By David Bundy
Today, February 18, 2014, should be an overwhelming day of happiness for us. We had court for Nastia’s adoption today, and after some more judicial antics, we were made her parents legally. It was a day that has been a longtime coming. It was our goal when we started the paperwork eight months ago. We were all happy. Don’t get me wrong.
There were smiles, hugs, and tears as this beautiful, young woman completed our family. I am so proud to be her father, as Lisa is to be her mother. Karina, Maxim, and Alla are happy to have her as a sister, as well. We click well.
Lisa and I presented Nastia with a charm bracelet, like we did earlier for Karina, with charms representing Ukraine, America, a passport and sunglasses, one of her favorite things.
Today, the happiness we have also shares a spot with extreme fatigue, mentally, spiritually, and physically. Fatigue and happiness are also joined by sadness and fear.
Ukraine’s tactical police force, known as the Berkut, and anti-government protesters began clashing again after a long period of negotiations failed to give Ukrainian citizens a new constitution and a new president. The people’s fight against their current autocracy began a week before we arrived and escalated to it’s greatest height today. Many people were killed today and many more have been injured in the fighting.
The clashes were and are taking place about a half mile from our apartment in Kiev. The sounds of bombs, gunfire, and fireworks are loud. They are accompanied by the sirens of ambulances and car alarms responding to the thunderous explosions. Clergymen and politicians alternately beg the police for mercy and encourage protesters to fight for freedom over amplified speakers. Although we are in no immediate danger, our children are nervous and scared.
Some of the kids are sleeping quietly as the explosions flicker outside our windows and actually rattle the glass a few seconds later. Others listen to movies with earbuds.
Smoke rises above the nearby buildings as fires build a wall between police and protesters. The church bells of nearby St. Michael’s Cathedral are ringing a call to arms for the protesters camped out around central Kiev.
It is all ominous in the minds of the children. They have learned of the protests at school and on television, but to see it and hear it for themselves is something else. They generally understand what the events are about, and they are interested, but they also understand that this is real.
“Are you scared?” I asked 9-year-old Alla, as she climbed into my lap while I read the news.
“No,” she finally said while her face showed something different.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“I am only a little happy.”
“Why are you only a little happy?” I asked.
“Maidan people is being hurt,” she said, referring to the fighting at Maidan, also called Independence Square.
She knew what the sounds she was hearing meant. Max and Karina also expressed their fear of the constant fighting. Karina and Max have already planned to sleep with Nastia for protection. Alla, as usual, will sleep between Lisa and me.
Nastia gets her first call to duty as a big sister. Nastia is tough and a leader. If it gets noisy and scary enough, I might even go get in the bed with her. Heck, Karina and Max chose Nastia for protection over me and Lisa.
The day started out well enough. Our thoughts were filled with distrust of our judge who at first gave us a long wait for a court date over some easily correctible errors in our documents provided by our attorney, and then postponed the court date for two additional weeks because he was out sick. We wondered if there was going to be a new issue that could delay us more from becoming Nastia’s parents.
The day was warm for Ukraine and sunny, a rarity this time of year. We left Karina in charge of the siblings at our apartment. We expected to return after court in about three hours.
We arrived for our court time at 10 am, and met Nastia and her orphanage director who arrived separately. Nastia was nervous and said she didn’t sleep last night. She was not nervous about becoming our child, but was also worried about the judge who did not seem to have our best interest at heart. Nastia was already 16 years old, and we were her last chance for an adoption to America because of U.S. law. If the judge told us “no,” she would have to remain in Ukraine. She already has thought of us as her parents, and it would weigh heavily on her if the judge denied us.
We began court after the judge paraded in wearing his black robe and blue and yellow medallion around his neck.
As we began, he found another problem to focus on in our paperwork. In dozens and dozens of adoption cases he has handled, our lawyer/facilitator had also served as the adoptive parents’ official interpreter to the court. Today, this judge decided that he would not allow it. The judge asked me how long it would take me to find an official interpreter with a diploma in the field from a university.
“Three hours,” I said quickly without thinking or reasoning.
“You can do that today?” he asked, through our now unofficial interpreter.
“Yes,” I said. I knew a few people who could translate. I hoped they actually had diplomas in the field. I did not want to put court off another day, and I hoped the judge would not.
The judge dismissed the court and gave me three hours to produce an official interpreter.
After he marched out, never making eye contact with any of us. Lisa began crying. Then she was angry. She wasn’t going to let this guy defeat us again. Nastia was going to be our daughter today.
We immediately began to make calls to our known translators. Lisa began contacting a friend at the U.S. embassy for help in our search.
We tried, but we were having no success. Nastia’s orphanage director was calling people, and soon left to seek out someone he knew. Our facilitator was calling his contacts.
We had used up the first of our three hours when Nastia’s orphanage director returned with a tall, thin young woman named Yulia. She worked as an English teacher in a nearby school. She had a degree in translating and, more importantly, she had her diploma with her in her purse and thus would be able to prove her credentials to the judge. She gave the students in her last class of the day the day off to come and translate for us. She didn’t know us, and we didn’t know her.
I have met a few angels during this adventure of ours, and Yulia was another. It is people like her who renew my faith in God when I am weak. I knew the devil was watching today, too. I had seen his car in the court parking lot, complete with the license plate number 666, while contemplating the interpreter situation.
We were good, so we went to lunch, and to an ATM because I knew Yulia’s service and our short notice would not come cheaply.
When we returned to the courtroom, I asked her, “How much do we owe you for your services today?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I want to help you and Nastia.”
“Well, thank you, but I want to give you this,” I said and offered her 400 hyrivnas.
“No,” she said, smiling and truly happy to be there with us and for us.
“What about your work? You left your job early today to help us,” I tried again, shoving the money in her direction once more.
Again, she declined it, so I put it into my pocket.
I thought about it some. I thought about all the people who were praying for a good outcome for us today. I honestly could not see how prayer was going to affect our judge. I thought about how Yulia just happened to have her credentials with her on this day when we called in need, and she was so willing.
This person was the answer to so many prayers for us. We never knew her before, and after court, we would never see her again. We were gaining so much from her, and she didn’t want anything in return. Thank you for those prayers.
It was during these three hours between court appearances that I first learned that the Maidan protests had erupted into violence again. I knew Karina, Max, and Alla were safe at home in Kiev, and we were only a short distance away in the suburb Vishgorod.
Still, I called to check on them and tell them we would be later than expected, but got no answer. I messaged Karina on Facebook, but got no response. Lisa called Tiffany, a friend of ours from Alabama who was staying near our apartment while on her family’s own adoption adventure. She would go check on our kids and stay with them until we got home. She reported they were okay, and we waited on the second coming of the judge, who was half an hour late.
As per the routine of court proceedings, the judge went around the room encouraging Lisa and me, the orphanage director, the social worker, the prosecutor, Nastia, and jurors to fire away with questions for each other.
The afternoon sun was now shining directly into our faces at our assigned table, like a Soviet interrogator’s spotlight in the Cold War movies. It was painfully bright, and we were forced to block it with our hands in order to see the faces of our inquisitors.
To keep it simple, we were advised by our facilitator not to mention that we had just adopted Maxim, Karina, and Alla. They were not reflected in our adoption petition for Nastia because they were not yet our children when the paperwork was filed, and we did not know if they would be until their court made a ruling. In fact, we all anticipated that Nastia’s process would be finalized before the siblings until this judge started postponing us.
So, the prosecutor asked me her first question.
“Do you have any other children?” she said, sounding more like a rifle shot to the chest than actual human speech.
“Yes,” I said.
“Three. Nastia will be the fourth.”
Mouths dropped. Our facilitator was wearing his “oh, crap” face. Apparently, a family of four kids in Ukraine is HUGE!
I explained how we were all happy together. Nastia confirmed this when she was asked if she had met them and how many times. She explained how she had not only met them, but that she had been to visit them by train multiple times with us.
The judge had again a perfect excuse for shooting the whole thing down again. However, after several moments of breath holding, he moved on to another topic.
Nastia answered questions thrown at her like a pro. She was beautiful in appearance and answers.
“Do you understand how you will live in America? Do you think you will like it? Will you be happy there with three other children? Are you sure?” she was asked.
“Yes. You can hop on an airplane and come to see for yourselves,” she said to the court. Thank God, I didn’t understand her response until later. The judge and jurors laughed.
I love this girl. She has no time for nonsense.
When court was ended the judge and jurors deliberated for an hour. I was worried that they were focusing on the lack of documentation for the siblings. I expected problems. I paced, read email, took photos of the shadows on the walls.
Eventually, the judicial procession entered the courtroom and read their decision. We were Nastia’s parents, but standard procedure is that there must be a 10-day waiting period for anyone to appeal the court’s decision before it becomes official and the decree is issued. Our 10 days will be up on Feb. 28, a Friday. Therefore, we will have to wait an additional two days, Saturday and Sunday, when the court is closed before getting the decree on Monday.
After that, we can arrange Ukrainian passports, medical exam appointments, and make embassy appointments to get Nastia’s visa issued. Then, we can go home.
Nastia was given permission by her orphanage director to come to Kiev with us for the night, and she will remain under his control until the court decree gets issued. We were happy to be done with this day, but we weren’t exactly done yet.
We loaded into the car, and a discussion in Ukrainian started between our taxi driver, our facilitator, and Nastia about the fighting in Maidan. It was then that I learned that people were killed. The entire metro subway system was shutdown. Central Kiev was erupting and buildings were being burned. It had happened before in January, but more people were in the area of the protests now. There were more armed citizens and much better organization than the previous days of violence.
As we drove into Kiev, traffic became slower and slower. Our taxi driver knew the city well and maneuvered us to within a mile and a half of our apartment before he could get no further. It was decided that we would walk, and we were becoming increasingly worried about our children at home.
Unable to use the subways, people filled the sidewalks and motorists were driving more erratically than usual as they tried to get in and out of side streets. Ambulances and police vehicles raced by going to and from the fighting.
Nastia could be an Olympic walker. She walks with the same no-nonsense approach that she uses for everything else. She’s fast and small and skinny. In comparison, I am only small.
I followed her in case we ran into trouble. For more than a week, my left leg has been inflamed with tendonitis stretching from the back of my thigh to my calf. I was playing hurt, but I wanted to get to Karina, Max, and Alla.
We finally got to our street after Nastia kicked a few cars out of the way enroute. Protesters had blocked traffic with new barricades. The streets were filled with people going home from their jobs and others wearing masks and carrying sticks. These, to me, felt like the posers. The real action was down the road, and they were going the wrong way.
A stop at the market near our apartment was also revealing. The shelves were empty of bread. There was plenty of alcohol being purchased, and the cigarette rack was nearly empty. The small store was overwhelmed by customers and a line was formed just to get inside. It was a necessity, though. The siblings had been at home all day, so I knew there was nothing left there to eat. The restaurant nearby I had planned to go to for some takeout was closed due to the fighting. We had to get some food, but it was not how I had hoped to celebrate our newest daughter.
We ended up having scrambled eggs and ham for dinner. We bought what we could carry, but from the sound of the fighting, our proximity, and the store’s small inventory, I expect the market will be emptied by morning.
We got home safely and began reading and watching the news of the fighting. It was grim. Ten people were already killed and more than 100 wounded by 7:30 pm. Videos and photos showed the images of police being dragged in the street and knocked unconscious and the bruises inflicted after harsh beatings on the protesters. Police were shown carrying Kalashnikov automatic weapons, a sign of real trouble. Fires were raging in many places.
I was compelled to write something today because it was such an odd day in my experience. Being in a foreign country, adopting a daughter, witnessing an attempted revolution, dealing with kids that are equally concerned about their own safety and running out of chocolate, defeating a devil with the help of an angel, and knowing people are dying and being hurt nearby as I try to go to bed was just too much to rest on today.
Know that we are all safe, and that I love my newest daughter immensely. I am proud of her for who she is, and please, do not get in her way or ask her silly questions.
UPDATE: Shortly after writing this blog last night, wifi access was turned off in our area, a likely move by the government to control information and disorganize protesters. The wifi is back on this morning. During yesterday’s fighting 25 people were killed, including 16 protesters and nine police officers. Thousands have been wounded with many being treated in a makeshift hospital at St. Michael’s Cathedral.
Gunshots and explosions are still heard this morning, but with much less intensity. We have been advised by the U.S. embassy to stay indoors, especially at night, and will do so. The subway system remains closed.
This is the 23rd report on our adoption adventure.