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How Ukraine's adoption law affects American families


FOLLOW-UP: How Ukraine's adoption law affects American families

Khristina Lew

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Ukraine's new law on adoptions effectively places Americans last on the list of would-be adoptive parents and does not guarantee special consideration for the 140 U.S. families caught in the Ukrainian Parliament's July 1994 moratorium.

"It is not entirely clear how the new law exactly affects American families in the pipeline," said Suzanne Lawrence, spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

It sparks a glimmer of hope for people like Penne Holt of Minneapolis, who in June 1994 tried to adopt a 1-year-old orphan with special needs named Tatiana.

Ukraine's Parliament imposed the moratorium before the Holts were able to complete the adoption. They had traveled to Kyiv in May 1994 and spent one month with the little girl while waiting for their paperwork to go through. In June Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Mykola Zhulynsky signed their documents, but the Holts were advised that the adoption process would not be completed until after the presidential election. Shortly after President Kuchma was elected, Ukraine's Parliament banned adoption by foreigners.

Before the Holts met her, Tatiana had been rejected for adoption by two Ukrainian families because of her poor motor skills and social development. Mrs. Holt continues to send packages of medicines and supplies to the orphanage where Tatiana lives, and in return receives photos and videos of the little girl, who will turn 3 years old in April.

Ukraine's new adoption law, passed on January 30 after an 18-month freeze on adoption of Ukrainian children by foreigners, gives precedence to potential adoptive parents of a specific child who are 1) the child's relative, 2) citizens of Ukraine, 3) the family with which the child is currently living, 4) families also adopting the blood sibling of the child, 5) citizens of countries that have a bilateral agreement with Ukraine on protecting the rights of an adoptive child (which the United States does not), 6) citizens of other countries.

All children considered adoptable by Ukrainian law will be registered at a newly created Center for the Adoption of Children at the Ministry of Education in Kyiv. According to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, these children will have to be available for adoption by Ukrainian citizens for up to one year from the date they are registered before foreign parents are allowed to adopt them. Children with medical problems deemed untreatable in Ukraine by the Ministry of Health are exempt from the one-year waiting period.

Ms. Lawrence cautioned that no details on the creation of the center are available. Ukrainian parliamentarians were given two weeks from the date of the new law's passage to make any additions, comments or clarification. The law is to go into effect on April 1.

In addition to the restrictions placed on foreigners wanting to adopt a Ukrainian child, the new law mandates that adoptions take place in a regional court of law in Ukraine, and that children adopted in Ukraine and taken out of the country are Ukrainian citizens until the age of 18, at which time they may choose their citizenship. The law forbids the use of third-party adoption facilitators, although it is not clear whether non-profit adoption agencies will be permitted to work in Ukraine.

Regulating adoptions in Ukraine

Ukraine, like Romania, Bulgaria and Russia, became a Mecca for foreigners hoping to adopt white babies when it declared independence in 1991. The country's attempts to regulate international adoptions resulted in a May 1993 government-imposed moratorium on adoption by foreigners, which still permitted foreign adoptions in special cases, and the July 1994 parliamentary moratorium on all foreign adoptions.

Ukrainian statistics put the number of children adopted by foreigners in 1991 through mid-1994 at 700. According to the State Department, 492 of those children were adopted by U.S. citizens.

Russia's new law on adoption, passed in March 1995 and implemented by government decree in September 1995 after bureaucratic wrangling, is similar to Ukraine's law in that it, too, creates a central data bank registering the country's adoptable children. But, whereas Ukrainian children must be on the books for one year before they are available for international adoption, Russian children under the age of 3 are available after three months, and children age 3 and up after six months.

The Ternopil orphans

While some in Ukraine's Parliament have called for the issue of the 54 orphans brought to the United States in January 1992 to be revisited, Chicago Consul General Viktor Kyryk considers the case formally closed.

The Ukrainian government has not given specific approval for the adoption of the Ternopil orphans, but it also has not requested that the orphans return for adoption proceedings in Ukraine. "At this point, the situation should not be confused further," said the consul general. "If a crime has taken place, let the appropriate authorities pursue the criminals. These children should not be made to suffer."

According to Ms. Lawrence, the Ternopil orphans' situation was complicated by their entry to the United States on tourist visas. "Non-immigrant visas are not the way to adopt a foreign child. Children adopted in a foreign country or brought over for adoption in the United States should enter on an immigrant visa."

Most, if not all, of the orphans have been adopted in U.S. courts. According to Robert Braun, president of the board of directors of International Families, an adoption agency licensed in the state of Pennsylvania, U.S. immigration law permits any child, adopted in any court in the world, who has resided with an American family for two years to receive permanent residence status. Once a child has received a green card, parents can apply for U.S. citizenship the very next day.

In June of last year, Ukraine's Embassy to the United States requested that the U.S. government clarify the orphans' status in the United States.

Ukraine's new law on adoption mandates that any child adopted by foreigners is a citizen of Ukraine until the age of 18. "When a child reaches the age of 18, he or she may choose to renounce Ukrainian citizenship, but until that time, the child must be registered with the Ukrainian Embassy or Consulate," said Mr. Kyryk. He has requested that all the Ternopil children register with Ukraine's Consulate General in Chicago.

While Ukraine has no way of enforcing Ukrainian citizenship of adopted children, Mr. Braun warns that the United States does recognize dual citizenship as a general principal. "If any of these children were to pay a visit to their ancestral homeland, they would be subject to Ukrainian law until they turn 18," he said.

1996 Jan 1