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July/August 2022Vol. 23, No. 6Child Advocate Speaks About Ukrainian Orphanage Experience and the Future for Orphans

Written by Ryan Young, at the invitation of Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

Many people worldwide are extending their humanitarian support and solidarity toward the unwarranted Russian war in Ukraine; however, the plight of Ukrainian orphans is often unintentionally overlooked. According to Save the Children, there are more than 100,000 orphan children living in 600 Ukrainian orphanages. The U.S. State Department recently declared a travel ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Ukraine due to the ongoing Russian war. As a result, many prospective adoptive parents hoping to adopt Ukrainian children are not able to proceed with the adoption process.

I was once an orphan who lived in a Ukrainian orphanage. Here's my story and the effects that the ongoing war in Ukraine can have on the safety of orphans.

I was born into a loving biological family that was circumstantially extremely poor. As a result, they had to cooperate with Ukrainian officials to remove my older birth brother and myself to be placed in a Ukrainian orphanage. After 7 years, a single, Argentinian American mother from the United States sought to adopt a child from Ukraine, and my time as a Ukrainian orphan was over. The adoption was finalized in May of 2008. Coinciding with the finalization of my adoption, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko changed Ukrainian international adoption laws to prevent single people from adopting Ukrainian orphans. My brother and I were the last Ukrainian orphans adopted by a single parent. I continue to be grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be adopted. After coming to the United States, I spent 5 years in a private boarding school and ended up in the foster care system in Arizona at the age of 16, later aging out of the system at 18. I could not imagine being an orphan in Ukraine right now, and I am hopeful they are safe and protected from this war's life-threatening harm. 

Many orphans in Ukraine rely on their government to preserve their safety, but how can a government do that when their top priorities revolve around restoring their peoples' freedoms and livelihood? There are current humanitarian efforts under way to ensure the orphans' safety, but I have to question how successful they will be if the Russian attacks continue to have a deadly effect in Ukraine. These orphan children shouldn't be in the midst of this war nor be put on the backburner. The Ukrainian orphans deserve safety, stability, and permanency above all, and our American foster care system has not been great at that. However, if we continue to focus on these priorities, all children can thrive even amidst deadly crises. Their lives are just as important as the rest of the people in Ukraine. I am hopeful that the Ukrainian government, along with humanitarian support, will fiercely continue to ensure their safety at such a challenging time like this.