Russia Stealing Ukrainian Children

Yevhen Mezhevyi with his children

This has troubled me for some time. Today, I learned about this story in Vanity Fair. I have been troubled about what Russia is doing with the people of Ukraine for some time. Here’s the story LINK> “Dad, You Have to Come—Or We Will Be Adopted!”: One Ukrainian Family’s Harrowing Wartime Saga. The subtitle is “Three children survived the siege of Mariupol, forced relocation, their father’s horrific detainment, and their own exile—to Russia.” by Iryna Lopatina via The Reckoning Project.

Since Yevhen Mezhevyi (39 years old) was released from the Olenivka prison camp after a lengthy filtration process, he has been intensely focused on the lives and safety of his three kids. Their story is one of many tales of family separation, loss, trauma, and, in their case, relocation to another country. Since the end of June, the family has been living in one of the rooms of a small, rented apartment in Riga Latvia.

Back on April 7 2022, Russian allied soldiers came to the bunker where the Mezhevyis’ had been sheltering. They made it sound like it was a voluntary evacuation; but in fact, the four of them, along with a group of fellow displaced Mariupol residents, were being forced from the building. There the family was separated. The children were told that her father might not return for five to seven years. The children decided to initiate their own independent search.

The DPR military asked Yevhen about alleged links to the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian National Guard unit with roots in Mariupol. He was sent to Olenivka prison camp in eastern Ukraine. In July, an explosion in a room designated for Ukrainian POWs would killed more than 50 detainees, many of them from Azovstal, and injuring an estimated 130. By mid-May (at which point he had not seen his children for more than a month), Yevhen and other prisoners were assigned a new task. They were forced to begin preparing rooms for an estimated 2,700 people—captured members of the Ukrainian military who had left Azovstal.

In total, Yevhen Mezhevyi spent 45 days in the prison camp. On May 26, a security guard approached him and told him he was free to go. He made his way to the DOC to pick up his documents where he was told that his children’s birth certificates were the only documents missing. When he asked why, she answered, “Your children flew to the Moscow region today, five in the morning.” A week after his children’s arrival on Russian soil, they were finally allowed to receive a call from their father in Ukraine. They were relieved to be in contact with him for the first time in almost 60 days.

The children’s stay was due to end June 27, at which point they were scheduled to be brought back to Donetsk so that their father could pick them up. But then they were told he couldn’t pick them up and they would be taken to a foster home or shelter. His son said that it was better to go to an orphanage than a foster family. The son was able to call his dad and said to him “you have five days to come and pick us up, or we will be adopted!”

After receiving his son’s call, he felt he had to go to Russia immediately, find his kids, and bring them home. When he arrived where his children were being kept they asked him to tell them how everything happened, how and why the children ended up alone, and where their mother was (they were divorced and he had sole custody).

It took about half a day to do all the paperwork required for the children to be officially handed over. The Mezhevyis stayed in Moscow for a few more days with the volunteer who had hosted them. It soon became apparent that because of the fighting in Ukraine, repatriating to Mariupol was not an option. So they made plans to seek refuge for the foreseeable future in Latvia, which was taking in families displaced by the invasion. On June 22, they arrived by bus in the Latvian capital, Riga, where they have been living ever since.

Ukrainian authorities have confirmed the deportation or forced displacement of more than 7,000 children—5,100 of whose names have been submitted to international agencies in hopes that their representatives can begin to locate them in the Russian Federation or in temporarily occupied parts of Ukraine. Russian officials, meanwhile, have made reference to as many 2.8 million Ukrainian citizens, including over 440,000 children that have been transported to the Russian Federation, though the government has not provided certified lists with the names of the minors or details about their families and hometowns.

Mary Ellen Gambutti

Thanks to my friend Ande Stanley, a late discovery adoptee, who’s own effort in the cause she has titled LINK> The Adoption Files, I learned about this author, LINK> Mary Ellen Gambutti, today. In looking more closely at Ms Gambutti, I discovered this site LINK> Memoir Magazine, which I may look into submitting to some time in the near future. She has written several books and has a few blogs available on her author page at Amazon.

I Must Have Wandered is described as a memoir told through prose, and the letters, fragments, and photos of her infant relinquishment at birth in post-World War II South Carolina. Her adoptive parents were native New Yorkers, who happened to be stationed in the state at the time. Common in that time period – hers was a closed adoption. She reflects on the primal loss experienced by many adoptees. In her case, there were also the separations caused by a transient military lifestyle. The book includes her coming of age in the turbulent ’60s and the barriers to truth that many adoptees find, due to their sealed birth records. Add into the mix a culture of secrecy, which is often the adoption experience. Just as often, adoption includes a hefty dose of religious fervor. It is sadly a common enough story but universal in adoptionland and yet always highlighted by individual details. Like many adoptees, this woman’s genetic heritage was obliterated by her adoption, and then similarly to my own roots discovery journey, her quest for identity includes some degree of reunion. 

Gambutti also wrote a book of essays titled Permanent Home. One reviewer wrote that this book blends early childhood memories into what reads like a vision or a dream. Detailed is the trauma and loss many adoptees realize when they learn the circumstances that surrounded their birth. Her search is not supported by her adoptive family and trigger warning – there is abuse. Never-the-less a reviewer says the book is not a downer but reality. Common to the experience of many adoptees is missing health history and not looking like anyone else in their family.

 

What To Do ?

Today’s question – A woman adopted 2 kids years ago and has raised them since they were very young. Now that they are older, some truth came out that the situation that caused the adoption wasn’t as bad as she had been led to believe.

1) She wants to know if there is a way for their birth certificates to revert back the originals? She thought she had to change them in order to adopt the kids. (This is a common misperception that adoptees are trying to change because it almost always matters to them.)

And/or

2) Can she help their birth mother regain custody so that she can finish raising her own children ? Or un-adopt them, is that even possible?

A complication is that the kids say they don’t want a relationship with their biological mother or even to meet her. The woman is not certain they are telling the truth. Maybe they don’t want to hurt her feelings?

Some responses –

1) She probably did need to change the birth certificate to adopt, that’s still the case in many jurisdictions. It’s why guardianship is often preferred, though what that means also varies from one jurisdiction to the next, sometimes it is viewed as not allowing for stability.

2) The first step is for the kids need to get to know their mother again. If they refuse, I’m not sure what she can do other than to gently encourage it and never speak poorly of their mother. If they get to that point, what comes next varies widely from one jurisdiction to the next.

The mother may be able to re-adopt her children. However, if the allegation was neglect or abuse determined by Child Protective Services, that may not be possible. Same with guardianship. She might be able to take guardianship of her children, or not, depending on the situation.

These options may fail. It may be possible for the adoptive mother to give the original mother a power of attorney, should the children move in with her, and/or unofficially she could share custody of them, just like some separated/divorced parents do.

The woman definitely needs to consult a lawyer, so that she can determine if the court might view her as a possible risk. This assumes that Child Protective Services removed the children from her care. If her Termination of Parental Rights was a private relinquishment (that would make all of the above FAR easier.)

Another possibility is an adult adoption, which could restore the information that was originally on their birth certificates (by again changing the documents to finalize an adoption). If these children are already teenagers, that makes this option easier, as long as they are in agreement.

And this is the most important point, from an adoptee – It’s very possible that they don’t want a relationship with their biological mother, if she hasn’t been in their lives. Listen to what they are saying. I would never have wanted to leave my adoptive family to go and live with my biological family. It would have felt like a complete rejection of the life I had lived. I wouldn’t want another name. I am the name I have been for a long time, not baby girl “x”. These kids need to be the ones leading. Everyone else needs to just sit back and listen.

Therapy. Individually. Let them heal their own traumas. Create a space that’s safe and secure enough that they know they can speak honestly about how they feel about their biological family.

Another adoptee admits that she wanted so badly to have a relationship with her biological family. “It was freaking awful. The worst.” It’s not always what the adoptee thinks it would be like, either way.

The most important thing is their healing and security. The rest will come, if that is the right direction. They don’t deserve to have the process of reintroduction rushed, if they say “no” for any reason. It should be their lead.

Understanding To Do Better

From a Foster/Adoptive Mother – though here is one adoptee’s comment – This must be satirical. You’re joking, right ?, you must be. You cannot really be this ignorant, while still “collecting” your trophies. Disgusting. So with that in mind, here goes –

I have one biological child. Friends of mine adopted 2 unrelated children at birth. When my friends passed away, I first took guardianship of their children (ages 14 & 11) and adopted them two years later. They are now adults and struggle with the many traumas of their childhood. My daughter’s first adoption was open and she has positive contact with her birth family. My son’s first adoption was closed. Upon reaching adulthood, he found another family to call his own and is pursuing adult adoption.

I am also a foster parent to babies age 0 to 2. I went into this thinking that I would provide love to a child in need, until they could return to their family. If a child is reunified but then comes back into care, they return to me. If they cannot be reunified with parents or extended family, or if they are placed with someone who has one of their siblings, there is always the option for them to make the choice to instead stay with me. No child who comes through my doors will ever lack for permanency.

Fostering is not all sunshine and light. Most of my placements were born addicted. Two children each came to me with multiple fractures (skull, arm, leg, ribs). I can more easily advocate for reunification with addicts in treatment than for physical abusers. I most recently adopted the infant placed with me at three days. The termination of parental rights was heartbreaking. Even so, I celebrated this adoption.

I know that adoption is not all happily ever after. I will continue to make the effort to better understand the harsher realities of adoption.

Personally, I think this is better than not trying at all. At the beginning of today’s blog – I indicated that some of the comments were not kind nor gentle. There is certainly more than a hint of saviorism. Here’s another one – you shouldn’t be allowed to care for anyone’s children. You are clearly toxic and think you own them and the right to decide the narratives of their lives. I’m so sad and so angry on behalf of the children who have to call someone “mom” who is so unwilling to honestly learn.

Guilty For Being Honest

AITA

I had to google the meaning when I came across this today. It is easy enough to find so I won’t repeat it.

The adoptee story today is about a transracial adoptee who has the unique physical characteristic of having blue eyes which is unexpected given her nationality. Her adoptive mother also has blue eyes and this causes some understandable misconceptions but she will always offer the explanation if it seems relevant.

It is amazing how often people see into other people what they want to see. My sons do not have my DNA and they know the whole story about how and why they don’t. We’ve often had strangers remark that one of my sons favors my husband and the other favors me but the truth is that they genuinely can and do favor their dad in some way or other but neither is a carbon copy of him. The funniest one I get when I am with my sons is about being their grandmother. Since I am ALSO a grandmother, that is what I answer, while correcting the misconception, saying that I AM their mother. I carried them in my womb, I nursed them at my breast and I have been here for them 24/7 all of their lives (they are now 18 and 21).

So this adoptee’s very young cousin said he wished he had his mom’s eye color like this adoptee got her adoptive mother’s eye color. She told him honestly that the woman who gave birth to her didn’t have that color of eyes either. That it was just a coincidence. Her cousin asked further questions and she answered honestly. That she had come from a different country and that is why she looks different from him and from her adoptive family. She explained that their DNA was different. He was young enough that after her explanation, he just went back to playing with his Legos because he was satisfied.

Later, her aunt (this cousin’s mother) expressed her disapproval to the adoptee. She said that the adoptee didn’t have to tell the boy that she was not her mother’s “real” daughter. The adoptee affirmed that she didn’t say it that way. The aunt was unhappy that the adoptee would admit to other people that her unusual eye color (blue) didn’t come from her adoptive mother. That separating herself that way from the rest of the family was hurtful to all of them.

This story reminds me of the Toni Morrison novel – The Bluest Eye – that I read (it is a very sad and disturbing story). This adoptee says that her adoptive father used to sing Elton John’s song Blue Eyes to her. The adoptee said AITA for saying I’m adopted ? I didn’t know this song until today.

Most Were Unnecessary

The fact is most adoptions are unnecessary.

Answers to the questions that statement raises. Babies are highly in demand and sought after. There are 40 waiting hopeful adoptive parents to every ONE expectant mother/baby. From a business sense it is purely Supply and Demand. This is why domestic infant costs so much. This is why some wait YEARS for a baby. These babies aren’t “in need.” They won’t age out of foster care. They won’t grow up with “nowhere to go.” Adopting these babies isn’t helping anyone except the adoptive parent. Domestic infant adoption is 100% selfish. Most of these adoptions are unnecessary. Most of these mothers relinquish their babies for FINANCIAL reasons. If they had more money/support/resources they would keep their child.

The woman who simply doesn’t want her baby is RARE. These babies don’t need to be adopted because they have a mom and family. The family needs support to stay together. Most newborns are placed bc of TEMPORARY situations. Adoption in the US is a major industry. There isn’t a shortage of children to adopt. There is a massive shortage of babies/toddlers to adopt.

There is definitely a false but virally advertised dichotomy between abortion and adoption. One does not prevent the other. Making abortion illegal, doesn’t mean you’ll get your baby. Forcing a poor woman to give birth so that a wealthy infertile woman can have a baby makes women into breeding stock. It further traumatizes poor families, poor communities and in the case of trans racial domestic infant adoption a recognized form of cultural genocide.

The majority of adoptions are Euro-ethnic INFANTS. Children under the age of 6 years old are the MOST likely to be adopted in the United States and most of those infants are adopted through private adoption (by which I mean not through the state agencies). Some actually place the number of people hoping to adopt vs the number of infants available for adoption as high as 100/1. Some of those people hoping to adopt may decide for whatever reason to adopt darker-skinned infants and a handful may choose to adopt an older child at a later time.

If an expectant mother seeks “help” from a Crisis Pregnancy Center, or calls an adoption agency, they will be pressured with coercive tactics such as guilt (“this family has been waiting so long! You’ll be the answer to their prayers! You’re so brave!”) or shame (“this family can provide two parents for your child. How can you give this child everything they need?). All to convince expectant parents to relinquish their child to the adoptive parents, at which point the money comes into the picture as the adoption agency receives a “finder’s fee” for that child.

This is honestly how the process works. I support financially supporting families so that they can remain together. This is known as family preservation. I will continue working to make the adoption of newborn infants less necessary.

Not Under But In

One of those platitudes that many adoptees totally hate. This is something insecure adoptive parents say to make themselves feel better.

Another one of those is this one – I was waiting for and hoping for a child for a long, long time and that when I saw my child I knew in that instant that this was the child I have been longing for. To which someone noted – what you just said is extremely gross, predatory and disgusting. Another said, your comment proves once again that whichever child is on offer would be the one that the adoptive parent longed for… and the solution to their sadness.

This one went on to note – We are interchangeable, all the horror we went through, losing our families, losing our names and heritage — it was all something we should be happy and grateful for — our hearts should be full because the adoptive parents got their wish for a child, we are their child as soon as they could lay claim to us.

An adoptee says – The other mottos I despise is that the child is part of God’s plan or a child that is born to a different mother, but was really meant for their adoptive parent. 

Just one last important note for today as I am short on time. From an adoptive mother – I have a seven year old who, although she clearly does love me very much, will still make comments occasionally like- you stole me from my mom, I miss my mom (prior to my fortunately finding her original mother), that’s not my real last name. She came up with these statements all on her own at SEVEN. All of that was before we found her original mother and built the relationship between them that they now have. She doesn’t know any other adoptees, so it isn’t like someone is telling her to have those feelings. So no matter what you think you are doing for your adopted child, they will still grow up to have the same feelings as so many adult adoptees often express. The sooner you, as an adoptive parent, accept this and deal with your own emotions around it, the better you will be able to help your adopted child.

Trust-Based Relational Intervention

I can’t vouch for this method – Trust-Based Relational Intervention – I’m only just learning about it. TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI uses Connecting Principles for attachment needs, Empowering Principles to address physical needs and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors.

A question I saw that I could easily have is whether TBRI is somehow religion based. The answer I saw said – TBRI is NOT a faith based approach but one that is solidly grounded in neuroscience and brain based research. It is an evidence-based, trauma-informed model of care for vulnerable children and youth with a theoretical foundation in attachment theory, developmental neuroscience, and developmental trauma.

Dr Karyn Purvis was the Rees-Jones Director and co-founder of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth Texas. She was a co-creator of Trust-Based Relational Intervention and the co-author of a best-selling book in the adoption genre, and a passionate and effective advocate for children. She coined the term “children from hard places” to describe the children she loved and served, those who have suffered trauma, abuse, neglect or other adverse conditions early in life. Her research-based philosophy for healing harmed children centered on earning trust and building deep emotional connections to anchor and empower them. On April 12, 2016, Dr. Karyn Purvis passed away at the age of 66.

TBRI involves three principles for working with kids from hard places – Connecting, Empowering, and Correcting. [1] The Connecting Principle asserts that the caregiver must first be mindful about themselves and what they bring to the interactions with their child. Any unresolved issues or triggers the caregiver might have could get in the way of them connecting with their child. [2] The Empowering Principle focuses on meeting the child’s basic needs for food and hydration, as well as meeting their sensory needs, to help the child regulate and to create an ideal environment for connecting and learning. The Empowering Principle also asserts that daily routines, rituals, and preparation for transitions are important to a child’s overall ability to regulate, as well as to build trust and connection with their caregiver. [3] The Correcting Principle aims to address a child’s behavioral issues in a positive way. Two important principles in the correcting component are proactive and responsive behavioral strategies. Proactive strategies focus on putting the child on the right path before they even have a chance step one foot onto the wrong path. Responsive strategies are used to mindfully react to a child’s inappropriate behavior. Two essential responsive strategies are to provide the child with choices and to encourage redo’s.

Giving Up The Ghost

Ghost Child photograph by Shirley Sirois

When I thought the book I’d write would be a memoir, I read Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel. I am reminded of that with her recent passing. It is the only book by her, and maybe not the best known, that I have read by that author. She was only a couple of years older than I am now.

The relevancy of acknowledging her passing now is that Mantel suffered from endometriosis, which went long undiagnosed and instead, her infertility was assumed to be caused by her suffering a bad case of female overambition. Infertility often leads to adoption. Mantel did not adopt but she did remain childless and channeled her creativity into 17 books including the one I read as well as Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession and Beyond Black. Her ghost was from an encounter in her youth as described in that book which I read.

In a 2003 New York Times review of the Mantel book I read – LINK> Unsuited to Everything By Inga Clendinnen – it is noted – One ordinary morning when she was seven, she encountered a terrifying something ”as high as a child of 2” manifesting in the rough grass beyond the new house. ”Within the space of a thought” it was inside her, ”a body inside my body,” and ”grace . . . runs out of my body like liquid from a corpse.” Mantel acknowledges that after this event, she was always more or less ”ashamed and afraid.”

The ghosts of the never born, those babies lost in miscarriage, or those that die in infancy often haunt women who have those experiences. It can even become an inherited trauma as in the story LINK> Mothering Ghost Babies by Kao Kalia Yang. Her grandmother lost a daughter at 7 months of age to a sudden unexplained death. Her own mother was silent in the wake of all the ghost babies she delivered into the world. Her mother had six miscarriages, all little boys, all formed enough so the adults could see that they were baby boys, but born far too small, and sometimes too blue, and other times too wet with blood to survive.

Similarly, Yang’s baby died inside of her at nineteen weeks. My own daughter lost her first conceived baby that way. Like my daughter, she had to deliver a dead baby into the world. She notes that she thought back to her grandmother’s story, and that she was her mother’s love of the babies whose share of love she had taken fully and gratefully. She says, My baby was more light than substance. He was silent, but he sang a song full of sorrow.

Sometimes, a woman must give up the “ghost” of the child she will never have. I do not believe adoption is the way to attempt to replace the child a woman would have had. It often fails the “replacement” child because they are not the child the woman really wanted. And the adoptee fails the adoptive mother’s expectations of what her child should be. Women like Hilary Mantel who simply accept remaining childless (even if it is not what they wanted) should be appreciated compassionately.

The Body Never Forgets

From a Birth Mother –

My baby girl turned 21 this year. It’s been another one of those weeks that I go through every year. There is a five day span before and after her birthday that lays me out. September 11th 2001, the actual day of the tragedy, happened only the day before I went into labor. I was 19 years old on the couch at my parents’ house. I had been crying for 12 hours because I felt like I was bringing my baby into a terrifying world and I didn’t feel like I was “enough” for her, alone without a partner. I woke up at 5:30’ish am on the 12th, went into labor and had her 24 hours later, on the 13th.

We signed relinquishment papers on the 14th, which was also her birth dad’s 21st birthday (quite a poignant year, this year, and that’s how old she is now plus she’s never met or talked to him). I signed surrender papers at the hospital in Georgia, he signed at the adoption agency office in California. The 15th was my leave-the-hospital-without-my-baby day. My arms empty, everyone looking at me being wheeled out of my hospital room with balloons and flowers but no baby in sight. It was like she had died. I had five days of trauma, on top of trauma, on top of trauma, compacted tight.

Without fail, every year since then, my body implodes on itself for those 5 days, and usually, by the 16th, like clockwork, I’m good.

Know this – the body never forgets. Even decades later. No matter what I do to prepare myself every year, I get annihilated physically, emotionally, mentally. My body will never let me forget those five days. I wrote this to her on her birthday.

Dear Wandering Wildflower,

You bloom wherever you blow
Cleansing the air around you
Seeking out the sun
Reveling in it
Dancing in the showers
Gaining strength from the chaos
Finding solace in the shade

There was more. She said it made her cry and was exactly what she needed to read, regarding where she’s at in her life right now. That was exactly what I needed to hear and it warmed my mama’s heart to no end. I wish things could have been different for her and I. My love for her is endless.