Russian adoption: American mom Vs. Russian politicians

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!”


(Photo: Victorgrigas)




James Brooke VOA Moscow Bureau Chief

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 last summer – the hottest on record. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.