Lincoln Square woman’s adoption of Russian boy in limbo
BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org January 5, 2013 12:22AM
Suzy Koenig is trying to adopt a 3-year-old Russian boy and has toys in her office that are ready for him. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:37AM
Suzy Koenig has heard little 3-year-old Kirill call her “Momma!” after the two first met at an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia, a few weeks ago.
She felt his hugs.
And Koenig’s 8-year-old daughter, Liliya — whom Koenig adopted four years ago from the same Russian orphanage — has already picked out the colors — blue and green — for his bedroom in their home in the Lincoln Square neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side.
All that’s missing from their home is Kirill.
But now, Koenig’s adoption is in limbo, snared in the muck of international politics, and she’s desperate to bring home the little boy she calls her son.
She had spent three days with the boy, and left him with a keepsake: an album full of mother-and-son photos.
During her 4,500-mile trip back to Chicago, Koenig frequently glanced at a picture she has on her cellphone of the brown-eyed boy with big dimples.
But the bond they forged is in jeopardy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill last month banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans. It was a tit-for-tat measure following a new American law designed to punish human rights abuses in Russia.
Koenig and more than 200 other families in similar situations scattered across the country are searching for answers.
“I hope I can get my son,” she said. “But I have no idea. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The Pennsylvania-based adoption agency aiding Koenig is in the dark, too.
“Because Christmas in Russia falls on January 7th, everyone in government is on vacation until at least January 9th,” said an adoption worker in close contact with Koenig who spoke on condition of anonymity because — like several people contacted for this story — he fears upsetting Russian authorities.
“This is the main reason we can’t get any straight answers from the Russian government on what will happen to these families,” the worker said.
“I’m just telling Suzy to sit tight. The only thing we can do is try to apply some kind of political pressure on this side of the pond,” he said.
Koenig has called and sent notes to numerous politicians.
But her pleas have gone largely unanswered.
“I don’t know where to go, that’s the bottom line. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. Everyone’s on vacation, or has been too focused on the fiscal cliff,” she said.
The State Department, in an email, suggested she check for updates on their website, which on Thursday cited the Russian holiday season and posted this:
“The Department of State has no information on whether the Russian government intends to permit the completion of any pending adoptions.”
It’s been a gut wrenching few weeks for Koenig, a single parent and heath care consultant.
“I’ve already given Kirill his middle name, Jordan ... and my daughter chose the colors for his bedroom: blue and green.”
“Liliya is beside herself. She says ‘Why am I the one who was so fortunate?’ She feels terrible for him.”
“It’s disappointing these children are being brought into this and used as pawns,” Koenig said.
Most adoption agencies in the Chicago area stopped adopting from Russia in the last two years because the process has become too burdensome.
When factoring in the three required visits to Russia, each adoption can cost upward of $45,000.
But for Koenig, Russia is one of the few countries that will adopt to a single parent.
Less than 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans last year, down from a peak about six years ago of around 5,000 adoptions.
In Illinois, a fraction of the dozens of families who hoped to adopt from Russia a few years ago exists today.
Russian legislation has made the process more and more difficult. “People give up,” the adoption worker said.
Garrett Boehm, an attorney from Barrington, is not one of those people.
He and his wife, Heather, flew to Siberia in November to meet their daughter, Anna, who’s nearly 1 year old. “We brought her balloons, and she was transfixed on the red one and just kept smiling,” said Boehm.
Frustrated and seemingly stymied by the new Russian ban three years into the adoption process, the Boehms have dispatched a slew of desperate emails leading all the way up to the White House, but, like Koenig, have gotten no concrete answers.
“The children are certainly the innocent victims in this. Hopefully they will be removed from the calculus in the end — we are going to have to hope for the best,” he said.
The number of Russian children in need of a family is enormous.
“Basically right now there are 600,000 children without parental supervision in Russia, and there are only about 12,000 families in Russia who want to adopt,” the adoption worker said.
In contrast, the United States has about 400,000 children living without parents in a country more than twice as populous.
“If you look at stats on what becomes of those kids who aren’t adopted, it’s extremely bleak: suicide, criminal involvement and drug or alcohol abuse is extremely high,” the adoption worker said.
The timing of the Russian ban is ironic, because it effectively wipes out a bilateral agreement providing adoption safeguards between the two countries that went into effect Nov. 1.
Easing the political decision by Russian leaders was a negative tide of public opinion against U.S. adoptions following a series of isolated but highly publicized incidents, including a Tennessee mom who placed her 7-year-old adopted son unaccompanied on a flight back to Russia with a letter pinned inside his pocket explaining she could no longer cope with raising him.
The vast majority of adopted Russian children in this country, though, are thriving, authorities said.
Contributing: Kim Janssen