Sunday December 30, 2012

ADAMS -- Deb Mendel feels blessed to be raising her two sons, once among the hundreds of thousands of Russian orphans waiting for a stable home life.

The local pharmacist adopted Andrey, 8, and Nikolai, almost 7, when they were 18 months old living in an orphanage in Ufa, 725 miles southeast of Moscow.

While the adoption process was lengthy and expensive, Mendel said it has been a joy to watch her boys grow up happy and healthy.

"In a minute, I would go back and adopt another child," she said.

Any thoughts of Mendel and other U.S. citizens adopting Russian orphans have been rendered moot thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Friday, Putin signed a law, approved by Russian Parliament, banning Americans from adopting Russian boys and girls, abruptly terminating the prospects of 52 youngsters preparing to join new families.

The law, effective Jan. 1, is in response to a measure signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this month that calls for sanctions against Russians assessed to be human rights violators.

The adoption ban has angered children’s advocates in both countries, claiming it victimizes children to make a political point, cutting off a route out of frequently dismal orphanages for thousands.

"It’s awful," said Mendel. "[Russian leaders] are only thinking of their political selves and not the future of their children.


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U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed regret over Putin’s signing the law and urged Russia to "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."

Russians historically have been less enthusiastic about adopting children than most Western cultures. UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The U.S. is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children -- more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans over the past two decades.

Mendel cited how Andrey and Nikolai, emotionally and physically behind American children at 18 months, have thrived since leaving Russia. Andrey and Nikolai are third- and first-graders respectively at St. Stanislaus School in Adams, who get along well with their classmates. She noted they are now old enough to understand and embrace the fact they came from halfway around the world.

"We celebrate ‘Happy Adoption Day’, marking the occasion when they came home with me," Mendel said. Andrey was adopted in December of 2005; Nikolai May of 2007.

In addition, Mendel wants her sons to be proud of their Russian heritage. For example, on Jan. 7 they mark the festival of Father Frost, Russia’s version of Santa Claus, in addition to celebrating an American Christmas on Dec. 25.

"I also wanted them to know who they are, so I made sure they kept their Russian names," she noted.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.