Story of Artem Justin Hansen: How I Became Involved in an International Adoption Scandal

Date: 2010-04-09

By Arthur Lookyanov

I would like to set the record straight about how I became involved in this horrible story of an 8 year-old boy whose American parents abandoned him. I am working with overseas clients as a private English speaking tour guide and professional driver for many years. I am regularly contacted by Americans asking that I meet them at an airport. I had no idea of the circumstances surrounding this particular pick-up. Frankly, I'm still in shock. I will remember the feelings I experienced for a lifetime.

Email exchange with Nancy Hansen. Booking transportation from an airport to Moscow city.

On April 6, 2010 I was contacted via e-mail by U.S. citizen Nancy Hansen, the adoptive grandmother of the now well-known Artem Saveliev (Justin Hansen). At the time I did not know that Artem was adopted by Nancy’s daughter Torrey on September 26, 2009, that he would be traveling alone, or the reasons for his travel to Moscow. This is her first letter:

I am interested in hiring you for a pick-up from DME (Domodedovo Airport) to the office of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation on Monday April 12th. Could you please let me know the cost and if you are available on this date?

Since I did not have a lot of orders for the first half of April and I was home when the e-mail arrived, I answered immediately:

Dear Nancy, Thank you for your interest in my services. I am pleased to inform you that have not booked April 12 and can be available for you. I charge $120 for meeting at Domodedovo airport with transfer to downtown of Moscow city. If you want to book my services please send me details of your arrival (time, flight #, airlines), I use to check all arrivals online, so if your flight will have any delays don’t worry I will be informed about it.

She also replied to my letter almost instantly, within 10 minutes:.

Hi: Thank you so much for your time. I am in the process of booking the flight and am trying to book a flight that arrives on Friday April 9th. If I can get this flight, would you be available on this date? I will send the information to you, once I know if you are available. Thank you again, Nancy

Nothing about these emails seemed out of the ordinary to me. Anything can happen; flights to Moscow are often crowded, since Russia remains one of the most attractive countries for tourists. It is a pity that we have not yet been very active in attracting tourists from the West, as do other countries, but all of us try as we can, including me. I replied:

Nancy, I checked my schedule and have not clients on April 9, so no problem. Send me your confirmation and arrival details after booking your flight. Arthur

After about 25 minutes I received another e-mail from Nancy Hansen where she informed me that the date of arrival had changed due to the availability of flights from Washington:

Hi Arthur: The only flight that I was able to book arrives at DME on Thursday April 8th at 1045. Are you available for pick-up on this day and time? I have the flight infomation if you are: Airline: United Time: 1045 Flight #: 964 Thank you for your time, Nancy

Since I was having dinner with my wife when her e-mail came in, I wasn’t able to reply to Nancy’s letter until an hour and a half later. I was glad that she did not buy a ticket for April 7 because I was already booked that day for a country tour in Istria and Zvenigorod with my clients, Stuart and Virginia Stewart from the USA (Oklahoma), who were making a return visit to Russia to see their relatives working and living in Moscow.

Sorry for some delay, I had to meet my wife from work and it was time for supper  I will be working tomorrow full day, but on April 8 (the day after tomorrow) I had not big plans so I can meet you at Domodedovo. Where are you going to stay in Moscow To easy recognize each other in arrivals hall I will hold a card (A4 format) in my hands, I am blonde, not tall, my photo you can see/print here: http://www.moscow-driver.com/bphoto57.html My cell: +x xxx xxx xxxx. Please confirm.

Half an hour later, I received her confirmation:

Hi Arthur: Thank you for confirming that you will be there for pick-up at DME. For payment would you prefer US Dollars or Russian Rubles? Thank you again for your time, Nancy.

Within 10 minutes I replied to her about the amount of services and confirmed the details of our meeting at the airport, on April 8:

Hi Nancy, Any currency that will be convenient for you: $120 USD, 90 EURO or 3600 RUBLES. See you on Thursday at 10:45 am in arrivals hall of Domodedovo airport (you will enter in this hall after passing customs/passport control and taking your luggage). If you have any questions or additional requests, please, don’t hesitate to ask me. With BEST Regards from Moscow, Arthur

Note that in all of our correspondence she never once told me that she would not be the one to meet me at the airport. I was fully convinced that she would be the one meeting me! It was only after our meeting had been confirmed that she sent me more specific details. The e-mail came in the next morning, April 7, 2010 at 8:00 am Moscow time:

Hi Arthur: The pick-up on Thursday will be for an 8 year old boy named Artem Hansen. A United Airlines Customer Service Agent will escort him to the hall to meet you (you will need to show ID). The United Airlines customer service agent will hand you an envelope. Inside the envelope are 2 envelopes. One is an envelope for the Ministry of Education, Tverskaya Street, 11, Moscow. The other envelope will be addressed to you. Inside will be your payment in US Dollars. I would like for you to please escort Artem into the Office of the Ministry of Education. If you could please give me your fee for this additional service, I will enclose it in your envelope. Thank you for your time. Warmest regards, Nancy

That morning I was quite busy. I sent my wife to work at 7:00 and checked the mail to answer the most important correspondence. I was in a hurry and could not finish everything because I had to meet my clients Stuart and Virginia at 9:00. We had planned a trip out of town to visit the wonderful historical and spiritual places in Istra (New Jerusalem) and Zvenigorod (Savin-Storodgevsky abode), and on the way back to Moscow to stay at the beautiful Preobrazhenia Church in the Small Vyazemy where Pushkin came to pray on the way to the estate of his grandmother in Zakharov. I was surprised to read this letter, because I was fully convinced that I was supposed to meet Nancy, not the child, but there was no time to think. Then it occurred to me that the boy was probably going to study or returning to school, and this made me feel better. I sent a confirmation and I asked her who I was to meet at the Ministry of Education:

Hi Nancy, I have got all information and will do the best, don’t worry. I will be pleased to meet Artem and see him off to the Ministry of Education on Tverskaya street 11. Please advise if somebody has to meet us there. I don’t request additional fee, its my pleasure. I would like to confirm that I will be in arrivals hall of Domodedovo tomorrow (April 8th) at 10:45 am meeting flight UA #964. Artem and the agent from UA customer service will find me easily holding a name tag of my client (Artem Hansen) in my hands. I am blonde, not tall, my picture is here http://www.moscow-driver.com/bphoto57.html My cell: +x xxx xxx xxxx. I you wish I can send you confirmation when my job will be done. With BEST Regards from Moscow, Arthur

She answered:

Hi Arthur: The information you have is correct (April 8th at 10:45 am meeting Artem Hansen on flight UA #964). If you could take Artem inside the Office of the Ministry of Education, give possession of the envelope and Artem to the receptionist and send me confirmation when your job is done, I would be most appreciative. I have enclosed a total of $200 US Dollars for you. Thank you so much for your time. Warmest regards, Nancy

I had no time to respond to this letter. I arrived home from work late that night tired but elated by the fact that the day was so sunny and beautiful, and that my clients were delighted by what they saw and the services I provided. I switched on the computer once again to check mail and read her letter (above). To tell the truth my good mood from the lovely day disappeared. It was too late for me to back out because of the time difference. If I did not meet the child at the airport, he would have been stranded. I work so hard to do everything the right way and to make my clients feel comfortable. I have a lot of great comments and friends from around the world, especially in the U.S. How could I refuse? I would not have survived thinking that the boy was left alone at the airport. So, despite my doubts I said about 8 pm:

Dear Nancy, Just returned back to my home from countryside tour with my clients. Thank you for your confidence. I will do everything you asked and will send you confirmation after. Do you want to spoil me? I appreciate it of course and will do everything the best to work out the amount of money you sent me. With BEST Regards from Moscow, Arthur

The next morning, April 8, 2010, was sunny and pleasant. I got up early, saw my wife, and checked the mail just in case, but there were no more letters from Nancy. I checked the flight status of flight 964 on the United Airlines website and found out that the plane was early. So I set out early for the Domodedovo airport to allow time for the traffic jams in our capital, which are normal for Muscovites, but frightening for guests. After coming in to the international flights arrival hall at 10:45, I thought I would have to wait 30-60 minutes depending on the number of arriving flights and the timeliness of passport control services and baggage claim.

Our first meeting at the airport

Before I could write the name "Artem Hansen" on a plate, I saw a little boy in a yellow jacket with a colorful backpack in the middle of the room. He was accompanied by United Airlines employees holding two postal packages: one large and one small. They had my picture printed on colored paper, along with my name and phone number. After checking my ID they asked me to sign some papers, and then gave me the packets. I took the boy by the arm, and feeling a kind of strange emotion of responsibility, led him to the car. Artem smiled; he was not scared.

I checked to be sure the boy’s seat belts were fastened and we left. Overwhelmed with a feeling of responsibility, I pressed the button to lock the doors as we stopped in front of turnpikes to pay for parking and leave the airport. The boy did well and was comfortable in the back seat. Despite the compact size of my car he had a lot of space, so he took toys and pencils out of his backpack and showed them to me. On the way into the city, I tried to speak to him in English, looking at him through the rearview mirror. The boy was in a good mood, and even tried to draw with his pencils. Artem liked a lot of the cars he saw in the city (but I didn’t) and he would occasionally get something from the package and show off the toys he had. He often said, "It's from America. Do you have anything like this here, in Russia?” The boy told me about American big trucks, showing their size with his arms. We even sang the English alphabet, as they do in school. The traffic situation was not bad, but there was some congestion, so it took us 40 minutes to reach the third ring. When we reached the center, the boy asked to visit the restroom so I quickly found a place where I thought it would be safe and clean, inside the new shopping center "Yerevan" that was already nearby, right on our way. Parking my car in the underground car park we went upstairs to the second floor, holding hands, and asked the staff for directions. I felt a sense of responsibility and paternity I’ve never felt before. Then we headed back to the car, fastened our seat belts and went on.

There were traffic jams in the center of Moscow. On a narrow street not far from the Ministry of Education and Science tow trucks loading improperly parked cars blocked traffic completely. We had been sitting still for 15 minutes when the boy began crying. I tried to calm him down, asking what had happened; a moment ago we were singing songs and studying Russian words. Up until then I thought that the boy understood Russian, because he repeated the translation of simple words, like dog, car and many others while we were driving, despite some errors. The boy could not calm down for a few minutes, but I made a lot of attempts to find out why he was crying. At last he told me that he wanted Grandma Nancy, so I only learned that the person I had been corresponding with was his Grandma then, in the front of the ministry. I calmed the boy, told him he had to be a man and he would see his grandmother soon. The boy calmed down and I felt better. Once passage was allowed we drove on to the building of Education and Science, at Tverskaya 11.

My rude awakening. I learned Artem Hansen had been adopted and was not expected back by the Ministry

We entered the main entrance of the building and I turned to the security guard, asking him to tell the people from the Ministry that we were there. I thought they were expecting us, but he looked at me as if I were crazy. At this point I realized something was terribly wrong. He advised me to call the Ministry directory-inquiry service. No one met us, and I dialed the Ministry directory-inquiry service with trembling hands and a bad premonition. I still did not understand what was happening. I called several different departments but nobody knew anything about Artem. It took us a while call the Department of the State Data Bank, and by this time the SDB employees could tell that I’d become nervous. They decided to come down and investigate. Five minutes later, three women came down to us. I tried to explain the situation to them and we opened the envelope meant for the representative of the Ministry. It contained the sad message which is now well-known. We were all shocked. The note stated that the foster mother of the child, Tory Hansen, refused adoption with regret and explained her reasons. The women of SDB understood the seriousness of the case and asked us to go with them to investigate further.

We proceeded to the department. I did not leave Artem Hansen for a minute, because by now I knew he didn’t speak Russian. I translated the questions he was asked by employees and the boy’s answers. The boy entered the country on a Russian passport, so SDB employees quickly found out where he was from. It turned out that he was adopted by an accredited agency in America from an orphanage in Vladivostok on Sept. 26, 2009. While the boy was drinking tea and eating cake brought by the staff, I told my part of the story. Realizing that I had been deceived I decided to call Nancy Hansen to ask for an explanation. I had her number written on the envelope that I was to deliver to the Ministry. At 14:11 I called Nancy. I asked her to clarify the situation and explain her behavior. There was a long pause; apparently she did not expect me to call. Then she told me she had not wanted to trouble me, and had thought I would not be affected. I gave her the number to the office where Artem and I were, and she spoke to the employee in English. The conversation didn’t last long. Soon they hung up.

The employees of SDB acted quickly and immediately notified the incident to all the necessary services. That is how the inspector for juveniles’ rights from the local branch of Tverskaya police, the representative bodies of trusteeship, and a young girl from another organization appeared at 15:00. Each of us tried to look out for the boy while investigating the circumstances. Artem was grateful; he opened his backpack and tried to present his treasures to everyone. He had a boy’s favorite toys: a car, Spiderman, and pencils in the backpack. The boy seemed normal, with no visible abnormalities. He even drew a beautiful house while the adults dealt with the situation. One of the officials looked at the figure and said that the boy was all right but the small door he had drawn showed the boy protected himself from someone. In this figure, Artem also drew another boy and said that it was Logan. When we asked who Logan was, he replied that Logan is his 10-year old friend. We asked the boy whom he lived with and who accompanied him at the airport. Artem talked most of all about his grandmother, mentioned a grandfather and some other relatives, but never once said a word about his mother.

At approximately five o'clock, after calling the Vladivostok agency which handled Artyom’s adoption to learn the details of what happened, they decided to go to the Tverskaya police department on Dmitrovka street next to the Nemirovich Danchenko musical theater and the Supreme Chamber of the Soviet of the Russian Federation. I offered to drive so the boy and the authorities got in my car. We turned around at the traffic light, turned right on Tverskaya street, drove to the Bolshaya Dmitrovka street, and parked near the police station.

At the police station, Inspector Natalya Konstantinovna offered us a place to sit down in front of her and began to work. She called an ambulance to place the boy in 21st specialized hospital while the boy’s fate is decided. I wrote another copy of my statement with an explanation of the events (the first one I left in the Ministry). I left all my contact data and card. When all necessary documents were written and signed, the inspector told me I could go home, but I could not. Although I had not had anything to eat or drink since early that morning, I felt responsible and nervous for the boy. That is why I asked permission to stay and make sure the boy was ok until he was taken to the hospital. It was now the end of the day and the center of Moscow was paralyzed with traffic jams as usual, so we waited for an ambulance and Mr. Astahov (authorized representative of the President of Child Rights) for a long time. All of us were surprised at how calm the boy was. It had been a very long day without rest, but he continued playing and smiling even in the police department. We enjoyed his warm selflessness; he kept taking his toys from his backpack and offering them to us. He offered me a United Airlines badge. I saw that the boy had two identical badges, and understood that he was giving me this gift from the heart, that he wanted to thank me. So I took his little gift. Here you can see the picture of this badge.

I stayed with Artem throughout the day

I stayed by the boy’s side until Mr. Astakhov arrived, occasionally going out into the fresh air. I was so disappointed, thinking how inhumanely the adoptive parents returned the child and I was upset by Nancy’s lie. Coming out periodically from the police station, we waited for a car that was supposed to take the boy. The authorized representative came with another man (apparently it was his bodyguard) and entered the office. In a minute, I decided to return to the office of the Inspector. The office was crowded, but I drew attention from the authorized representative’s bodyguard. At the same time, I noticed that Natalia, the Inspector, made a sign to me that I was not necessary there. Still I waited. Later, after seven o'clock in the evening, journalists from many leading news channels began to arrive. They were all grouped around the entrance of Department, also awaiting the arrival of the car from the hospital and for Artem and Mr. Astakhov’s appearance. Later I learned from the news that the department was also visited by representatives from the American Embassy, who wanted to take the boy, but he, as a Russian citizen, was under the protection of the Russian state, so the boy stayed in the Department. Soon the car came and the boy and his entourage were seated in the car. I watched it. I saw how he looked out the window at the large number of journalists.

My wife was very concerned and kept calling me, but I was really upset and did not want to upset her too. She knew what was happening to me from the news and from my short replies, so she did her best to calm me down. After the boy’s departure I did not leave. I called my wife and asked her to wait a little bit more, until I could be sure that the inspector didn’t need me anymore. I had left my phone number with the inspector and was waiting for her call. Journalists were lined up side by side, highlighting developments as they unfolded. It was 20:30 pm by the time Mr. Astakhov left and everybody began to disperse. I realized that I wouldn’t be called, so I drove home.

The Aftermath

It's been almost two days since these events, but I still cannot calm down and I am depressed. I have been phoned by a large number of journalists from leading TV channels, but I have had no desire to communicate with them, knowing that facts are easily confused and the stories misleading. Over the last two days I have not missed any news on television, radio, or the internet about these events in which I participated. I am hurt and offended that despite the fact that I told everything to the Ministry of Education and Science and to the police, rumors have started circulating about me. I have heard that I took advantage of the situation, increasing my rate for a regular pick-up, and that I passed the boy off at the Ministry and left as if nothing had happened. These rumors are simply not true! If I had not met the boy, or he was met by another man, perhaps, things could have been even worse. At least I was sure that the boy was protected and was in good hands. If you want to express your opinion about my actions, I'll be very grateful if you left your comments on the photo, which shows the picture Artem Justin Hansen (Artem Saveliev) drew and the badge he gave to me.

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