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Interrupted by war


WORLD Radio - Interrupted by war

Adoptions for Ukrainian orphans are on hold amid Russian invasion

Children and their companions from an orphanage in Odesa, Ukraine, wait for room allocation after their arrival at a hotel in Berlin, Friday, March 4, 2022. Steffi Loos/Associated Press Photo

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 15th of March, 2022.

Thank you for joining us for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, saving the children.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a massive wave of refugees and internally displaced people. Many of them children—an estimated 100,000 living in orphanages, some of them were only weeks away from being adopted by American families when the war broke out.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Jill Nelson reports on the abrupt halt to Ukrainian adoptions and the massive effort to get Ukraine’s most vulnerable out of harm’s way.

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: Jennifer Ruff and her husband spent the first two weeks of February in Ukraine, completing the first round of their adoption process. They expected to have their son home by mid-March.

But in the middle of the night on February 24th, Jennifer Ruff got a panicked video call from 16-year-old Sasha.

RUFF: He kept saying, Mama five, Mama five. And he was showing me out the window because he was trying to tell me that there had been five shellings, explosions.

Sasha’s town was one of the first hit during the Russian invasion, and Ruff says the attacks terrified him.

RUFF: I started getting texts from him that were like the kind of text you would send if those were the last things you would write to someone. And I'm going to try not to cry, but they were things, you know, Mama, I love you. You mean so much to me. You know, I want you to know how much I love you. Like, it's just stuff that you, a 16 year old boy doesn't just come out of nowhere and write, you know?

Shasha spent 10 weeks with the family last summer through a hosting program as they rushed to finish their home study and the adoption documents required by Ukraine. When COVID-19 slowed down their process, Sasha returned to the family for four weeks over Christmas.

But now the Ruffs’ adoption process is on hold, and so are dozens of other cases. Americans adopt between 200 and 300 kids each year from Ukraine. Ruff and many other adoptive families are heartbroken.

RUFF: There’s pictures of him all over the house. It’s just really tough. We were so close and we were just there. He was so close to getting home.

Now, many organizations connected to adoption and orphan care are turning their efforts toward a massive evacuation campaign. Ambassadors of Father’s House operates a Christian and family-based orphanage in the village of Petrivske, 30 miles southwest of Kyiv. Its staff successfully evacuated 150 orphans all the way to Germany, despite many obstacles.

RUIZ: We've seen, like, miracle after miracle, so we're super thankful for that.

Luis Ruiz is the organization's director of operations. He says it was difficult to find buses, and a nighttime curfew threatened to derail their departure. But God provided a security detail that offered to escort their convoy. And after loading up 48 orphans plus staff, Ruiz says founder Roman Korniyko realized they had room for more.

RUIZ: So they have these two large coach buses. So he did what any orphanage owner would do. He would pick up more kids. And so that's what he did.

Korniyko stopped at orphanages along the way and picked up an additional 100 children. Ruiz called the timing providential.

RUIZ: One of the orphanages that they stopped by and picked up kids hours later was taken over by Russian troops. And so it's just amazing to know it was the perfect timing in the middle of the night when they weren't supposed to be traveling, that they were able to get out and also take other kids with them.

After four days of travel, the children arrived in Freiburg, Germany and are now living in four different refugee camps. Ruiz is looking into other options for the children.

Other organizations report similar triumphs: nearly 200 orphans from Kyiv made it to Hungary; 76 children made an 800-mile journey to western Ukraine; and more than 700 orphans from Odessa made it to Poland.

But some are still trapped in the war zone. Phil and Kristie Graves had nearly finished the adoption process for their 6-year-old daughter Bridget when the invasion began.

GRAVES: I'm afraid that if Russia is successful in taking the whole country or just their region, whatever, that we won’t be allowed to adopt her.

Bridget lives in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia and has cerebral palsy, club feet, and some vision problems. Her orphanage has not been able to evacuate, and Russian forces took over the city’s nuclear power station on March 3rd.

But even for the children who do make it to safety, the trauma of war can have lasting effects. That’s especially true for those who’ve already experienced the trauma of losing parents.

PROUGH: And then a lot of my kids just, you see in their eyes just total fear and shock, and that's really, you see the trauma on everyone’s faces.

Rosa Prough has lived in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, for 16 years. She supports Christian foster parents by tutoring the kids, taking them on outings, and helping them heal from past trauma. The couple she lives with already moved twice before when Russian forces took over eastern Ukraine in 2014. They have 12 foster kids.

One of the older boys Prough works with will be 18 in June and eligible to be drafted into the war.

PROUGH: He was saying that he couldn't believe this was happening. He had so many dreams for his future, and now he doesn't know what's going to happen. And he just started talking about questions like, “What's pizza like in Italy? I always wanted to try American pizza. I heard it’s good too.”

Most of the moms and kids she supports have evacuated, but Prough and many of the foster dads and older boys have stayed behind. Prough is both caring for women whose husbands have gone off to war and bringing supplies to their village defense group. But she continues to keep in close contact with the 49 foster kids she has worked with and grown to love.

PROUGH: This is a wound that is going to affect the whole generation of Ukrainians. And we're just praying that God is going to heal them and heal their land. So we're trusting in Him.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jill Nelson.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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