Marcia Rima of Nevada, Ia., said her family had a somber moment preparing for Christmas when they found a stocking they had bought for Eldar, a Russian boy they had planned to adopt.
The hope of Eldar seeing that stocking has all but disappeared. “I wish he knew we did not abandon him,” Rima said.
The Rimas, who were denied adoption rights in January, are now watching other Americans go through the same experience.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill on Friday banning Americans from adopting Russian children. The bill is generally thought of as a retaliation to U.S. legislation signed into law this month that denies entry into the United States to Russians who have been deemed human rights violators.
The Russian law is named after a Russian toddler, Dima Yakolev, who died after his adoptive American father left him in a parked car for nine hours in 2009. Russian officials said adoption of Russian children by Americans will stop Jan. 1.
Lowell Highby, also of Nevada, said the worst experience of his life occurred when his petition to adopt a Russian girl was denied in 2011, he said.
Highby said it breaks his heart to read stories from Russia because they are “so disconnected from reality.” He said the Russian government is using orphans as political pawns. “Why orphans should be punished is beyond me,” Highby said.
Highby adopted his son, Alex, in 2009 after meeting him through Camp Hope, a nonprofit organization that helps place adoptable Russian children with Iowa families.
Initially, Highby had signed up just to host a Russian child for a week. However, his plans changed after having spent time with Alex and the other Russian children. “I long wanted to adopt a child or children, and the dynamic of that week led me to believe that was the right thing to do,” Highby said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, the United States processed 962 Russian adoptions in 2011, making Russia the third-most-popular country for adoptions by Americans, behind China and Ethiopia. From 1999 to 2011, the United States processed 45,112 Russian adoptions.
Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said 52 Russian children who were in the process of being adopted by Americans will now remain in Russia, according to the Associated Press.
Highby knows well what it feels like to be close to adopting a child and then having that child be taken away.
In December 2010, he began trying to adopt a girl from Alex’s former orphanage. “I had to wait until summer of 2011 to get our court date,” Highby said. He and his son, Alex, traveled to Russia to visit the girl in July 2011.
“We had a few days with this girl from (Alex’s) orphanage, and we had the best time of our lives,” Highby said. “I could hardly believe the great relationship they had. We were all looking forward to being a family here in the U.S.”
But on July 25, 2011, a judge denied Highby’s adoption petition. “I was devastated. The kids were devastated,” Highby said. “She even had to go see a doctor because she was so stricken.”
Highby said he and Alex both love Russia and many people they met there. But he said he wishes some “cooler heads” would prevail in the Russian government.
“I just wish President Putin would see the light and see the need for allowing these adoptions to go forward,” Highby said. “We just hope he will change his mind and work through this for the benefit of the children.”
The Rimas — Marcia, her husband, Neil, and their son, Ben — were notified that there was no hope for them to adopt Eldar, a boy they had hosted for a week in 2011 through Camp Hope. They were told the children who were part of Camp Hope were no longer able to be adopted by Americans.
Rima said it has been difficult not being able to contact Eldar to let him know what happened and why they did not adopt him. She said she wants the children who were part of Camp Hope to know they were not abandoned.
“We do not know what (the Russian children) think happened. Some of them must have thought they were going to be adopted,” Rima said. “The fact no one came to adopt them ... I feel very sad about that.”