Russian Adoption: American Mom Vs. Russian Politicians

Posted February 25th, 2013 at 11:58 pm (UTC+0)

Max Shatto, a 3-year-old boy adopted from Russia, died under unexplained circumstances in the yard of his Texas home in late January. Photo: Russian Investigative Committee.

Russian politicians have made political hay this week out of the recent unexplained death in Texas of Max Shatto, a three-year-old boy adopted in Russia.

First, Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, issued a statement declaring: “Urgent! In the state of Texas, an adoptive mother killed a three-year-old Russian child.”

The facts that the boy apparently died while playing outside and that the autopsy is not complete did not stop Astakhov. He is the ideological father of a new Russian law that bans adoptions of Russian children by Americans. He immediately demanded that the United States provide a registry of each of the 60,000 Russian orphans adopted by American families over the last 20 years.


In response, Russia’s Duma unanimously passed a motion demanding that the U.S. Congress provide, “within the shortest possible time, full information on the conditions in which all Russian children adopted by U.S. citizens are living in U.S. Families.”


After the deaths of 20 Russian adoptees in 20 years, one Duma deputy charged that adoption by Americans lead to “certain death.” Another called for the return of all 60,000 adoptees to Russia.


Birth mother wants boy back



To regain the media spotlight, Astakhov met with Yulia Kuzmina, the Russian birth mother of the dead Texas boy. She asked for the return of the boy’s brother, who had been adopted by the same American family. Astakhov announced at a press conference that Kuzmina “now has a job, has stopped leading an asocial lifestyle, and is asking for her parental rights to be reinstated.”


Kuzmina made a tearful appeal broadcast nationwide on state television, and then took the night train home to Pskov. Her 15 minutes of fame proved short lived. She was hauled off the train by police for getting drunk and fighting with her boyfriend. Ria Novosti quoted regional authorities as describing her conduct as “drunken debauchery.”From Pskov, the news website quoted a neighbor saying: “She drinks away, whatever stuff she comes by, hasn’t worked a single day, and is not fit to raise a child.”

With Kuzmina fast losing media appeal, politicians turned on U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, criticizing him for declining to testify before the Duma on American adoptions.

McFaul responded in a statement:“As a worldwide practice, American ambassadors do not testify before foreign parliaments when summoned to do so.”

He added: “Just as it troubles me to see unfair stereotypes of Russians and Russia in the American press, it pains me to read these inaccurate portrayals of Americans and our values by some in your media.”

In response, Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee, tweeted: “By refusing to come to the State Duma to discuss the deaths of our children, the U.S. ambassador showed that they are not prepared for a serious dialogue on this problem.”


Irina Yarovaya, chairwoman of the ruling United Russia, commented on the party’s website about the U.S. ambassador: “Apparently, it’s not democratic from his point of view to admit the inaction of U.S. authorities in cases of violence and abuse of little children.”


Parallel reality


Increasingly, I get the feeling that Russian politicians are creating a strange, parallel reality. I emailed recent wire service stories to an American high school classmate, “Julia.” She is the adoptive mother of an orphaned Russian baby.


Deleting a little profanity and changing names for privacy reasons, I attach here the otherwise uncensored views of an American mother who, for 16 years, has been living the daily reality of coping for with a girl adopted from a Russian orphanage. She starts by referring to her earlier plan to take her adopted daughter back to Russia this summer for visit:


Thank you for remembering my interest in this, Jim. We will wait on this trip. I was nervous enough when I went over there in 1997 to “liberate” Maria from the orphanage in xxx. Don’t need to take any risks at this point! What they really should be doing studies on is how (“damaged”) these kids are coming out of the orphanages. Between the fetal alcohol syndrome and the lack of basic human interaction and nurturing in the orphanages, the majority of kids coming over here are learning disabled at best, and at worst exhibiting extreme emotional and behavioral problems.


Of course, the American adoption agencies tell the desperate-for-a-child parents that: ‘All they need is Love.’ In reality so few of the families are at all prepared to deal with the issues these kids have. It definitely is worse with kids from Russia. The girls adopted from China, for example, have turned out very well.

In terms of sheer numbers, the cost of providing therapies and a special needs school education to my daughter has been, I’m guessing, over $500,000, borne largely by our local school system as well as our out of pocket.


The $20,000 we spent on lawyers to get the school system to pay for her special school was a drop in the bucket. It has been worth it. I’ve been told she would have been mute if I hadn’t adopted her (though she looked fine when we got her). And, of course, now at age 17, she would have aged out of the orphanage and be living on the street in xxx.


That’s the real story in a nutshell of the Russian adoptions!



When I diplomatically thanked her for “the reality check,” Julia, a successful businesswoman, shot back with this view, lightly censored:


Those xxx Russian politicians who are making such a fuss about Americans adopting Russian kids are the ones who need a reality check! We take better care of our pets here than they do of their kids in the orphanages!”


James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

5 responses to “Russian Adoption: American Mom Vs. Russian Politicians”

  1. Gennady says:

    1. It’s a funny picture to see “Russian politicians” mentioned in the article when they’ve over performed what the regime has expected from them on the issue of American adoption. They are better “Catholics” than “the Pope” himself (I mean Mr Peskov, the President’s Spokesman, who has recently tried to reason and teach them to be less noisy on the subject).
    2. I wonder, what professional, moral or patriotic grounds has Pavel Astakhov got to be main instigator of the ban of adoption and to represent rights of abandoned or adopted Russian children? Having graduated from a KGB(FSB) law school, having no experience (by his own admission), in 2009 he bravely stepped in the choppy water of observing and defending children’s rights in Russia. For me it is the same as to appoint a fox to guard chickens. Has he brought up his own children in Russia and in Russian educational establishments? No, they were brought up and educated abroad. Why has he preferred a French hospital for the birth of his youngest child but scoffed a Russian one?
    3. It hypocrisy when he wonders, why the USA doesn’t let adopt its children while Russia does. He “doesn’t know” that until recently the State Duma wasn’t concerned with about a million Russia’s abandoned children dumped in state orphanages with the prospect of becoming drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless, or put in prison after they have left the state orphanages.
    4. As to the other “politicians” mentioned in the article, the question is – was the acting State Duma legitimately elected, wasn’t its prestige marred by vote-rigging? Do the deputies have professionalism, competency, legitimacy and moral grounds to represent the national psyche and to decide on the behalf of Russia? Who has validated their claims?

  2. Sharon says:

    Julia’s description of the adoption experience is completely correct. In 1999 we adopted two bio-siblings who had been abandoned at 2 and 3 and remained in the orphanage for 4 1/2 years. They had witnessed and had been subject to physical and psychological abuse during that time My son was a bedwetter so he really had a bad time. Both have psychological issues and learning disabilities that we are still working on today. The first 6 months of our lives together was a nightmare! For example, our daughter would have rages, tantrums and bite, kick, scratch and hit us becuase she had to wear a seatbelt in the car.The average adoptive parent is not prepared to deal with this multitude of issues and when we left Russia we had no knowledge of any pre-existing issues.

    Fast forward, 13 1/2 years later. Both of our children are in college on the west coast. and have become charming, responsible and successful adults. We enjoy a loving relationship with them and are very proud of the people they have become.We had the good fortune to have a wonderful school system and some good therapists. We are still working on some of these issues, but we love them dearly and are glad to be sharing our lives with them.

  3. Gennady says:

    To Sharon:
    1. Thank you for your time in communicating your grueling experience and strongly supporting Julia’s description. The same information has on numerous occasions been reported by dozens of other adopting parents. Really, the children from Russia represent a multitude of challenges: health, cultural, financial, genetic, psychological and ideological. Usually such children originate from asocial families, single Moms, deep in alcohol and drug addiction, unwilling to have a permanent job in the country with low unemployment. Contemporary Russia being awashed with petrodollars is in no hurry to overcome its backwardness in education, social and health care, to promise something worthy for the abandoned children.
    2. Unfortunately, Russian “politicians” are unaware of such things or they don’t fit their agenda. It’s particularly evident with Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights. His behavior is a complete embarrassment.
    What kind of professional lawyer should he be while 1) alarming the world about the killing of the boy before the court of law ruling and the inquest, 2) speedily arranging his meeting with unemployed alcoholic birth mother in attempt to recall her boy back, 3) recalling an international adoption on insufficient grounds, 4) alarming the world that the deceased boy was under severe psychotic medication when the medicine in question was a usual one, widely-used in children with certain behavior?
    As it could have been expected, some public personalities in Russia started to call on Pavel Astakhov to resign.

  4. James Brooke jbrooke says:

    Another American mother friend writes me:

    “Jim, you got it right. My husband and I adopted three children from Russia. All suffered extreme early childhood trauma. All suffer the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. All three have diagnosed mental illnesses and learning disabilities. One is currently in a therapeutic residential program. One is in a private group home for adults with mental illness. The other just got out of a therapeutic residential program where she lived for two years. All three have been in psychiatric hospitals. One was violent and used to attack me. One was suicidal. Fortunately, with intensive therapy they no longer have these problems.

    We have spent about $70,000 on lawyers fighting the schools for appropriate educations to address their needs. We have spent about $600,000 on their psychiatric care and education. We certainly didn’t know what we were getting into. Adoption agencies don’t provide enough education or post-adoption support. That said, all three are doing so much better than when they came here, and we basically saved their lives. It’s still difficult. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. But there are rewards. Our children are kind and compassionate. Our oldest volunteers at a senior center. Our middle child is on the honor roll at school. Our youngest was just elected secretary of his high school student council.

    These kids are throw-away children in Russian society. They have a reputation as being hard and Russians are not knocking down the doors of orphanages to take these kids into their homes.

    If the Russian government actually wanted to rid themselves of their future social problems and criminals, they would actively promote international adoption and make it affordable.”

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James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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