On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he “intends” to sign a controversial bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children.
The law would block dozens of Russian children now in the process of being adopted by American families from leaving the country and cut off a major route out of often-dismal orphanages.
According to the U.S. Department of State, 970 Russian children were adopted in the United States last year. Only China and Ethiopia had more children adopted in the United States.
In fact, 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.
A few of them have even wound up in Hall County.
In 2008, Farrah Galley and her husband, John, adopted a Russian boy, Cooper, now 5 years old.
To not give others the same chance, she said, is “awful.”
“It’s so sad for these children,” Farrah Galley said. “I think he’s (Putin) hurting his country. I think everyone will suffer. I don’t think they’ll get a forever home if Americans don’t go in and adopt them.”
The Galleys looked to Russia because to adopt domestically they would have first had to foster. Alongside that, Farrah Galley said, the “abundance” of male children made it ideal.
“We originally looked at domestically adopting, but we were going to have to foster and we didn’t think we could emotionally handle bringing in a child then having it taken,” she said.
In June 2008, they brought home Cooper, 1 year old at the time. Within weeks of his adoption, Cooper’s demeanor and health began to improve.
“Any internationally adopted child, to me, has sad eyes,” Galley said. “Within the two weeks we had him before we got back to the (United) States, his skin completely cleared up (from a chickenpox outbreak), he put on weight ... and you could see the difference. There was something about him that immediately changed.”
Before adoption, Cooper was living in an orphanage with around 150 more children in a poverty-ridden part of the country.
“The town is a very low-income, coal-mining-based town,” Galley said. “Basically the orphanage looked like an abandoned warehouse that had been redone.”
And the Galleys are not the only ones who have seen firsthand what it’s like for the 740,000 Russian children not in parental custody.
Kim Yarrington and her husband, Neil, adopted their 11-year-old daughter, Charlotte, from Russia in 2002 when she was 5 months old.
The orphanage, she said, was “well-kept and clean” on the inside, but it wasn’t comfortable by any standards.
“What struck us the most, besides the fact there were no toys and you didn’t hear any children, was they didn’t use electricity during the day because they couldn’t afford to,” Kim Yarrington said.
But, she said, Charlotte, who was born premature and weighed less than 4 pounds at birth, was well taken care of despite the lack of proper medication in the facility. Since bringing her home, life has not been the same.
“I can’t imagine life without Charlotte,” Yarrington said. “She is as much ours as if I would’ve given birth to her. I can’t fathom her not being here.”
And limiting that opportunity for more families is saddening for her.
“I hate for all the Americans who won’t have that opportunity, who wanted it, to be able to become parents, to be able to have a family,” Yarrington said. “It’s sad — heartbreaking, really.”
But, she said, it’s not just about Americans wanting Russian children. The bill will end up hurting their own.
“I just can’t imagine they’d want to do that to their own children,” she said.
Russian officials said they wanted to encourage more Russians to adopt Russian orphans, but only 18,000 Russians are waiting to adopt a child.
The bill is retaliation for an American law that calls for sanctions against Russian officials deemed to be human rights violators.
Putin said U.S. authorities routinely let Americans suspected of violence toward Russian adoptees go unpunished — a clear reference to Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler for whom the adoption bill is named. The child was adopted by Americans and then died in 2008 after his father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours. The father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The U.S. State Department says it regrets the Russian Parliament’s decision to pass the bill, saying it would prevent many children from growing up in families.
“It breaks our hearts,” said Anna Belle Illien, executive director of Illien Adoptions International, an Atlanta-based organization that mediates international adoption for local families. “The only reaction I can have to that is can I do anything about it? Is this something I can solve? The answer is no. ... Should I go back to bed and pull the covers over my head because it’ll be a horrible day? No, that doesn’t do any good either. My reaction is, you know what, I’ve got to get up and go back to the computer and do what I can do for the kids that need families.”
The most affected families by the potential passing of this bill are those already in the legal process of adopting a Russian child, or, as Illien calls it, the “pipeline cases.”
“The families most affected will be the pipeline cases,” she said. “Will the Russians allow those cases to finish or not? If they don’t, these are the families and children that will be hurt the most.
“If those families can’t get their children through the pipeline, they will be just devastated for the rest of their life. It will be like losing a child except with no death. With death, there is finality. With this, there is no finality.”
If the law passes, 46 children who were about to be adopted in the U.S. would remain in Russia.
“It breaks my heart to know that any hope those kids had is gone,” Galley said. “Hopefully Russians will step up and take these children — it just puts the ball in another hand. How they’ll handle it, we’ll never know.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.