over 20 before graduating high school had we not made the change.

Antidotes

#1.  Ukraine children call their parents mama and papa.  They begin calling you that at the orphanage, but they can’t speak any English so what else are they going to call you.  It took Alex being in the US about three months before he was able to ask us, “What’s your names?”  The poor boy had no idea how we were identified in the US.  It was real interesting telling our 11 year-old son our first names.  Now all of our children call us, mom and pop including our US born children.

#2.  We took all three kids to the dentist, and it was determined that Kohla would probably need a root canal.  Alex had absolutely no idea what a root canal entailed, all he understood was that Kohla was going to get something and he wasn’t, so he pouted and whined about it.  Kohla watching Alex’s behavior decided that a root canal must be something really awesome, so he leaped around the kitchen yelling, “Yahoo.”  Charlie and I sat in amazement.  For the first year, I felt like I was taking sheep to the slaughter every time I took them to the doctor.

#3.  Kohla and Alex both played soccer.  Charlie and I knew nothing about it when they got here, but we soon learned to love the sport.  I can say that I turned into quite the soccer mom.  Soccer was one of the reasons Kohla jumped ahead to high school from 7th grade.  His age would have hurt his ability to play, and lets face it, sports are important.  He made first string varsity soccer in his freshman year of high school.  I miss those days.

#4.  Charlie and I prefer our children get their driver’s license when they are still in high school so we maintain total control while they are learning.  Plus they get extra driving experience with us in the vehicle.  When I go somewhere they drive me.  I jokingly tell them, “That’s why I have you to chauffeur me around.”   Kohla didn’t want to learn to drive, so I signed him up and waited to tell him three days before starting the class, and he had a depression spell where he spent three days in bed.  He took the class, and he passed both the driving and the written test on the first try.

Behavior Issues

Read everything you can get on adoption.  Go to the library, read online blogs, and join online groups.  The advertisements you see on television are not representative of real adoption stories.  Adoption is traumatic for all children including infants.  Actually, it can be more difficult for infants because they have nothing to compare it too.  Adoption is a twelve to sixteen billion dollar a year industry, and people/agencies are getting rich off the backs of poor children.  Unscrupulous agencies have reason to lie by making it sound easy, thou$and$ of them.

Our children had many depression issues that required mental health professionals.  Kohla and Marsha were both very intelligent, Kohla was on the honor roll at the orphanage.  He graduate high school in 2008 with honors from public school and at the same time almost completed an associates degree from Kellogg Community College.  At the age of 25, Kohla passed away June 7, 2014 from depression.  He was a good son, and we miss him dearly.

Kohla, #8, playing varsity soccer.

Kohla, #8, playing varsity soccer.

Nicholai Troy “Kohla” Methvin

September 27, 1988 – June 7, 2014

 

Marsha also graduated high school with honors, and she too attended community college while in high school.  Alex struggled with English acquisition and needed to be transferred to a small private school where he too graduated.

I would seriously caution anyone from adopting if you do not have outstanding medical insurance, I had it.  We used it regularly.  Children’s genetics determine many of the issues they encounter, so does the environment where they lived.  It requires many tests to sometimes determine what’s wrong, because you don’t have access to their family history.  In one instance alone, we visited at least a half-dozen different specialists to learn that Kohla had bone tuberculosis.  The specialists cost my insurance a small fortune, but the TB was even more expensive.  There were braces for Kohla’s teeth, because they had been let go for so long in the orphanage and the ones that needed pulling would have been obvious without the dental work.  It was all worth every penny, but I want to caution prospective parents that the fees for adoption are small compared to the years of medical, counseling appointments, and education in your future.

Read…Read…Read

 

 We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 KJV

 Special thank you to the country of Ukraine for making our family possible – God bless the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

If you have any comments, please leave them here.

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