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Possible Russian ban on U.S. adoptions rankles many here

Little children entangled in a big, bad political brawl between Moscow and Washington.

Little children entangled in a big, bad political brawl between Moscow and Washington.

That's how a Wynnewood adoption agency, a Burlington County family who adopted a child from Russia, and an international adoption expert describe the possibility that Russia will ban Americans from adopting children.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said this week that he will sign the ban, which the country's legislative chambers recently passed. It could go into effect Tuesday.

While some Russian officials say the bill responds to Russian children who were hurt or died after Americans adopted them, other analysts contend the ban would be retaliation against a U.S. measure involving a human-rights case in Russia.

"You're not hurting the president [Obama], you're not hurting anybody in Congress," said Donald Lucy, 51, of Springfield Township, Burlington County, who with his wife brought home their adopted child from Russia in 2006. "The only people you're hurting in this whole thing are the kids who are sitting in the orphanages right now."

By some estimates, as many as 750,000 children are in Russian institutions. Many are unlikely to live with biological relatives or be taken into the homes of unrelated Russians.

Over the last two decades, U.S. families have adopted about 60,000 Russian children, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, based in New York.

"Russia has been one of the main places Americans adopting internationally have gone to for two decades," Pertman said. "Along with China, it has helped change the face of adopting in America."

If Putin closes down the American avenue of adoption, Pertman said, those children would be "relegated to institutional life for the rest of their young lives until they hit the streets. That's unfortunate to the extreme."

Sam Wojnilower is coordinator of international adoptions for the Adoptions From the Heart agency in Wynnewood, which works with Russian agencies to complete home studies of prospective U.S. adoptive families, and with families after the child comes to the United States. Russia requires a minimum of three years of post-adoption monitoring of the families, Wojnilower said.

He has worked with about 50 families who were adopting from Russia over the last five years, including a couple of families who are early in the process, and a Plymouth Meeting family who brought home their daughter, now 18 months old, only a few weeks ago.

That family, whose name he did not give, "feels very grateful for their beautiful daughter."

Although they are aware of the potential adoption impasse, they are too busy to give it much thought.

"They're first-time parents," Wojnilower said. "The nitty-gritty of being a mom and dad are where their minds are focused."

The family visited Russia three times, and the ban proposal was making news before they had returned to Philadelphia with their daughter. But Russian courts had given them legal custody of the baby, so they could travel home.

Wojnilower has been cautioning families about adopting from Russia. He tells them that, even before the current controversy, "there are worries about closure of Russian adoptions virtually every year."

Yet for all the threats, a full halt has never occurred, Wojnilower said.

He was hopeful that this one also would fade, but it's not looking that way. That's why he's thankful his agency is not working with any families who are far along in the adoption process, who may have met a child.

Donald and Elena Lucy, 49 - who about six years ago adopted the boy who was named Dimitri and whom they now call William Dima - feels for those 46 families who have overcome obstacles and probably were expecting to have their Russian child soon.

During a process that took them a year, and can take longer if it is punctuated by unforeseen setbacks, "the heartbreak that goes through you is just tremendous," Donald Lucy said.

The Lucys also adopted two children from Romania.

"The adoption process is an emotional roller-coaster for a lot of people, and it really cuts at every strain of your emotions," Donald Lucy said.

Linking his own experience to what the 46 families must be going through, Lucy said he figures that "you'd be grasping for every straw you can, every shred of information you can possibly get. You'd be watching the Russian TV stations, you'd be watching the Internet just trying to get any information you could get from Russia."

If a ban is enacted, he said, "it will crush a lot of couples who are actively in the process now."