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Russian Orphan Thrust Into Spotlight By Adoption Ban

  • Claire Bigg

Russian teenager Maksim Kargapoltsev (center) with Mil (right) and Diana Wallen, the U.S. couple who want to adopt him.

Russian teenager Maksim Kargapoltsev (center) with Mil (right) and Diana Wallen, the U.S. couple who want to adopt him.

Last week, Maksim Kargapoltsev was just an ordinary boy growing up in an orphanage in the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, some 1,500 kilometers east of Moscow.

Today, his heartrending story is making headlines in Russia and beyond.

Maksim, 14, has been in the spotlight since reporters in Chelyabinsk incorrectly reported on January 9 that he had written a letter to President Vladimir Putin pleading that he be allowed to join his new family in the United States.

The teenager was close to being adopted by a U.S. couple when a Russian ban on adoptions by Americans took effect on New Year's Day, dashing his dreams of starting a new life in the United States.

His case highlights the uncertain fate of roughly 50 Russian orphans whose pending adoption in the United States was thrown into disarray by the ban.

On January 10, Maksim put on a brave face as he showed reporters photographs of Mil and Diana Wallen, the couple he already regards as his parents.

Maksim denied writing a letter to Putin, which he said would have been as pointless as writing to Father Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.

He said Mil and Diana Wallen had begun proceedings to adopt him a year ago but had run out of time before the ban, which prohibits U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children, came into force.

(WATCH: Mil and Diana Wallen talk about their desire to be together with Kargapoltsev)

Despite the new law, he insisted that he is determined to go and live with the Wallens.

"If it's no, then it's no," he said. "We'll keep fighting. I plan to finish school then enter a legal technical college. I'll grow up and somehow, I will go to live with them in the United States. If not now, then later."

The Wallens have been visiting the Chelyabinsk orphanage for more than a decade on missions for the United Methodist Church. They say they "fell in love" with Maksim, who was abandoned as a baby, and eventually decided to adopt him.

Prompt Russian Reaction

Russian officials have been quick to react to the case, often in ways intimating that Maksim's prospects in Russia are just as bright as in the United States.

The Chelyabinsk regional governor, Mikhail Yurevich, was shown on state television giving the boy a new phone, and distributing gifts to other orphans.

He said he would help Maksim, who is reported to have health issues, to get treatment in Israel.

Sergei Vainshtein, a member of parliament from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia who represents Chelyabinsk, also offered to take Maksim under his guardianship and provide him with a good education.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has also commented on the case.

In an interview with Russia's independent Dozhd TV late on January 10, he denied Maksim had ever written to the president but promised to investigate why the Wallens had been unable to adopt him.

Peskov also added to the confusion over the adoption ban, saying a separate Russia-U.S. adoption agreement will remain in force for another year.

But he maintained that only those Russian children whose adoption by U.S. families had been cleared by Russian courts before the ban will be allowed to leave.

"This agreement is in no way a mechanism that obliges Russia to give children for adoption," he said. "It regulates the regime for our children there, the monitoring regime.”

U.S. citizens have adopted more than 45,000 Russian children since 1999, including almost 1,000 last year.

More than 650,000 children are being raised by the Russian state. Many of them are not technically orphans but were abandoned by their parents or taken from dysfunctional homes.
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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


     

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