Our Ukrainian Adoption Story

The how & why

Mommy's first birthday as MommyWe’ve posted an Adoption Journal page that gives the whole story of how the Lord lead us through His great adventure.

Why Ukraine?

Early in 2001, after getting back on the international adoption bandwagon we heard about some of the advantages of Ukrainian adoption from a friend. After much prayer & information gleaned from the EEAC Ukraine listserve we decided to pursue it. Ukrainian adoption has several advantages over other countries in our opinion…

  • Ukrainian law prevents agencies from “baby-selling”
  • The adopting couple chooses the child or children themselves…on the same trip the adoption takes place
  • It can be accomplished very quickly…less than six months in many cases (eight in ours)
  • Affordability – Total cost for adopting two children from Ukraine is about half the cost of one from Bulgaria
  • Child availability – we were seeking two children under six yrs old, preferably of mixed/minority race such as Tatar or Roma (Gypsy)

How You can help

There are many ways anyone can help a family undertaking international adoption…first and foremost is prayer. We certainly felt the prayers of many family members and friends through the whole process. To us Ukraine was attractive because we felt one had to be lead by the Lord in order to “choose” a child or children and have peace about it. Without His leading, we would have been incredibly anxious about medical conditions, were we making the right choice, etc.

This entire process is also a very expensive proposition, and we depended on the Lord to guide and provide. He did, in a very big way! We were blessed with gifts that enabled us to complete our adoption without borrowing – Praise the Lord!

Many of the orphanages in Ukraine have very significant needs, and we really wanted to help more than just one or two children.

We wanted to do something more for the children there – and created the Orphanage Donation Pool! How it worked: Individuals donated between $1 & $5 for each submission (some were lead to do much more) – half of the total amount collected was used for a needs-based donation to the orphanage we adopted from, and the other half became a charitable donation to His Kids Too in the name of the winner. These children have more needs than we can even imagine, and it breaks our hearts. Well, the Lord blessed and despite a slow start, the pool bore much fruit! We collected almost $400! We spent about $200 on items the orphanage in Orshivtsi had requested (itemized in the journal), and sent $200 to His Kids Too in the name of the winner! We know kids have & will benefit, and that’s the best thing.

Ukrainian Adoption Travel Journal

Adoption background/information page

ArrivalAdoption CenterOrphanageBack to KievWarsawHome!

We would like to share our story of how the Lord led us through this process, and blessed us with two wonderful boys – Brandon Dmytro (Dima) & Benjamin Victor.

view from our room in the hotel bratislava - overlooking a department store and market square Arrival in Ukraine

We arrived on time Sunday afternoon, 10/14 and essentially breezed though passport control and customs with Vladamir’s help. He’s a man hired by Sense to help their families through the airport…and well worth it. Waiting for us past that point were Lena & Nicoli, a welcome sight for a couple of very weary travelers. The Swissair trip was nice enough, and the staff were all very cordial, but the Airbus A-330 was very cramped in economy class (read cattle class – moo) and we didn’t get much in the way of sleep on the way there. Leaving the airport turned out to be a trick since the traffic was all tied up due to something we never really got straight.

our room at the bratislava - hot water and heatSense took care of getting us checked into the Hotel Bratislava, and verified the room was adequate in addition to showering us with information and contact numbers. We met the office manager Yuri and paid our program fee, then he joined us for dinner after an hour or so of “freshen-up” time. At dinner I remember thinking that what he was telling us was all important information, but knowing I wouldn’t remember much of it due to exhaustion. We were both wiped out & only managed to stay awake until 8:30 or 9pm.

We stuck to our plan to treat Monday 10/16 as a day to rest, pray, and get to know Kiev a bit. After going to the AC, things will move rather quickly and we wanted to have vivid memories of Ukraine to share with our children. Chris woke up about 3am and read Psalm 121 over & over by flashlight for a couple of hours before getting back to sleep.

God the help of those who seek Him

I will lift my eyes up to the hills – from whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber
Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, not the moon by night
The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

iron lady to the right - really big lady!We finally drug ourselves out of bed after dozing on and off until about noon or so. That meant we missed breakfast, but the cafe downstairs looked to be worth a try. It was difficult to order from the Ukrainian menu, but we managed salad, soup, beef, and beverages. Very tasty, but an entirely too large 3 course lunch. Little did we know that most of our lunches would be so. Time to see the city! The Sense staff were busy with arriving & returning families, but our project manager (Lena) arranged for a friend to be a paid translator/tour guide for the afternoon. Fine by us! Lilia arrived a little early and off we went – Back across the Dnipro to the right bank.First to the monastery & Iron Lady statue in the picture. When Chris tried to complement the statue, we were told “not beautiful, just big”. Point taken.beautiful artwork in these cathedrals

We toured the grounds of the monastery, and took several pictures. Lilia then took us to “the” street to buy souvenirs. There was artwork all down one side of the street, and the usual souvenir stuff all down the other. We really wanted to get some things right then, but decided to wait until we returned to Kiev after our adoption so we wouldn’t be hauling them around for weeks. That turned out to be a mistake, as we never managed to get out shopping for them again after our return. Well anyway, we had a great time sightseeing and were pretty worn out by the end of the day. We invited Lilia to join us for dinner in the hotel restaurant (so someone could read the menu), and enjoyed a fattening Chicken Kiev. Lilia didn’t know where an internet cafe might be, so we called Lena & learned that there was one in the department store nearby but it had closed by then, so we would need to wait until we got to the Sense office on Tuesday.

Visiting the Adoption Center

10/16 – Wow, did this day go fast! After breakfast we were taken to the Adoption Center with another Sense family from Montana. They had two beautiful girls (bio) and were seeking a boy. Lena had gotten us first in line, and the other family was second. Here we were in the infamous hallway at last. Every time someone entered or exited an office, they came through the hallway, and closed the office door. When we got in to see Mrs. Kunko she told us all the “dark” children had been adopted. We were surprised that she didn’t really ask us any direct questions. We had an office gift with us, but she asked that we not present it until our return. Next we would see the psychologist to look at profiles. There were 2 or 3 families already in there from the previous day (or returns – we weren’t sure), so we had to wait close to an hour before we got in.

This meeting also went fast. The psychologist had two books on her desk & flipped all the way through one, shaking her head no. No gypsy or Tatar kids. She told Lena that Ukrainians have been adopting so there are less children available. While she went through the book, we noticed 2 sheets tucked in, but not attached. At one point she pulled them out. Twin gypsy boys, 5.5 years old and very healthy in Chernivtsi. She needed to call the orphanage to make sure they were still available. We though she said they had just been visited by a family, but that turned out to not be the case. While the psychologist called, Lena looked through the other book with us, translating birth date/age & medical conditions. Many were invalids (even by our standards), and it was very sad looking at their pictures. When the psychologist got off the phone she said we were very lucky and must hurry before someone else adopted them. That was it – we decided to go see them. I guess that counts as two referrals? Lena said there were other available children at the same orphanage that we would be able to see if the boys weren’t ours. She had to wait at the AC to get the referral for us, so called our traveling facilitator Maxim to come get us so we could get ready for the trip.

Maxim took us to the Sense office (by taxi at our request – we weren’t quite prepared for it to be so chilly) where we met more of the Sense staff, had a great cup of coffee, and got to check/send email. How exciting at this point! The Lord is really opening doors, just as we had prayed He would. Victor the office manager would buy the train tickets for a 4pm departure while Maxim and we packed for the trip. We got back to the Bratislava about 1:30pm & ordered an American lunch via Pink Dot while we readied the luggage. Maxim met us at 3pm with the same taxi driver, then back across the Dnipro again to meet Lena (who would have our tickets) at the train. We never entered the Kiev station, but it looked mighty grand. The porter (at 18 grivna) was a very good idea. Chris had been dreading handling our five bags (Lena had thought we had little compared to many) at this stage of the trip, but that turned out to not be an issue. There was always help with the bags, how wonderful! We loaded up, and off we went to Chernivtsi…only 16-17 hours! We never took any pictures on the train, but did get some video of the beautiful countryside in the morning.

We don’t think we ever heard a train whistle – though it was rather noisy & very, very difficult to sleep more than a few minutes at a time. Thank goodness Maxim was able to round up an extra blanket for each of us, since there wasn’t any heat on the train yet. We asked the conductor (there’s two in each car) to watch our room while we got dinner, since we couldn’t get our door to lock, then we walked back (I think) 4 or 5 cars to get dinner, and ate it in our compartment. The conductors are responsible for waking people for their stops, and also serve up a very good tea in rather nice cups. We saved some of the sugar, still in Soviet era packaging. As we ate, we discussed the possibility that of the 5 or 6 cars we had just been in – ours seemed the coldest. The meal was smachno (tasty) fried pork cutlet on rolls with cheese and shredded, peppered carrot salad.

It definitely got colder as the night wore on, and it was possible to stay warm huddled under the two wool blankets as long as we didn’t move much. They heat the cars with coal, which hadn’t been passed out yet since they were experiencing an Indian summer. We both prayed that the Lord would quickly close the door if these were not our boys, (whose names we didn’t know yet) to make His will known to us in a clear way.

The Orphanage, and Meeting Our Children

10/17 – The orphanage director Ludmilla met us at the Chernivtsi train station, and had been waiting an hour since we were late. We hired a taxi that would hold our luggage & drove to the orphanage in Orshivtsi (~60km or 45 minutes). This car was really something! Chris has been in worse, but nothing claiming to be street-worthy. We push started it three times before the day was out. Along the way Ludmilla filled us in on the boys, Victor and Dima (short for Dmytro). They had been at the orphanage since the age of three, and had come from the baby house in Chernivtsi. Ludmilla was raving about how good, smart, and healthy they are. She also mentioned another set of twins (boy/girl) that would be seven in January, and available for adoption in December – those were the names we had heard earlier (which I will leave out on purpose).

they didn't want to be pushed on the toddler swings, but wanted to show us they knew how

When we arrived at the orphanage, the director brought us straight to her office where we were joined by Galina who was introduced as their speech therapist. The boys are diagnosed as psychologically/developmentally delayed, and Victor has a speech impediment (poor enunciation) which makes him very hard for Maxim to understand. They’ve also had a history of respiratory problems.

We were shown a play area & sleeping area for their group. Very impressive! Maxim thinks it’s the nicest orphanage he’s seen. The director and Galina (seems to function as an assistant) ask us several questions as we share tea & chocolates. The boys are in a music class just down the hall and we can hear the children singing, and it’s hard to concentrate enough to ask the things we want to know. OK Lord, You are in charge here. The director mentioned several times how she loves her children, and we tell her that it’s obvious to us from what we’ve seen. Then it’s time to meet the boys.

first visit with victor & dima (left to right)Victor was first, smiling and somewhat bashful – then Dima, smiling also but seemingly more shy. The director brings out a plate full of chocolate coins, and each boy is told to count two & take them. Then Dima counts all four. “Who has more?” No answer, but lots of smiles in there by now. Coleen takes Victor into her lap and Chris holds Dima. We tried to talk a bit, but the boys were scared or shy & we didn’t know what to say. How long we had thought about & prepared for this moment…then it’s here and your mind turns to mush. They were asked what song they were singing and Dima answered that it was a song about rain. At one point Dima said he had just come back from the hospital. We had noticed the bare spots & scabs on his head, which were explained as abrasions…nothing to worry about. We said we would like to play with them outside if possible, and they were asked & agreed. They were taken out to change clothes and Coleen caught Victor’s eye as he turned back at the door for a moment.

mama & papa with their boys

He was grinning like “I can’t believe it!!” She was thinking, how could we turn them down? They came back bundled up in boots, coats, & hats – almost matching. We walked them down the dark hallway and outside, holding their hands – minds racing – how will we know? But we did know.

Once outside, they led us around the corner to a toddler’s playground and got on the metal swings. They didn’t want to be pushed, but would rather show us they could do it. We wanted to run & play some (needed to keep moving or drop after all night on the train) and checked out the playground for other things to do.

sabachka!!! russian for puppies - and the boys love dogs. another very obviously opened door

There was a hedge about 10 feet long and 3 feet high that we played peek-a-boo around…back & forth. Then one of the boys ran over to another playground in front of what looked like an abandoned (we hope) school building. Dima & Chris got on a seesaw, then Coleen & Victor got on the other one. The boys really seemed to like it, and we had Maxim take a couple of pictures. Chris’ legs wore out quickly after running so we started back toward the orphanage. Midway we saw two small puppies huddled in a pile of leaves. The boys played with (didn’t torment too badly) them and we took more pictures. When we got back to the car we unpacked two rubber balls (& a couple handfuls of goldfish crackers) and had a great time playing ball. After a while, Dima led Chris around back of the orphanage to another playground. This one had large new equipment that had been donated from “Friends in Canada”. Here the boys wanted to be pushed in the big swings. They also enjoyed playing on the big slide. Once Dima went down face first, right into the dirt…and it didn’t faze him a bit. Finally worn out (us – not them), it was time to go back inside so we could observe them with the group.

victor is just soooo cute with this puppy!!There were 12 children in their group. When we got in, the care takers made a fuss about them being flushed & sweaty. All the while we had played outside, we kept asking each other “are you sure”? Not a single door had been closed, and we were falling in love with the boys. We were invited to sit on a couch in the main play area and were immediately swarmed by the other children. Two girls attached themselves to Chris, while a boy and girl attached to Coleen. They were really fascinated with our watches. We tried to watch Victor & Dima, but it was difficult with the other children wanting (and needing) attention too. The little girls were sooo cute. Galina quickly told us that they had mothers, meaning they weren’t available. Then it was noon, and time for the kids to wash up and eat. They all ran to the wash room, except for Dima and one other little boy who were putting the toys straight. Time to go for now.

In the hallway we confirmed with Maxim that these were our boys, and we should start the paperwork. Back up to the director’s office to discuss the paperwork details with Ludmilla & Galina. Galina asked us why we wanted Gypsy children, and we quickly responded, “Because others don’t”. We assured her that we wanted to adopt them & she cried…obviously she cared for them very much. We had been told that Ukrainians only adopt single children & the orphanage didn’t want to break them up. Most foreign families don’t want Gypsy children, so they would likely grow up to be beggars or thieves in the city if not adopted.

outside the inspector's office, where we spent a lot of time waiting.

We piled back into the jalopy and drove off to the district center in Kitsman. There we would meet with the inspector, Maria, whom we should have officially seen first. She was very nice to us and had been expecting us this day. It seems that someone from the Adoption Center in Kiev had called her Tuesday to make sure she would be there to help us. Remembering our prayer for open doors to lead us to our children, we relaxed a bit in confidence that we were acting in His will. To generate her conclusion she needed papers from the orphanage, which they had insisted she didn’t need yet & thus hadn’t given us. She and Maxim talked and she tried repeatedly to call the orphanage and arrange a notary for us. Maria also told us of her experience helping foreign families adopt. The director had told us that as well; foreign families adopt from here about once per year. Both had mentioned families from Texas & Oak (something) Illinois. After what seemed like quite a while in her office, we drove to Chernivtsi again to get something notarized. We stopped in a café for a quick lunch, and were treated to the sight of a Gypsy brother and sister (about 8 & 4 respectively) begging in the doorway. The owner would shoo them away, and they would sneak back in after a few minutes, and look longingly at the food on the tables. This is the life of many Gypsy children in Eastern Europe.

At the notary’s office we had to wait since she had company. In the waiting area we saw an old woman in obvious pain given some liquid mixed with water by a pregnant woman. It appeared to help some, but she was really hurting, and it was painful to watch. Once Maxim had gotten in to talk with the notary (that turned out to be the pregnant woman), we began to discuss names for the boys. We hadn’t developed any firm opinions with regard to renaming, and always had a hard time finding boys names that we both liked. Since Dmytro was somewhat unusual for boys in America, we decided we would give them new first names and keep Victor & Dmytro as their middle names. Just then, Maxim came out and told us that the notary had offered to generate the Visa applications if we knew what we wanted to name the boys. This would save a lot of time, and seemed kind of unprecedented – she really wanted to help! We had only been thinking on the subject for two minutes, and asked if we could have a few more. We wanted the boys to have names starting with the same letter, and in the past hadn’t come up with “C” or “G” names that we both liked. Coleen loved the name Brandon, so we tried to come up with another “B” name. We both came up with Benjamin and liked it, but didn’t initially agree how it was spelled. Maxim came back out and asked for the names…Brandon Dmytro & Benjamin Victor. The whole naming process lasted maybe 15 minutes, and we wish we had thought more about it before we left, but we had stopped at one boy’s and one girl’s name that we both liked. A while later they were ready for us to sign and register the documents. The notary expressed her gratitude and wished us God’s blessing. She was obviously very much in favor of this & we returned thanks and blessings.

a church being built in orshivtsi across the street from the hospital. the low silver building (shack) to the left is the existing church. the brick, mortar, & plaster construction is typical of 99.9% of buildings going up in Ukraine.

We drove the documents back to the inspector in Kitsman, who had been waiting for us. She had put in more than an hour of overtime on our behalf this day, something that was related to us as rather unheard of. She had dropped hints that a carpet for her office would be a welcome gift. We were noticing that the wood floor was pretty similar to Constitution Hall in Philadelphia…it was that worn. We would need her conclusion to send to the Adoption Center in Kiev (by overnight train), and she had promised to write it at home this evening. We went back to the hotel where we had reserved rooms (on the way to the orphanage) and enjoyed a delicious dinner before going to bed about 8:30 or 9pm. Soon, there was a very loud party in the room next door (between ours & Maxim’s) and none of us slept well in spite of cramming in ear plugs (which we were very glad we had brought!!). Even though adjusted to the time zone, sleep was turning out to be rather difficult to obtain.

our new driver valera outside the orphanage in orshivtsi

Thursday 10/18 was very foggy most of the day. We had a nice breakfast at the restaurant downstairs & determined we would need a new driver and hotel. Maxim arranged a driver with the owner of the hotel, and it worked out very well for the rest of our trip. By the last day or two, his car had also developed an ignition problem that required a few push/roll starts as well as totally losing reverse. Valera was truly a gentleman and great company though, so we wouldn’t have wished any different. Anyway – after breakfast we went to the inspector’s office about 10am. She had the conclusion written, but it still needed to be typed and notarized. At this point we were still hopeful of getting it back from Kiev by Friday, but that hope was fading rather fast.

Finally we went back to the orphanage to get all the files they should have given us yesterday. While Maxim did the official stuff we visited the group’s music class. It was awesome seeing the boy’s smiles again!! The group had a lot of fun marching & singing to the music. When the short class was done the boys stayed with us for a moment, then raced down the hall to the director’s office. They burst in and interrupted a meeting that included two other men. As Maxim explained it to us later, it seemed like one or both of the men were from the education council & were looking for a way to be involved in our process – presumably for the purpose of getting a fee and/or gift. The men left and we sat in the office with the boys on our laps while Maxim, the director & Galina finished preparing the documents. We had brought a small photo album with pictures of our family, dogs, & cat. We went through it naming everyone several times with the boys. They seemed very smart and repeated most names very well.

Another trip to Kitsman to give the inspector all the paperwork and try to get the conclusion, but alas, another signature was needed and that fellow was gone for the day. This one delay meant the earliest we could have our court hearing would be the following Wednesday. A bit of a bummer, but we have to trust the Lord’s timing. We ended the day by selecting a new hotel and having dinner in their incredibly ornate restaurant.

caretakers & nurses for their group

Friday 10/19 we struck out for the inspector’s office in Kitsman about 9am. The signature we needed wasn’t going to come quickly, so Maxim recommended we wait at the hotel while he did the leg work. The restaurant didn’t open until 10, so Chris was going a bit stir-crazy waiting to get a cup of tea or coffee. Maxim came back around lunchtime and we had a huge meal at the hotel, saving half of Coleen’s pork chop for the boys. The poor guys had been at the hospital all day getting the required checks & signatures. We went to meet them there and waited in the car while Maxim located them in the hospital. When we saw them come out, we started walking toward them. Maxim later told us that they said, “Who are that man and woman walking towards us? Oh yeah, it’s Mama & Papa!” We had a wonderful time keeping them company while waiting for the doctors. maxim & the rengerts in chernivtsi awaiting pictures to take to the internet cafeThe boys were pointing out every detail in a wall mural – birds, flowers, bug, etc. We would tell them the English word and they would repeat it. Now and then we would see staff in the hallway watching us & smiling. The building itself was in dreadful condition…and we’ll leave it at that. After taking Victor, Dima, and the orphanage nurse back to the orphanage we headed straight into Chernivtsi to get the conclusion on the overnight train to Kiev. After just barely missing the 4pm train we found a place to get our pictures developed, looked for an Internet café, and got the package on the 6:15 departure. After that we finally found an Internet café that worked and checked/sent email for the first time since we had left the AC. Guess what everyone? We’ve got boys!

Saturday 10/20 Maxim had arranged for an early breakfast for us after which we went to the orphanage with all the OTC medicines we had brought. A nurse registered everything with help from Maxim and Coleen while the boys clowned around with Chris’ sunglasses. The orphanage gave us a list of things they needed and we drove to Chernivtsi to shop for them in the open-air market.

This is where the adoption pool comes in. We raised $400 in orphanage donations and had pledged half of that to the orphanage we adopted from, and the other half to His Kids Too! For the orphanage we bought the following for just under $200:

  • A large (5m X 9m) carpet for the children’s play area
  • Iron
  • Electric kettle & heating element
  • Radio/cassette recorder (for the kids)
  • Two large pedestal pots for floor plants
  • Mirror for the children’s bathroom
  • Additionally we donated approximately $100 worth of OTC medications we had brought with us for the children and care takers, a cellular phone ($100) so that they would be able to contact the hospital and/or ambulance when the need arises (phone service was very iffy there), and $200 in cash gifts to the director, assistant, four care takers, and five nurses.

    the carpet was last, and we were getting pretty worn out by this point

    We had a lot of fun shopping, and tried to get what we would need for the boys; socks, underwear, shoes, coats, hats, etc. Surprisingly, it was rather difficult to find trousers in their size, but we found everything else we were looking for. After that we went to the Internet café, but it had just closed – How annoying! We drove around the city looking for another one that might be open, but no luck. We really wanted to read the responses we had gotten to our news about the boys.

    Valera drove us back to Orshivtsi and we dropped off the donations at the orphanage. The children were out on a walk in the woods, but soon the whole group was running up to the window when they saw Coleen looking out at them. She was leaning out the window touching little hands – wow they were excited! We played ball some with Dima & Victor and they tried on the clothes we bought. As we were saying bye, Chris was holding Dima when he reached in Chris’ jacket pocket and pulled out a $20 bill! There was quite a collection of care givers watching, and they all laughed and laughed saying, “Yes, he has Gypsy blood!”

    stay close, and remain alert

    Sunday, 10/21: We woke to find a mouse eating our snacks right out of the suitcases in our hotel room. Chris chased him off, and then luckily only had to throw away a few things. Next though the shower head broke, which resulted in running out of hot water before he could finish getting clean. Needless to say, he was a bit cranky this morning. At breakfast we decided to go back to Chernivtsi to shop for the boys some more, and try to find Internet access. No luck with the latter, but we found some nice things for Dima & Victor; shoes & sweaters, thick socks, etc. On the way back, we stopped at a little café for lunch & the waitress recommended hot dogs. Perfect for Chris, but ten minutes later she returned to say they had none in stock! No apology, just matter-of-fact there isn’t any. Fried pork-chops it is then.snack time for the group!

    Finally to the orphanage at 4pm, just in time for snacks. The kids had big rolls and we brought bananas, which they ate very, very quickly (some in 2 or 3 bites). Chris saw Dima give his roll to another boy that appeared to have Down syndrome. We visited inside for a little while, but were quickly overwhelmed by the other children. Maxim ran the camcorder for the whole visit. All the children got dressed & went outside where we had the boys alone for just a little while. Soon though a boy and girl from the group joined us playing ball, but Dima & Victor weren’t too interested in sharing the rubber balls we had given them. We had studied a few new phrases and words, and were trying to use them, but didn’t seem to be getting through. When the children went back in we were feeling pretty frustrated that the visit was so wild & we didn’t have a chance to connect with our boys.dima jumping up and showing off

    We had an interesting evening trying to order our dinner at the restaurant. Maxim had gone to a friend’s house (with our blessing) for the evening, but wouldn’t you know – the waitress that spoke some English was off for the day! We pointed to an item on the menu in the soup section and hoped it would be edible. It was very good, and turned out to be vegetarian soup with potatoes. We discussed whether or not to try ordering a dinner plate, and decided we were feeling somewhat brave. Coleen wrote the word beef in Ukrainian letters on a slip of paper, but the waitress didn’t seem to have a clue what we wanted. A few minutes later, she returned with a cook that said something that sounded like beef to us so we emphatically said “Da”! Sure enough we ended up with fried pork chops again, but it was tasty & paying the bill was a cinch by this point.

    Monday, 10/22 (Coleen’s birthday):dima & victor singing happy birthday to mama! We woke to rain and fog, the first time it had rained since we got to Ukraine. We visited the boys at the orphanage & had asked to spend time alone with them. Dima & Victor sang a Ukrainian birthday song to Coleen, then Chris & Maxim sang Happy Birthday. When we had said we wanted to be alone, the director walked into a music class in progress and told them all to leave…then ushered us into the room. The boys still wanted to be pretty wild, breaking a top in front of the director within minutes of entering the room. We sure had our work cut out for us trying to calm them down, but Maxim was a big help asking them to sing.

    Today we took the boys to Kitsman to get their passport photos. They sat well for the camera, but appeared quite shy or intimidated in the pictures. We waited in the car while Maxim met with the judge. The boys were rammy waiting in the care and it was too cold and wet to do anything outside. Victor was covered in sweat (a real lather) after rolling the window up & down for fifteen minutes solid! Good news – the judge would schedule the hearing with a fax from the AC in Kiev (which we would get Tuesday afternoon) instead of waiting for the originals to come on the train Wednesday morning. Maxim said he was very nice and we shouldn’t expect any problems with him. Actually, we learned that he was retired, but occasionally came in for cases upon request. Marie, the inspector had asked him to take our case since he had done foreign adoptions before.
    picture with some of the boy's favorites

    After taking the boys back to the orphanage, we set out to Chernivtsi in another attempt to communicate with the world. We got to check and send email, but couldn’t figure out how to use our phone cards with their phones. At over $2/minute, we didn’t want to use the pay phones either so gave up & went to dinner. As we were walking up the street to the café our driver recommended we saw what looked like a Chinese restaurant. A peek in the door and yes – it is! What a treat for Coleen’s birthday – something other than Ukrainian food! We all really enjoyed the meal, though it was the first Chinese food our driver & facilitator had ever tasted. Our driver suggested trying our phone cards on his phone, but unfortunately we again couldn’t get through to the AT&T operator to use them. They had a wonderful home, and we enjoyed meeting his wife & daughter who treated us to cold, fresh well water and chocolates. We very much appreciated their hospitality.

    When we got back to the hotel however, the day took a turn. The mice were all over, and the heater had broken while we were out. After a couple of hours trying to accommodate the issues we gave up, took a comforter from the room next door and just tried to sleep. It sounds bad now, but wasn’t really…we were tired & cranky at this point, but we did stay warm & sleep through the night.

    Tuesday, 10/23: Another rainy day, but hopeful as we looked forward to finding new accommodations – perhaps closer to Internet access. We had a scare in the morning when we heard the AC wanted an abandonment letter from the birth mother. There was no such thing, just statements from the orphanage saying no one had visited from x date to y date. As it turned out the statements weren’t official enough and had to be redone, authenticated, & faxed to the AC. Once that was done, they were satisfied. Maxim helped us keep our sense of humor saying, “Do these look like official documents? To me they look like toilet paper.” That evening we looked for a hotel in Chernivtsi. The orphanage director came along as she lived there and could tell us where to go. That turned out to be a very good thing as she talked the police out of fining our driver for something when we got pulled over. Apparently the police help support her orphanage & she made them ashamed of pulling over Americans adopting from there. The first place we looked at was what the director deemed the best in town. Unfortunately, they wanted to charge us “foreigners” double, $60/night, for a room. We decided to keep looking, as it wasn’t luxury we were seeking to begin with. By the time we got to the second one we were ready to take anything, as it was getting late, Coleen was coming down with a cold, and we were all hungry. Tomorrow is a big day! Hotel Chernivtsi it was then, & we enjoyed authentic Ukrainian folk music with our dinner downstairs. Since he wasn’t a foreigner, Maxim got a newly remodeled room at half the price of ours (which was slightly larger, though much older), and a phone line capable of connecting to the AT&T operator. Since we were paying for both, it really didn’t matter.

    Gotcha Day! Wednesday, 10/24: We both woke up excited and nervous about the hearing, but Coleen’s cold was coming on and she also felt lousy from that. We stopped at the train station just before 9:00am to pick up the original AC approval, and then drove to the courthouse in Kitsman. It was a bright & sunny day, but very cold. We waited anxiously for nearly an hour to begin. We were surprised that the hearing was in the Judge’s office instead of a courtroom, but were told it’s usually so. We wanted to look nice, and had taken off our coats when we thought we were going in – but ended up standing outside the Judge’s chambers for another half hour with no coats. The others thought we were crazy, but no, just cold. The director and inspector both waited with us, while the judge and prosecutor went over matters inside. Upon entering the five of us sat in chairs on one side of the room, while the prosecutor & recorder sat at a table in front of the judge’s desk.

    The first few questions were routine; the judge had us state personal information such as address and work. He asked how long we’ve been married and why we wanted to adopt two children. Chris responded by saying we’ve wanted children for a long time and were led of the Lord to adopt two. The prosecutor asked us if we understood that our children would remain Ukrainian citizens, and was sure to stress that for Americans to continue to be allowed to adopt we must provide yearly updates to the Ukrainian consulate. The director & inspector both made brief statements, and recommended that the court approve the adoption. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chris stood and asked the court to make the decree effective immediately for the sake of the children, as they would need medical attention as soon as possible. They asked us to wait outside chambers while it was being discussed. While we waited, Maxim ran an errand to purchase a gift that they had requested; a desk lamp for the secretary, and pay-off of an outstanding bill the court owed for repairs (less than $35 US total). About half-an-hour after he returned, he reported that he had seen the decree being typed up, and that the 30-day waiting period had been waived! Yea! Now the weight all fell away from our shoulders – the boys were our sons now, and we could soon take them home! [Even as I type this five months later I feel tension slip away & tears forming]. Praise the Lord!

    As soon as we had the decree (and six carbon copies) we drove a little over an hour to the village where the boys were born to get new birth certificates. It had been a long, cold wait for the decree, but the sooner we got the new certificates, the better our odds of getting passports done (in Chernivtsi, a long drive from here). The woman in the ZAGS office was very nice and helpful, and recommended a beautiful sight to see. Unfortunately, we had to get to Chernivtsi before 5:00pm, so didn’t have time for sight-seeing. While waiting for a train at a crossing, Maxim bolted into a little roadside café and ordered sandwiches & chips to take the edge off. Back in Chernivtsi we got the new birth certificates notarized/legalized/etc. and went to the passport office. When we pulled up to the office Maxim & Chris both remembered that we forgot to pick up the photos in Kitsman that morning. Maxim tried to get the people to start on them anyway, but the lady refused to do anything until the office-head returned from Kiev on Friday. We were in Chernivtsi though, so had an opportunity to spend an hour at the Internet café, then had a good dinner. Afterwards we made a couple of phone calls to the new Grand parents from Maxim’s room without much trouble. It was tough to go to bed having such a big day, but still not seeing the boys at all due to the running around.

    papa having fun with his boys in the exercise roomThursday, 10/25: As we prepared to go see the boys, we had another scare first thing in the morning. Chris couldn’t find one of the envelopes of cash he’d been carrying in his money belt. We searched the room high and low, but it wasn’t there, & Chris was starting to panic a bit. We were late to meet Maxim in the lobby, so Chris went down and right away Maxim knew something was very wrong from the look on his face. Chris told him what was missing & that the car was the only possible place, though he thought we had had it all in the room that night. As they ran outside and peered through the back window, there sat the envelope, Praise the Lord! Later, our driver related how he had picked up a hitch-hiker the night before, who sat in the front seat – and how he turned away another two people, who would have sat in back! Yes, the Lord was looking out for us in very obvious ways!

    We visited the boys in the late morning, and spent time alone with them in the gym while Maxim picked up the passport photos. Though we all had a lot of fun together, we were starting to get a bit frustrated with the boys taking off and running away anytime the wanted. When Maxim came back, we asked him to teach us how to say “don’t run away, stay with Mommy & Daddy” in Ukrainian. Translitterated: Nikoody ne tikia, stiy z Mamou e Tatoe. victor & dima get their first look at the big thomas the tank lift & see book

    After our visit, we left the boys flushed & sweaty, and the care takers worried about it, as usual. [It only took us about three days alone with the boys to know why it bothered them so] We drove back to where the boys were born to shoot some video of the area and give a gift to the woman in the ZAGS office. We had a very nice, large lunch at café Diana (after the princess, whose likeness adorned several walls within), and saw the beautiful waterfall we’d been told about. The woman in the ZAGS office was quite amazed that we came back to give her a gift & tried mightily to refuse it, should it appear improper. After much cajoling, we convinced her to take the chocolates and $20 US. We felt that she had gone way out of her way to help us (when so many others would barely do their jobs), and deserved reward. Later, we drove back to the orphanage & presented our cash gifts to the orphanage workers. They were all very appreciative, and tearful as they took the cards, knowing there was cash inside, but not looking in front of us. We had prayed about what to give them, and discussed with Maxim, but at the time it felt we could not give them enough for how much they had loved and cared for our boys.

    kissing friends goodbye...we really wish we had more time to do it right!Friday, 10/26: This morning Maxim took it upon himself to obtain the passports for the boys while we hung out in Chernivtsi. To pass the morning, we set out for a little walk in hopes of finding some clothing for the boys & cold medicine. 20 minutes later, Chris realized we were close to the Internet café, so we decided to go there. By the time we left, we thought we needed to hurry back to meet Maxim and didn’t shop for anything. We expected him back in time for lunch, but the bureaucrats in the passport office drug the effort out over the entire day. Luckily, we planned on taking the 9:00pm train to Kiev, & didn’t feel too pressed for time yet. We bought some rolls, chips, & sparkling water at the little market next door and waited in the room, watching old and very bad American movies dubbed in Russian. Finally Maxim came for us, but didn’t have the passports yet – he just didn’t want to leave us waiting any longer. We hung out at the passport office for about another hour or so before we got them…and their names were misspelled! After much loud arguing, the result was that they were not going to be fixed. The English spellings were wrong as a result of the software that translates the Ukrainian…even though we had notarized documents with the correct English spellings, they couldn’t and wouldn’t fix them. Another hour or two was spent getting a legal document explaining this in case we were challenged about it down the road.

    their first outside meal the boys ate everything within reach...then got picky in kiev

    By the time we left, it was clear that we were quite pressed for time. We had so wanted to have adequate time for a good-bye party for the group! On the way to get the boys we stopped and bought two ice cream cakes & bottles of orange soda for the children. Sadly, we had to just leave it there for the others to have after we whisked Dima & Victor away. We changed them into new clothes we had bought in the market, took a few pictures as they kissed their friends good-bye, & off we went to eat, check out of the hotel, and catch the train.

    That was quite a trip…

    Back to Kiev

    After completing the adoption in the orphanage city (where most of the trip is spent), families travel back to Kiev (with their children!) to process more paperwork prior to leaving Ukraine. We traveled back to Kiev 17 hours by train arriving on 10/27. That is not a trip we would care to repeat, and in hindsight it may have been worth it to fly. Thank the Lord we had Maxim with us! The boys were very wired, and would not behave for us at all…but would somewhat listen to Maxim. the boys with our traveling facilitator maxim. we would have been dead meat on the train without him!If he left the compartment for even a moment, they would jump up and start playing with light switches or anything. We also learned that Dima was a bed wetter, and luckily had some pull-ups along just in case. He didn’t wet the bed, might have to sleep to accomplish that, but had to go “pistatty” approximately every twenty minutes. In a way we expected things to be rough with the boys initially, but also half expected a “honeymoon” period. Didn’t get one.

    By morning we were exhausted and very anxious to get into a “home” environment. Unfortunately the Sense guest flat was occupied, so it was back to the Bratislava. The train stopped just outside the station in Kiev for what seemed like an eternity…apparently waiting for direction. By this time we were also very hungry and HOT. The heating coal had been issued to the trains and it was roasting. To top it off, Coleen was feeling very sick and could barely talk with her sore throat. We only had winter clothes for the boys, so they were quite uncomfortable as well.

    it's time to eat! pora yestWhat a joy it was to see Lena again as we got off the train! Maxim posed for a picture with the boys, then was off to his own residence, while we loaded the rest of our crew into a taxi. I remember wondering what we would do without him. Then we caught sight of McDonalds across the street from the train station…good idea!
    Lena and Chris ran over to get something to take back to the hotel. Lena got us checked in smoothly, and we had a large room with living area, fridge, etc. The boys enjoyed french fries, but wouldn’t touch the McChicken sandwiches. When Lena came by a little later they told her “It has no taste!” Who are we to argue? Whatever, we’ll eat them. Maxim also came by for a last goodbye as he was taking a few days off before his next family. The rest of the day we were on our own to start becoming a family. Make no mistake, it’s the roughest period prior to teens.

    There were plenty of places to eat nearby, and we did venture out to the Green Café once. Mostly though we wanted to settle down and/or in as much as possible. We shopped for meals and brought/made stuff up in the room to avoid dealing with the “wild men” in public. One day Lena was able to spend a few hours with us shopping at the department store next door, and we enjoyed lunch there as well.

    it's bedtime! pora spat
    Soon enough Monday rolled around, and we were off to the medical center and embassy. Once at the embassy though, we realized we had forgotten the passport photos and were at a loss as to how to contact Lena. After Chris wandered around outside in the rain for a while, the clerk told him she had called Lena and she was on her way with the photos. Next we bought our tickets to Warsaw, and were dropped off at an italian pizza restaurant for lunch. Of course the boys wouldn’t eat that either, and acted up there, so we were fairly exasperated when we got back to the Sense office. With our hands so full, we totally forgot about visiting the AC to show off our boys and give our gifts. The next morning we loaded up with the same family we had gone to the AC with, and headed off to Warsaw. Thanks Sense Staff – we love you!

    Off to Warsaw

    The U.S. embassy in Warsaw Poland is responsible for issuing entry visas for all Ukrainians, which includes children being adopted. For them to legally enter the U.S.A. they must have an entry visa, then upon entry they become U.S. citizens in accordance with the recently passed citizenship act. We arrived in Warsaw on 10/30, and successfully obtained the Visas by 12:30pm on 10/31, then departed for home the next day. The city was very pleasant, much more european, and we enjoyed the access to American fast food like KFC. We met several wonderful families at the embassy, from all over easter europe, and it was awesome to see how the Lord works bringing families together. While there, we were able to make a few phone calls and charge them to the room. We talked to Diane at Sense a couple of times, and she helped us contact our travel agent to ensure we could move our flight up a day. Chris ventured off to the airport the day before our departure to try & get seat assignments, but LOT claimed they couldn’t do that. Fortunately it didn’t really matter as the flight to Zurich wasn’t full, and we were able to secure the coveted bulkhead seats on the flight to Dulles.

    Home at last!

    ahhhh, home at last!
    Poor Victor got air sick on the flight to Zurich, as we were in a holding pattern circling for about an hour. He had eaten very well on the plane, but both containers of yogurt were launched with the rest of his “cookies”. It was a real surprise to us, as they both did so well on the flight from Kiev to Warsaw. In Zurich we gave them both kiddie Dramamine to be safe, and Coleen watched them play while Chris shopped a bit for treats to take home. Unfortunately the big play center they have at Zurich airport was closed, but we found a smaller one near our gate. Coleen was very happy to see Chris get back, as the boys were quite a handful alone. The last leg of the trip was fairly pleasant, even if there was little sleep to be had. The boys had been sleeping for just less than an hour when the captain announced turbulence ahead, and woke them up again. We had plenty of toys & things to occupy them, and the personal video screens were cool too. Dima really like listening to the different music channels, while Victor watched cartoons.

    what an awesome way to be welcomed home!Could it be? We arrived home the evening of 11/1. Happy Birthday Grandpa Rengert!
    Little did we know it, but Grandpa Rengert was in the same terminal (returning from a business trip), at the same time we arrived. If only either of us had known!

    Fortunately Customs and Immigration didn’t take too long once we got into the terminal at Dulles. When we saw all the people in the waiting area for immigration, our hearts sunk, but we were called up before the stickers ran out…Praise the Lord! Our dear friend from church Cynthia and son Jonathan met us at the baggage claim with fancy USA balloons for the boys, which they loved! Both managed to doze off on the 45 minute drive home…after all, they’d gotten up twenty hours ago.

    Once home we were greeted by a welcoming party from our church, and what a tremendous blessing it was! Oh, to be home again and be able to share the raw emotion with so many dear friends. The boys were given balls, and Dima let go of his balloon to grab his, then pleaded with Papa to get it back. At least we think that’s what he was saying…he may have just been excited to see it fly away!

    well boys, this is your new homethe boys!!The group stayed for about an hour or so, and a few dear ladies washed up the dishes from the snacks that were brought. The boys seemed intimidated by all the ruckus, and didn’t eat much (which was becoming common for them). There were many children at the house, playing with our dogs and upstairs in the bonus room. Papa tried to get Dima & Victor to jump on the old mattress up there with the other kids, but they didn’t really want to play. That is, they didn’t want to play until everyone left – then look out buddy!

    Eventually, we did all get to sleep, though it was probably over a month before we felt caught up. We arrived home on a Thursday evening, and could hardly wait until Sunday to take the boys to church and share our testimony. The Lord has truly blessed us, and to Him be the Glory!

    they didn't seem as heavy then as they do now!That’s the story, and we hope that you enjoyed it. I wish would could adequately express our joy and gratitude. As an epilogue, the Lord obviously has a mighty plan for our boys, and is using their boundless joy and vigor to spark interest in others regarding adoption/international adoption. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the children still in Ukraine, and other countries, that don’t have Mommies & Daddies yet. As well, we pray that the Lord might provide the leading for us to embark on another adoption journey ourselves. After all, the boys have been talking about having a sister…and that’s another story.