It's a moment that Kendra Skaggs dreamed about, even as the dream faded.
"My hope gets less and less every day," she told RFE/RL
in early January.
Then, Skaggs and her husband, Jason, were still reeling from the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a ban on all U.S. adoptions, effective January 1. The legislation was part of the Kremlin's furious response to U.S. sanctions enacted in December
on Russian officials linked to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other alleged human rights abuses.
The Skaggs were among several dozen U.S. families who were arguably hit hardest. When the ban took effect, each of those families had already seen their children-to-be twice in Russia and were in the final 30-day waiting period required before bringing them home.
Today, Kendra is still reeling, but this time from a kinder twist of fate. Polina, a 5-year-old orphan from Moscow who was born with spina bifida and a clubfoot, is now known as Polly. She's in the United States and is a member of the Skaggs family.
"[When the plane touched down] we told her that it was America and she started clapping her hands and saying, 'America! America!'" Skaggs says. "That was really neat because in the apartment we were staying in in Moscow, she was sitting in the windowsill watching the Moscow traffic, and she said, 'I bet I'm not really going to America. I bet I'm going to the hospital,' because that's the only place she had ever been outside the orphanage. And so it was really a relief to see her knowing and understanding that yes, baby girl, we are taking you to America and we're here now."
Allowed To Leave
In the last two weeks, Russia has quietly allowed some pending U.S. adoptions to go through, despite the ban. A statement posted on the Russian Supreme Court's website on January 22 said all U.S. adoptions that had been approved by Russian courts before the ban took effect were eligible to be completed. The clarification came after conflicting public statements by Russian officials about the fate of final-stage adoptions.
Now, the first of those adopted children have arrived in their new homes.
A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed to RFE/RL that "several adoptions have been finalized under Russian law. The embassy in Moscow has processed the applications of these adopting parents."
The spokesman said the embassy "will continue processing those cases that are approved by Russian courts."
Skaggs, a 33-year-old special education teacher from Arkansas, flew with her husband to Russia in late January after hearing of another family who had successfully brought their child back. Still, there were stories that some regional courts were refusing to allow the adoptions through, Skaggs says.
In Moscow, a Russian television crew followed her and pigtailed Polina from the orphanage to the airport, even capturing Skaggs practicing counting
in English with her new daughter.
A local television station captured their arrival
in the United States on February 2.
Only then, Skaggs said, did she finally have a chance to begin processing what had happened.
"That night, I just lay in bed and bawled my eyes out," she says. "It was just a release of all those emotions that had built up and relief for having [Polly] home."
More To Fight For
Kim Summers, 49, and her husband, who live in New Jersey, were also among the U.S. families who were just days away from picking up their child when Putin signed the ban.
Under a pseudonym, she previously told RFE/RL
that she would travel to Russia's Kaluga region anyhow, vowing not to return to the United States without her son. She was already there when the Supreme Court made its clarification.
The local authorities gave Summers the necessary documents, but she still needed to get a passport for 22-month-old Stanislav, who is now known as Preston.
"There, we hit a brick wall," Summers says. "The woman at the passport office took a look at my husband's passport and said to the [adoption] facilitator, 'They're Americans. What about the ban?' And the facilitator said, "No, no, they have their decree. It was before. It's OK. You can do the passport.' She was not going to do the passport. She said she had to check it out and said we should come back the next day. We went back to the hotel and just sat and prayed and didn't sleep all night."
Eventually, passport in hand, Summers went to Moscow, where she says she was joined at the U.S. Embassy by 15 other adoptive families. She says she met with Ambassador Michael McFaul before heading to the airport on January 20.
Both Summers and Skaggs say that although their adoptions are complete, their missions are not. They say they will continue to fight for the hundreds of U.S. families who were at earlier stages in the adoption process when the ban took effect -- and for the more than 700,000 Russian orphans they say have been made political collateral.
"When we left that baby house, there were eight other little children in his group that my husband and I would always visit with when we were visiting our son, whether it was just to touch their face, kiss their hand, take their picture -- we were their only voice," Summers says. "And, I mean, it brings tears to my eyes now to think that these children will never have a chance if this stays the way it is. It can't be. It just can't be."