American couple who beat the ban: '99.8 per cent of these kids would have a better life here than Russia'

 

Washington

Measured by geography, history and culture they are the opposite ends of the earth: Birobidzhan, capital of that strange entity that is the Jewish autonomous oblast of Russia, close to the border with Chinese Manchuria – and the tree-shaded, well-groomed Virginia township of McLean. But now they are linked, in the persons of Alesia and Steven Allen. Aged 10 and almost nine respectively, they were once residents at an orphanage in the former. Now they are recently minted Americans, the adopted children of Larry and Helen Allen, residents of this affluent close-in suburb of Washington DC.

The young Allens are just two of the 748 Russian children adopted by Americans in 2012, and an even smaller statistical drop among the 60,000 who have come to the US since the end of the Soviet Union. After Moscow’s recent ban they may be among the last for a while.

Even before that drastic step, though, the process was becoming more complicated. My wife and I adopted our son, then aged three, from the Crimea (part of Ukraine but ethnically predominantly Russian) in 1993. The entire process, from a first approach to an agency here which specialises in international adoptions, to our return to Washington with our son Stas took about eight months. It involved a single trip: first to Simferopol where we met Stas and the legal adoption took place, then on to the American consulate in Moscow for the US entry visa.

Almost two decades later the Allens of McLean decided to adopt and, like us, chose to go down the international route. They first set eyes on Alesia and Steven in the agency’s summer 2011 programme, a kind of “meet and match” in which Russian children come to the US to stay with a host family, who may become their real family.

The children were sister and brother, and had been in the orphanage in Birobidzhan for two years. Their father had committed suicide, their mother became depressive and alcoholic, abandoning them repeatedly. Alesia and Steven were placed in the orphanage.

Even before the children had left to go home, Larry and Helen made up their minds to go ahead, and by December the paperwork was done. Then the bombshell news arrived from Russia. Alesia had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. At that point the Allens could have baled out. But, says Larry, “we never gave that a second thought, we had already made the emotional commitment. ”

Thus a new complication was added to the process: Alesia was receiving chemotherapy, and the Allens had to convince the Russians that they were capable of looking after a child with the disease. But the crisis may have been a blessing in disguise, shortening the process.

Even before the ban, most prospective parents were having to make two, if not three, visits to Russia, including a probation period – extended to 30 days at the end of 2011 – after the court had formalised an adoption. In 1993, we spent a total of $15,000 (£9,500) on the process, including fees, travel and other expenses. By 2012, an adoption from Russia was costing anything up to $50,000 (£32,000), increasingly out of reach for couples of limited means or who couldn’t take the time off from work.

However Alesia’s health meant things in her case had to move fast. Georgetown Hospital in Washington worked out a treatment programme. In March 2012 the Allens travelled to Birobidzhan to collect their new daughter and son. Two weeks later they were home. Alesia had already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy in Russia; five more awaited at Georgetown.

But at least they had beaten the ban. Larry Allen is saddened by it, but philosophical. “Laws passed on raw emotion happen everywhere, and tend to cause more problems than they purport to fix,” he says. “The impact of this one is on the lives of thousands of children, 99.8 per cent of whom would have a better life here than in Russia. For every story the Russians can show about some American parent leaving an adopted child locked in a car, we can show five or six that involve parents like us, nursing a sick child through cancer treatment.”

Today, Alesia’s cancer is in remission. “I don’t believe we’re out of the woods yet,” says Larry, “but we’re hopeful.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas