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Ukraine Adoption Journal

The Weston Family

Today, Monday Feb 21st, Leeza Reanne Weston and Zhenya Ryan Weston officially were declared the children of Wade and Julia Weston. We didn't need the Ukrainian government to put it in writing for us though. We just needed to get the court decree so we can legally get our kids passports and bring them home.

The kids took a taxi to the courthouse with the orphanage lawyer and the education ministry inspector. Zhenya was dressed in a nice suit coat and pants. I was in my cargo pants. :) We had to wait for a while after our appointed time of 10:00am. It was almost exactly like the court experience we had with Sonya and Nikitta. It was the same court room. The same judge. The same people. The only thing different was that Zhenya and Leeza were there. The judge asked nicer questions this time. Most likely it was because the kids were there. She didn't ask me if I was going to die in Iraq soon, or anything like that. She had the kids answer some questions like, did they really want to go to America? And she asked them if they liked us. They didn't seem too nervous. They had been practicing saying their names for a week as the orphanage lawyer had them all worked up about potential questions.

After court we took some pictures with the judge. She is a big topic of conversation around our dinner table because of the way she just drilled us with strange questions with Sonya and Nikitta, so I was determined to get a picture with her. We try to describe her to people but pictures always do a better job. She had toned down her looks from two years ago. Her hair wasn't as Marge Simpsonesque as it was before. And she was much nicer this time around. At the end of the court hearing the orphanage lawyer was crying which kind of surprised us. People just don't show emotion here. But she has known Leeza and Zhenya since they were 5 and 3. Overall, it went better than we expected. But as our luck would have it, the computers had some problems and they couldn't get the court decree to print for the judge to sign so we had to sit in the lobby for an hour. Eventually, we just left and took a taxi to McDonalds with the plan for our translator to return later in the afternoon for the court decree. Another issue came to light as our translator was getting ready for the next step. Apparently, Zhenya has been registered with the Armed Forces in Ukraine, much like boys register for the draft in the US. Boys who are older and have been registered for military service cannot get passports for foreign travel unless they get a clearance from the military. I guess this is to cut down on boys fleeing the country to avoid the mandatory military service. So now we are really scared because we suddenly have thoughts of Zhenya being forced to enter the military for two years and not being able to get him out of the country. He is not a US citizen until he touches US soil. So right now he is Ukrainian. After some frantic checking and phone calls, our translator said we will have to fill out several forms and get them to the military and they will release him from his obligation so we can get passports made. The bad thing is that this is going to take about 6 hours tomorrow. Those are an extra 6 hours that we didn't plan on. We are also uncomfortable with the idea that we are now going to ask the military to release him from his obligation. The way things go here, who knows???
Our translator says there should be no problems. When we came to Ukraine, when we would express any concerns to our facilitator and translator, we kept hearing them say, "but you have a special case as you are adopting older children. You will have special privileges and your case will be much quicker than those seeking younger children." That has just not been the case. So we will see if Zhenya being older requires a couple extra years in the military here. No worries, we were promised that this is not a big deal. We just don't know what to expect anymore.
We went to McDonalds and ate lunch. McDonalds didn't feel right with the news about the clearance from the military as well as we were without Katya, so it was a little somber, when it should have been a fun celebration.
We took a taxi to the orphanage and waited a few minutes for Katya to come home from school. We had prepared Zhenya and Leeza that we needed to spend the entire afternoon with Katya alone as Mom and Dad needed some one on one time with her. They were very gracious about it. I think they realized that the court decree made this a done deal and they know they are coming home. They both understand how hard it is for us to leave Katya here.
We spent almost 2 hours with Katya. We explained in great detail exactly what happened with her paperwork and showed her the copy of the paperwork that was lost. We explained everything we had done to get her home this trip. She was fine with this and I think we realized that she is going to be much more patient than we are. We set up call times and explained to her how many people had been and are trying to help us get her home. The rest of the evening we spent with the girls groupa. All the girls pulled out their personal picture albums and we looked through them. Interestingly, most of the girls had copies of the same pictures. Most of the pictures were from summer camps they had gone to. These girls don't deserve to be in an institution. Even though this place is run very well and the kids are well taken care of, and we find it hard to figure out what it is they need, rather than want, they do need to know the love of a Mom and Dad or at least that someone out their cares about them. That is all they hope for and dream about every day. We went out to dinner on Saturday night with Irena and her husband. She has worked at the orphanage since the girls were little. She said that every girl there dreams of a family. She said that Leeza has been praying for us to come and adopt her since we adopted Sonya. She said that Sonya was the first girl ever adopted from their group, and although she was 10.5 at the time, it gave them all hope that some day they might get adopted. She begged us to show people the pictures of the girls. The stereotypes that people have about older kids in an institution are unfortunate. Someone said to me in passing once that they were considering adoption. At the time they said it to me they didn't know that we had adopted Sonya and Nikitta at the ages of 10 and 6. I asked them if they had considered adopting an older child. They looked at me funny and said that they wouldn't want to be killed in their sleep. This is what people, normal everyday people think. I'm sure there are people reading this right now that are shaking their heads thinking that we are crazy for adopting older kids. Kids are resilient. They are shaped by their experiences, but also by the challenges that they overcome. Half of the children in the world right now, over 1 billion of them, don't have either a roof over their heads, enough food to eat every day, access to clean drinking water, or are without both parents. I'm going to say one thing before I step off my soapbox.... How this world treats and cares for its children is in my humble opinion, a true reflection of where we stand as a civilization. Please don't take me wrong with this, we went into adoption because we wanted more children. We didn't do this because we felt like we had a responsibility to take care of children without parents. This is not an altruistic adoption story. They usually aren't. We wanted more children because having children in our home makes us happy. But in doing this, we have been exposed to needs that can be met. This is so hard, because this trip we are realizing that we can't keep coming back. Our house is going to soon be full. But we can best help those that we leave behind by being their advocates in some way and the amplifier of their cries for help.
We have the names and pictures and birthdays of the older children in the Slinko Street Orphanage in Kharkov Ukraine. If you would like to get to know one of these children for care packages, letters, birthdays and Christmas, we are going to start a care group to just simply provide the kids at this particular orphanage with a better life. We can put you in contact with one of the 24 older girls or 21 boys and you can write letters, send care packages and help them feel that they are cared for. And maybe starting small with letters and care packages for these kids will turn into something bigger for them like a family falling in love with them and possibly adopting them. Not all of these children are available for adoption, but we did get an opportunity to look through all of the books and we know which children at that orphanage were registered at the adoption center. We will send more out about this after we get home, but we have to do something as the kids that we have come to know and we are leaving behind deserve better and we know that people want to do things for kids in these situations, but they just need some way to connect with them, and hopefully we can help facilitate that as these kids are just amazing individuals and deserve better.

We may leave Kharkov with the kids tomorrow night on the train or we may be delayed one extra day here with Zhenyas military issue. We will let you know. Hopefully, the delay won't affect our leaving on Friday. In any event, Julia is most likely going to fly home with us or without us as she needs to get back to work. This has us more stressed out than whether Zhenya's military issue will get resolved timely. It's never easy... but it is worth it!

Wade and Julia


Sent Wednesday Feb 23rd
Well, the last few days were an amazing ride. Because of Zhenya's age, there
are many issues. Most of the issues were because of the rare circumstances we found ourselves in that our translator and government officials had never dealt with someone Zhenyas age being adopted. I will write more details once we are home, but here is the somewhat short version of the story.

We had a tight timeline to get everything done in Kharkov. Once we had a court decree signed on Monday, making the kids ours legally in Ukraine, we had to get original birth certificates with their new names, and then use the birth certificates to get international travel passports. We would then rush to Kiev
to fly out Friday morning.

Zhenya had an in-country passport (not an international travel passport) that he had made when he was 16 and was registered for military service like all boys
are in Ukraine when they reach a certain age. Keep this in mind. So, we went to the birth certificate place, and got new birth certificates with few
problems. We then went to get the passports made. We were told when we arrived that because Zhenya was registered with the military, he would have to get a letter from them releasing him. Also, he would have to get a notarized letter made that said he was not opposed to coming to America with his mom and dad. We thought this wasn't too big of a deal, but we were running out of time for extras as we had train tickets for that night (Tuesday) for Kiev. We made some calls and our translator was able to get the military issue taken care of without a visit to the military office. His in-country passport was stamped
saying that he was released at the passport office. The only thing left was a
simple visit to the notary to get a letter drafted and signed for his release to
come to America. We sat down with the notary and she drafted the letter and
then looked at his passport. She said that there was a problem. The in-country passport had his old name on it and the letter had his new name. The letter had to be in his new name, so the only thing we could do was to get a new passport.
So it was late, we missed the train and we had to start again the next day to
get a passport. We show up at the passport office. The official looks over the paperwork and then says that he cannot issue a new passport. Because he is no longer an orphan due to the court decree, he is not registered. Being
registered in Ukraine means that you have a physical address that is registered
as your domicile. He would not issue a new passport without the registration.
Registration can take months because everyone in the place he lives has to sign notarized documents that they are not opposed to that person being registered
there. Zhenya's old passport became invalid with the name change on the birth certificate. So now, he was a Ukrainian citizen, adopted by Americans, no
longer an orphan, with no place in Ukraine to be registered to, and stuck in no
mans land without the ability to get a passport. To tell you how serious this
was would not due it justice. Our translator was brainstorming ideas with us
like he could live with her and her husband for three months until he could be
registered, and then we could come back and pick him up. It was very serious.
We decided to go to the original passport office that issues the international
versions and basically tell them they created a catch 22 and that Zhenya was
basically in no mans land. We went back to that office and we were finally able to speak to a high ranking official that said she would instruct the passport office to create a new passport. We were able to get the passports done today.
That is definitely the short version. I will add things later about how the
power at the passport office went out and how we were there at closing time and our translator had to get a copy of a document made and ran out the door telling us not to let anyone leave for home until she got back. Julia and I sat in
front of the door and tried to be as American as possible so people would not
leave because they didn't know how to get rid of us from their doorway. The
power went out so we were signing the paperwork by candlelight. I had an idea to use my video camera light and just for kicks I recorded the event for fun.
I don't have time right now, but I promise I will fill in the details. A book
could be written on the crazy events of the last two days. It all worked out.
We finished the final international passports, confirmed our flights and caught
a train to Kiev this evening. Right now I am in an internet cafe in Kiev. We
have doctors appointments for the kids in the morning and then we see the US
embassy for visas in the afternoon and then we fly home Friday morning and
arrive home Saturday night. (lots of layovers and plane changes on the way.)

Now to the sad part.....
We said our goodbyes at the orphanage on Tuesday night and took Zhenya and Leeza to our apartment that night. We spent most of Tuesday with Katya. She knows we are coming back, and we will not let her forget. There were lots of tears. We spent many hours with the girls and boys groupa in the past 23 days. We basically just had a two hour cry fest. Julia and I kept saying that if we had a hotel we could buy, and a lottery to be won, we could move this whole groupa to America and we would take every single one of them. They are truly amazing kids. We wish everyone could meet them. They wouldn't be there for very long if people had a chance to talk with them for a couple of hours. They would all find families. They yanked our hearts out and we have no doubt they would do the same to anyone. We love all those kids so much. Please, if you are even considering adoption, come over, meet our kids and watch our videos and ask us anything you want about the specifics of these kids. We have lots of pictures and information about all of them.

Well, this will have to be our final update from Ukraine as we are so busy in
Kiev for the next 27hours before our flight. On Sunday, I will update more and once I have access to my high speed internet I will post dozens of pictures and more details on some of our experiences on our website. Thank you all for taking this journey with us. We can't wait for everyone to meet Zhenya, Leeza and Katya.

With Love,

The Weston Family - Eight of us....


Sent Saturday Feb 26

Well, we are still in Kiev. We had planned to take a flight out on Friday, but we got word there was a problem with our tickets late Thursday, which we were unable to rectify prior to the flight leaving. We had to change our flight to Monday morning. We arrive Monday night at 10:48pm on Delta from Atlanta. Our email stopped working. Thank Comcast for that, so we have been unable to get or receive email for several days. This trip has been just the opposite from our first trip. Absolutely nothing went wrong the first time around. The second time around, anything that could go wrong, did. But, had it been the other way around, we probably would not have come back the second time and if we had not, we would be short about three kids. So, it all works out in the end. Leeza and Zhenya are bouncing of the walls here. We are staying in downtown Kiev. We are enjoying the down time with them. They are full of life and keep us laughing. We are excited for everyone to meet them. We text message Katya on her cell phone about 10 times per day. We miss her badly already, and it has only been 3 days. This delay in getting home really puts a squeeze on us as Wade is expected back on the 1st, which means straight to work, do not pass go, don't fall asleep driving to work, get off the plane, stop for breakfast at home, say hello to kids, go to work. Julia returns the 3rd, so getting the kids in school is going to have to be done really quickly.

We will post additional updates on the website once we get home and finally have access to our high speed internet connection, rather than the 128k max we have in Ukraine. Until Monday night....

Wade and Julia
Sent Sunday, March 6th

I promised some updates with lots of pictures once we got home, but finding the time has been hard. The pictures will be posted on our website within a few days. We are back to work and trying to get over our jet lag. That has been difficult to do.

When we arrived in Newark on Monday afternoon, there was a huge storm. Our flight to Atlanta had been cancelled. They put us on an earlier flight to Atlanta that had not left yet. It was delayed once again and this put our connection in Atlanta in jeopardy. When we arrived in Atlanta, we ran off the plane and found the board to find our connecting flight. The board said the flight was closed. We decided to run and see if we could catch it anyway. We ran down the terminal and as we approached the attendant asked if we were the Westons. They had held the plane for us as we already had boarding passes and they looked up our connection and found our plane had landed. So it took about six weeks for luck to go our way. This was the first thing that went our way the entire trip. Despite all the setbacks on this trip, the end result was a good one. We brought Leeza and Zhenya home. How that happened with all the problems we hit is unbelievable to us.

The flight from Atlanta to Denver was empty and we all sprawled out on three seats each and fell asleep. Grandma and Grandpa Weston were at the airport along with Great Grandma Myrtle, Wade's grandma. Bret and Trisha Herrod were also there with their children, Lia and Mindy, as well as our good friends Kris and Clarke Stoesz with their children Amanda, Alex and Natalie. Natalie was adopted from Ukraine at the same time Sonya and Nikitta were. We visited with everyone for awhile. It felt good to see familiar faces and to be in Denver.

Leeza and Zhenya were so excited to finally be in Denver. The only real hitch on the trip home was the immigration people in Newark. Four male immigration agents took Leeza into a back room to be fingerprinted. Our objections to this were not heeded. They returned when they realized that she could not speak English. They then allowed one of us back there to translate, obviously because after six weeks in Ukraine we just ooze Russian. We just thought it was very inappropriate for four very intimidating male immigration officers to take a 15 year girl into a room alone and not allow their parents to accompany her. They then said she would get her green card in about six months. When I heard that I thought for sure they had not understood how to process her paperwork. I told them that she was an American Citizen once she touched the ground in America. I asked them to double check and make sure they processed her correctly. They put the right stamps no her passport. We think they just misunderstood the law. So despite what they said, we know better, Leeza and Zhenya are both American Citizens by virtue of a law passed during the Clinton years that states that foreign adopted children, whose parents are citizens, become citizens upon entering the United States if they enter with an IR3 Immigrant Visa.

Anyway, we made it home. We have done some extensive shopping with the kids. We have also registered them in school. Zhenya's transcripts worked great. The school counselor said that basically he is done with everything in high school except his English. He has three English classes and the rest are electives. She was astounded at his transcripts and thought it was amazing he had taken physics in eight grade. His English classes are also English Second Language, so he is graded on his progress, and not by grade level. So basically, his hard work in Ukraine will pay off here. He just needs to enjoy school and learn English. Once he is proficient enough in English he can also start taking AP classes to earn college credit in the subjects he knows well like Math, etc. Zhenya's ESL teacher that he has for three English classes every day is also the soccer coach, so Zhenya is pretty happy about that.

Leeza was much more difficult to get enrolled. We wanted to put her in 8th grade. Our thinking there is that 9th grade counts. Any grade received in 9th will show up on transcripts. We did not want to insert her into 9th grade in the middle of the semester with little English skills. We figured that finishing the 8th grade, along with the summer, would give her more time to prepare for high school. Also, we knew that she would need 4 years of credits. So she would most likely repeat the 9th grade if she entered it now, at the latter part of the year. We decided we should put her with the kids she would be graduating with. Well, the middle school didn't like that idea. The principal didn't want her in 8th grade because of her age. We pushed it and after a conference with the principal, school counselor, ESL teacher, school social worker, and school psychologist, they finally relented. But they only did it because we told them that we would take it to the top if we had to, because we knew this was the best thing for her. What is it with school administrators that seem to know better than the parents what is best for the child?

Grandma Weston and Great Grandma Weston left on Thursday evening. It was a sad goodbye as they had spent 6 weeks taking care of the kids. Grandma did an amazing job. Getting the kids to all their after school activities is very difficult as many things like Nikitta's wrestling and the girls swimming overlap. Grandma also did so much one on one work with Nikitta's reading that we were astounded at how well he could read when we got home. We kind of wish we could have them just stay permanently. But they had to go home as grandpa Weston was feeling very lonely back home. We are so grateful for their help. We could not have pulled this off if it weren't for them. The kids loved having them and we felt so comfortable while we were in Ukraine that they were being well taken care of.

Leeza starts swimming with Alex and Sonya on Monday. We weren't going to have her do it, but she watched them practice on Thursday and asked if she could swim too. Zhenya and Nikitta are so good for each other. They have spent many hours kicking soccer balls around and playing basketball. Zhenya has also been introduced to XBOX by Nikitta.

We are now settled. Things are going well and the kids are really having fun. But being as old as they are has unique challenges. They are very set in their ways. Food is difficult. American food is not too popular with them. The language issues seem to frustrate them a little. Suddenly not being able to communicate basic things at times is very difficult. They are survivors and they will work through it. They don't just have to learn English. They have to master it and that will not be easy. Russian and English are very different languages. We will all just take it one day at a time. We will write another update after their first week of school.
The pictures we will post in the next few days should tell the story better than these updates can.

Our letter writing to Katya has begun in earnest. If you would like to write her, we will post her address on our website.

Love,

The Weston Family
Posted March 10, 2005

Hi everyone!

Things are going so well now that we are home with Leeza and Zhenya. They love school and think it is so casual and fun!

We have talked on the phone with Katya several times. Wade found a way to send text messages to her cell phone over the internet and she can respond to us. We are very excited to be able to communicate with her real time. Every word from her is precious to us during this waiting period.

These are a few of her message back to us:
from Katya: I so happy can sendd message to you too! Say to my family hallo! I don't want sleep and want write messages to you! papa i love youù
from Katya: I want be with you soon...i miss you! I no go to school now.I love you papa
from Katya: in Ukraine is morning !loves katya!mama i miss you veri mucha
Katya's address is on the Main Page of the website. It is written in Ukrainian. If you want to send her something, print it out, then tape it to an envelope.

You can type a letter at this web site and the translation is free. It is not a perfect translation, but it is understandable. Specify English to Russian. Please send the Russian and English versions to help her understand it better.
www.freetranslation.com

If you send just a letter and couple of pictures (under 1 oz) it is 80 cents for airmail. If you send anything more, you have to fill out a customs declaration at the post office.

She would love to hear from you.

Much Love,
Julia

Posted March 11, 2005

We have now been home for 10 days. Leeza and Zhenya both tried swimming with Alex and Sonya. Leeza loves it. She is a bit of a water spaz, but she will catch on quickly. Zhenya is a great swimmer. His freestyle is very powerful and he has good technique. He will need lots of work on the other strokes, but he has really enjoyed it. He loves playing basketball too. I took him to one of my games and they let him play with us. He loved it. He did great, although he was a little intimidated by all the old fat guys. On Wednesday night I took him to the young men's program at the church and as soon as he walked in all the kids mobbed him and told him they were really happy he was there. He also got to play basketball with his buddies there for an hour. He is having a hard time understanding that there is a basketball court in the church. It is a little different in Ukraine.

The kids have really enjoyed going to church. Leeza was very religious to begin with. She prayed every night in the orphanage and had some cards with pictures of Russian Orthodox Saints on them that she kept by her bed. She also has a Russian Bible that she received at a summer camp. Zhenya is a little less intense, but they both consider themselves Christian. They told us they couldn't believe how casual church was. Their experience with church consisted of summer camps run by Christian groups and an occasional holiday Mass at the local Orthodox church. Zhenya said church in Ukraine is very cold and intense. They have to wear special hats. Zhenya commented that he really liked church in America because the adults were so nice. He said they are good people. He says that in Ukraine, most adults just yell at kids.
We also got a number of comments on the school system. They can't believe how relaxed it is. The first thing they noticed were students sitting on the floor eating their lunches. Also, the dress code was a little surprising to them. And they can't believe they can eat and drink in class. Zhenya also laughed because during one class the teacher said it was ok for the kids to sleep. Isn't it surprising that he also commented that Leeza's 8th grade math was 3rd grade level in Ukraine. I wonder if there is any correlation?

Leeza had a little trouble one day at school because the person that was supposed to escort her to her next class either didn't show or told her wrong, so she was lost. She ended up wandering frantically around and eventually found her way to the office and someone from her class came and got her, but it was a little traumatic for her.

Things are going well. Leeza and Zhenya are just amazing kids. Very loving, well mannered, funny, happy and full of life as well as grateful and humble. Which seems very typical of most of their friends they left behind in the orphanage.

This weekend we are planning to take a drive through downtown Denver and then up the canyon to see the mountains. We are also going to see a movie.

More to come....

Pages 1,2,3,4,5,6,7

** This is just one story from an amazing family website. Please visit: Wade and Julia Weston Family Website
to read more amazing stories about their journey's to adopt Zhenya, Leeza, Katya, Alexia, Sophiya and Nikitta**

The Weston's


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