Tears well up in her eyes as Kathy West looks at photos of a Russian orphanage where her adopted son lived for 18 months.
Matthew West, 5, now has loving parents, two sisters and a home with a large yard in Evans. What happened to two of his friends from the Moscow orphanage – seen in photos, clinging to Matthew and playing outside – is uncertain.
Were they adopted? Does hope remain they will ever leave the orphanage?
These are troubling questions for West, especially after a Russian ban on adoptions of Russian children by families in the U.S.
Browsing through photos on her laptop from the day she and her husband picked up Matthew in 2010, she remembered other children who were left behind.
“I prayed they got a home,” West said. “There were just so many of them.”
According to The Associated Press, a Kremlin spokesman said Thursday that the full ban, signed into law Dec. 28, cannot go into effect until 2014 because of a previous agreement between the two nations that requires 12 months’ notice before withdrawing. Adoptions already cleared by Russian courts will be allowed.
About 50 Russian children were preparing to join new families in the U.S. when the ban was passed, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many of them already had a court order allowing them to leave.
G.J. West, Matthew’s adoptive father, said he hopes the ban is temporary. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is making a political statement and eventually will lift the ban.
“It’s just so hard to have little children suffer because of political games,” he said.
The United Nations estimates 740,000 children are not in parental custody in Russia, while 18,000 Russians are waiting to adopt a child, The Associated Press reports.
The ban is thought to be part of a harsh response to a recent U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be violating human rights. In early December, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who exposed a $230 million tax fraud.
Evidence showed Magnitsky was denied medical treatment, tortured and died in jail in 2009. The law places financial and visa sanctions on officials connected to his arrest, imprisonment and death.
Russian lawmakers also said the ban was an effort to protect Russian children from possible mistreatment by U.S. families. In 2010, an incident involving a mother who sent her adopted Russian son back on a plane with a note saying he was misbehaving caught the attention of high-ranking officials.
Since 1992, more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by U.S. parents, according to the U.S. State Department.
David and Pat Dekle, of Martinez, adopted a 2-year-old boy named Judson, now 10, from St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2004. Like G.J. West, David Dekle said he trusts the U.S. government will make a move to reverse the ban.
“You have to feel bad for the children who are not going to have the opportunity to be brought into a loving home and are basically being sentenced to life without a family,” Dekle said.
Playing politics with children is cruel and unjustified, he said, before recalling the orphanage caretakers who urgently wanted children to find homes. The caretakers must be at least as frustrated as the U.S. families, Dekle said.
Kathy West said adopting Matthew was an easy and smooth process, something that more families won’t experience. Matthew – a blond, brown-eyed boy full of energy for playing football, riding bikes and aggravating his sisters – immediately called his adoptive parents Mama and Daddy after arriving in the U.S.
“It breaks my heart to know those families will not get their son or daughter because of politics,” she said.