November is National Adoption Month

Posted by: William Bistransky, Consul General, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

Читати українською

Paralympian & adoptee from Ukraine Oksana Masters
Paralympian & adoptee from Ukraine Oksana Masters

Each year, in November, the United States observes National Adoption Month. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the importance of family, to celebrate the adoptive families that have opened their hearts and their homes to orphaned children, and to advocate for safe, stable homes for children in need of adoption around the world.

As Americans, we believe that children have the right to grow up in a family that loves and protects them.  It’s a value we and Ukrainians share, and why we were thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Oksana Masters, who was adopted from Ukraine by an American family 18 years ago, back to Kyiv just a few weeks ago.

Oksana Masters has met with Ukrainian wounded soldiers, Kyiv, October 2015
Oksana Masters has met with Ukrainian wounded soldiers, Kyiv, October 2015

Oksana’s story is truly remarkable. Born in Ukraine, with both of her legs damaged by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident, Oksana was adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage by U.S. parents when she was seven years old and began rowing at 13.  Today, at 26 years old, she’s a world class Paralympic rower and cross-country skier and a champion of the 2012 London summer and the 2014 Sochi winter games.

During her first trip back to her country of birth last month, Oksana visited an orphanage and a school for special needs children, and met with wounded soldiers and U.S. and Ukrainian adoptive families.  She became an instant local celebrity and now has two countries rooting for her as she prepares for the summer games in Brazil next year.

Oksana is a powerful example of someone whose life was permanently and positively affected by adoption, and we are grateful that during her short stay, she was able to raise awareness of adoption issues and promote the adoption of special needs children throughout the country.

Oksana Masters has visited Horodetskyy Children’s Home in Vorzel, Ukraine, October 2015
Oksana Masters has visited Horodetskyy Children’s Home in Vorzel, Ukraine, October 2015

This and every month, we want to see more children find loving families that will support them, encourage them, and help them reach their fullest potential.  That’s why we’re gratified by Ukraine’s efforts to join the Hague Convention on International Adoptions, and why we support Ukraine’s efforts to create a more transparent, secure, ethical adoption process that put the best interests of the child first.

This November, as we mark National Adoption Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to provide all children with every chance to reach their dreams and realize their highest aspirations.”

Learn more about Oksana Masters’ trip to Ukraine:

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National Adoption Month

Posted by: William Bistransky, Consul General, U.S. Embassy in Ukraine

Читати українською

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond in Kyiv, Nov. 2014
Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond in Kyiv, Nov. 2014

Throughout November, U.S. Embassy Kyiv celebrated National Adoption Month by partnering with stakeholders in Ukraine and the United States to spread the message that all children deserve the chance to live in a permanent home with a loving family.  We strongly believe that all adoptions should be in the best interests of the child and conducted in an ethical and transparent manner that protects children, birth parents, and adoptive parents.

We saw many positive reactions to our Facebook and Twitter posts, which were retweeted, shared, and commented on throughout the month as part of an ongoing positive dialogue about our shared values and desires to forge mutually beneficial new partnerships.

In mid-November, our government’s highest-ranking consular official, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, traveled to Kyiv to celebrate National Adoption Month with us.  She attended Ukraine’s National Day of Prayer for Orphans, hosted by President Poroshenko and his wife.  The fact that such a broad spectrum of people attended that event – including priests and pastors from many denominations – underscored the unique place this issue has in the hearts and minds of Ukrainians.

Acting Assistant Secretary Bond met many of those who work so hard on this issue from the Government of Ukraine, NGOs, the religious community, and civil society.  We discussed the importance of joining the Hague Adoption Convention, and the ways in which the Convention can help protect the rights of adopted children.

Acting Assistant Secretary Bond was moved by the people she met; there are many opportunities to work together to protect and care for children.  She spoke about her experiences in an interview with Facts and Commentary:

As Consul General, I am proud that Americans and Ukrainians deeply respect the same kinds of values, and that both can provide loving homes to a vulnerable population, while building bonds not only between children and parents, but also between our two countries.

Adoptions Deepen U.S.-Ukraine Connections

Posted by: Stephen MacLeod, Consular Officer

Families discuss the adoption process in Ukraine with Ambassador Tefft

On a bitterly cold February day in Kyiv, Ambassador John Tefft hosted a special discussion with four American families who adopted seven children from Ukraine. The excitement in the room was palpable as the kids had just received their visas to travel to their new homes and would be departing within a matter of days. Being in the room with these new families, hearing their stories, and imagining the opportunities awaiting the adopted children, was truly a heartwarming experience which softened the cold temperatures outside.

Ambassador Tefft greets Natalia Rainville as the Wells family looks on

Since 1997, over 9,000 Ukrainian orphans have found new homes in the United States. Due to rising number of Ukrainian families adopting children in Ukraine and changes in Ukrainian law, over the past few years the overwhelming majority of inter-country adoptees have been older children, teenagers, or special needs children, including those who are HIV positive or with other serious health or developmental issues. In 2010, American families adopted 451 children from Ukraine; in 2011 that number rose to 641.

During their time with the Ambassador in the new embassy facility, the families shared their personal adoption stories and some of the challenges they faced along the way. In turn, the Ambassador highlighted the embassy’s efforts to facilitate inter-country adoptions and explained other elements of the embassy’s work. Unfortunately, time was short as the families had planes to catch and the work of the embassy continues, but the impressions from the day will likely remain with everyone for some time.

More information about how the embassy supports adoptions can be found on the embassy website at: http://ukraine.usembassy.gov/adoption.html.

Ambassador Tefft with four new families (from left to right)—the Eubanks of Liberty Hill, TX, the Rainvilles of Wexford, PA, the Wells family of Montverde, FL, and the De Havens of Brockport, NY

Holiday Cheer All Year Round

Posted by: Joye Davis-Kirchner, Consular Officer

As the year ends and we find ourselves between Western and Eastern Christmas, it is only normal to look back at the past twelve months and take stock.  In the past year, I had the honor to work with an incredible staff of Americans and Ukrainians as the Immigrant Visa Unit Chief in the Embassy’s Consular Section.  In the job, probably the most important single thing I did was to help Ukrainian orphan children to realize their dream of having a family and to help American families in their dream of having children.  It was like Christmas all year round.

While people may disagree about many things, it’s clear that the best thing for kids without parents is to become part of a family.  It’s best if this is through domestic adoption or foster care — Ukraine has done a great job of this — but that is not always possible.  Then international adoption, especially for special needs children who would otherwise remain in orphanages, can play an important role.  We Americans highlight this by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families each November, which is marked every year as Adoption Month in the U.S. 

During this year’s Adoption Month, Liliya Khlebnikova (our Ukrainian adoption expert) and I had the rare opportunity to represent the Embassy at the international conference “Ukraine Without Orphans” in Kyiv.  This conference brought together over 500 participants from Ukraine, the United States, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Belarus.  The theme of the very useful conference was “Touch a Child – Change the Future.”  Especially significant for me, besides having the opportunity to explain the Embassy’s role in supporting adoptions in a presentation for the participants, was to learn more about partnerships and networks serving children at risk both on the national and international levels.  I was deeply moved by the stories of older children and the children with special needs (Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc.), who had successfully found families through adoption.   

The Cornish Family

I was particularly impressed by Reece’s Rainbow.  This organization specializes in finding families for children with special needs.   Meredith and Michael Cornish, who are associated with Reece’s Rainbow, are some of the most remarkable people that I have met since arriving in Ukraine.  Meredith and Michael have six children, three – biological and three – adopted, with Down syndrome.  They are now adopting two more Ukrainian kids with Down syndrome.   In a meeting with Consular Section staff, they explained to us why families adopt children with HIV, blindness, arthrogryposis, spina bifida, fetal alcohol syndrome, or Down Syndrome.  Meredith and Michael also told us how these disabilities influence the adopted children and their new families.  

In addition to her duties at home and her work with the Reece’s Rainbow, Meredith Cornish has her own blog at http://www.mcornish.org, where she gives online advice to families who have adopted kids or have their own kids with Down syndrome.  If you want a first-hand view of special needs adoption, look no further.

Thanks to Meredith and Michael, and many other wonderful Ukrainians and Americans who work to find families for special needs orphans through international adoption, and the opportunity to facilitate their work, I felt a little bit like Santa Claus all year long.