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Russia's invasion of Ukraine has stopped all foreign adoptions of Ukrainian children

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a story this morning of international adoptions. Americans, as you may know, adopt children from numerous countries, and one is Ukraine, which in normal times releases hundreds of children to U.S. parents. Russia's invasion halted that, leaving some families stuck in the middle of the process. Here's NPR's Ashley Westerman.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: In a facility for Ukrainian orphans in Poland, children crowd into a makeshift classroom to learn their colors in English.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Yellow.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yellow.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Blue.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Blue.

WESTERMAN: Among them is Maxym, a 14-year-old from southern Ukraine. This video was shot by Jennifer Kelly-Rogers, the American woman working to become Maxym's mom.

JENNIFER KELLY-ROGERS: He's a great kid. He's very, very smart. When he came to our family, we weren't really sure what to expect. We didn't have plans for adoption.

WESTERMAN: Kelly-Rogers' family first hosted Maxym at their home in upstate New York last summer through Host Orphans Worldwide, one of the many nonprofits that places Ukrainian children with American families for temporary visits.

KELLY-ROGERS: We fell in love with him right away. He fit into our family really, really well, and we just knew that we wanted to adopt him.

WESTERMAN: And by the beginning of this year, the family had already finalized its paperwork required by the U.S. government. And just as it was ready to submit all of the necessary documents to the Ukrainian government to be officially matched with Maxym, Russia invaded.

KELLY-ROGERS: We were, you know, devastated. We stayed up all night pretty much every night after that to message him because he was very scared. And we were scared every night. We were just praying and hoping that somehow they get out.

WESTERMAN: Maxym and the other children in his orphanage did get out and were evacuated to Poland in early March. But the Ukrainian government has suspended all adoptions to other countries because of the war. So he's been stuck there ever since. Kelly-Rogers has come to visit Maxym three times since he was evacuated. She volunteers as a teacher. She says it's a lot like summer camp. The kids do some lessons and activities like crafts, games and dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN CHATTERING)

WESTERMAN: But it's only a temporary solution, she says.

KELLY-ROGERS: They just can't get the schooling that they need. Most of the kids there are crying 'cause they want their families. So on top of all the trauma from the war and everything, now they're scared, and they want their families.

WESTERMAN: Kelly-Rogers is just one of dozens of parents who have had their adoption of Ukrainian children put on hold because of the conflict. Daniel Stevens, the executive director of the adoption agency Family Connections, works with Kelly-Rogers and 28 other families, all at various stages of the adoption process with Ukraine. He says they've asked for something called respite release - basically releasing the children to their American soon-to-be parents.

DANIEL STEVENS: These families are willing to pay for the costs of travel, providing for these kids. And when it is deemed safe for these children to return to Ukraine, these families would return these kids and then finish their adoption process.

WESTERMAN: Stevens says they've asked members of Congress for help, but the State Department says now is not the time. Michelle Bernier-Toth is the special adviser for children's issues at the State Department, which handles intercountry adoptions.

MICHELLE BERNIER-TOTH: When there is a crisis, be it a war or an invasion or a natural disaster, that is not a time to initiate intercountry adoptions or even domestic adoptions because you don't know whether the children who have been separated from family members - do they have parents? Do they have families who are looking for them?

WESTERMAN: She does note, however, that they have been working with their Ukrainian counterparts to complete the adoptions that had already been approved by both countries before the war began. Daria Herasymchuk is an adviser for the president of Ukraine on children and child rehabilitation.

DARIA HERASYMCHUK: (Through interpreter) We cannot transfer a child from one dangerous situation to another. We must comply with the entire procedure and do it with caution.

WESTERMAN: She says they cannot allow Ukrainian children to go with these families until they've been vetted by the Ukrainian government. Herasymchuk says intercountry adoptions will resume when the war ends. So for now, all parents can do is wait. Parents like Katie Jo Page, who has also been spending thousands of dollars on three trips to Poland to see Mykta, the 11-year-old boy she's trying to adopt.

KATIE JO PAGE: Poland's been very accommodating, but it's not their home.

WESTERMAN: The trips are long and expensive, Page says. But...

PAGE: I can't imagine not going when I have the opportunity because I don't want Mykta to lose hope and know how loved he is and that we won't give up on him.

WESTERMAN: Ashley Westerman, NPR News, Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.