Our Adoption Journey to Russia

This is an account of our trip to Russia to adopt two children from an orphanage in the town of Pereslavl (80 miles northeast of Moscow).  Our entire "journey" actually began several months earlier when we decided to add to our family by adopting.  That journey has barely begun.

 

Days 1 & 2: February 11-12, 2000

Everything being packed and ready, we spend a comparatively leisurely morning at home, then drive to Des Moines from where we will fly out.  John's parents live a mile from the airport, and our three biological children will stay there for a few days.  They will stay in the homes of four different families during our stay in Russia.  Mischa, age 6, cannot wait for Mom and Dad to leave so that her "party" can begin.  Emerson, age 4, is just now getting the idea that Mom and Dad will be gone for a significant time.  Janae, age 2, has no clue.

We leave the kids at John's parents' house (emotionally easier than leaving them at the airport) and go to the airport.  Our flight leaves at 2:30.  Friends and family are there to see us off.  We board a 757 headed for Chicago.  Short flight, around an hour, barely time for a cup of Starbucks coffee and pretzel-cheese cracker mix.

Julie, Emily, and Mike Arndt At O'Hare airport, we meet up with a family from Duluth that is adopting a girl using the same agency, Child Link International.  They recognize us by the photos on our web page.  Child Link has booked us to travel together since our paperwork was ready at the same time.  We leave Chicago on an eight-hour Lufthansa flight on an Airbus A340.  Flying eastward, the shortened hours pass beneath us quickly, and when we land in Munich, Germany it is seven in the morning.

We have a three-hour layover in Munich, so we go through Passport Control and wander through a shopping mall attached to the airport.  Unfortunately, the shops and restaurants only take Marks, and as it is early on a Saturday morning, the money exchange places are closed.

Another three-hour flight to Moscow.  Two more time zones make it 4:30 in the afternoon now.  We land at Sheremetyevo Airport, a comparatively small airport for such a large city, and the terminal is a rather dark and gloomy place. The ceiling is covered with cans about 18" in diameter, and may of them contain light fixtures, but only about one in every six lights is lit.  We go through Passport Control, and then get our checked luggage and go through Customs.

The information given to us by Child Link was exactly what we needed to know what to do.  On the other side of Customs was Olga, who works the Russian side of Child Link.  We recognize her easily by her photo on Child Link's web site.  She has already been working hard for us for several months, arranging everything we will need to process the adoption.  She has a van and driver waiting for us, and takes us to our hotel. Olga

We stay the night in the Hotel Rossija, an enormous hotel next to Red Square in the heart of Moscow.  Outside our hotel window is St. Basil's Cathedral, the most recognizable sight in Russia.  We go to bed early while our bodies try to figure out what time it is.

Hotel Rossija

 

Day 3: February 13, 2000

Olga meets us with a van and driver, and we leave Moscow for Pereslavl.  It is a two-hour trip, and it seems that the first hour is mostly spent getting out of Moscow.  Moscow is a city of around ten million, and unlike New York, it is built wide, not tall.

After we got out of Moscow and the suburbs, we went through a heavily forested countryside, passing a few small towns on the way.  The full name of Pereslavl is Pereslavl-Zalessky, or literally, "Pereslavl through the woods".  Pereslavl is on the road to Yaroslavl, the regional capital.

Arriving at Pereslavl, we stay at the Hotel Comfort, a bed and breakfast operated by Kodak for their employees.  Due to a connection between a Kodak employee and the orphanage where our children live, we are able to stay there.  The Hotel Comfort lives up to its name - it's a very comfortable place to stay, and the staff is great and very friendly.  The food is very good and the rooms are large and relaxing.

Houses in Pereslavl

 

Day 4: February 14, 2000

Today we meet our new children for the first time.  The orphanage does not allow us to tell the children of our intention of adopting them because they have had experience of people coming and meeting the children, then changing their mind.  The children seem to know that something's up, however.  When they see us, they both tell Olga, "I am going to America!"

After the visit to the orphanage, the children come back with us for a visit at our hotel.  We have coffee and cake, and the children have ice cream.  The children then go back home to the orphanage.  We meet Malcolm, who heads up the local Kodak photographic paper manufacturing plant.  He is a very engaging fellow with a lot of experience with people and a lot of interesting stories to tell. Malcolm


Day 5: February 15, 2000

Svieta and Olga at the Hotel Comfort We get up very early to go to Yaroslavl for our court appointment.  The ladies that work at the Hotel Comfort see us off and wish us luck.  Yaroslavl is further northeast, 2 or 3 hours by car.  As we drive along through towns, we see hundreds of people walking to work.  Not so many cars in Russia.  We arrive at the courthouse a little early, and have some time to wait in the van before our hearing.
The hearing lasts about fifteen minutes, and goes quite smoothly, thanks to Olga's work beforehand.  The judge reads our petition, asks us a few questions, the main one being why do we want to adopt, and has a representative from the local Guardianship Department speak on behalf of the children, to demonstrate that they are ready for adoption and that it will be good for them.  Olga translates for us.  We step outside for five minutes or so while the judge confers with an associate and then re-enter the courtroom to hear that the judge has granted our request.  He also waves the 10-day waiting period.

After the court hearing, we spend the rest of the day going to various agencies' offices, to get certificates of adoption, passports for the children, paperwork for their visas, and other paperwork.  At the end of the day we go back to Pereslavl, to find that Malcolm has brought champagne for us to celebrate.

Our adoption certificates

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Day 6: February 16, 2000

We visit the orphanage again to see a musical concert given by some of the children.  The orphanage has a very dedicated music teacher who draws out talent in even the youngest.  Several people from outside are there, including Malcolm and the curator of a local museum.  Afterwards, we take a tour of Pereslavl, taking in a few monasteries and a lace factory.  Our tour guide is Mischa, a fellow who has a music degree from a university in the U.S., and who sings from time to time at the services at the monasteries. Mischa

A monastery in Pereslavl

 

Day 7: February 17, 2000

Ludmilla We go back to the orphanage to take our children.  They own nothing, not even the clothes on their backs, so we bring clothing for them to change into.  The orphanage director is a wonderfully dedicated lady named Ludmilla who sees us and the children off.  Orphanage Staff
When we leave her office with our children to go down the short hallway to the building's exit, we find the hall and stairwell packed with staff and children ready to say goodbye.  On each face we see sadness mingled with hope and joy for our children in their new life.  After a few more tearful farewells outside, we get in the van and as we drive around to the front of the building, we see in each window more children and teachers waving goodbye.

We get the children's photos taken for their passports and visas, and then head back to Moscow.  The children nap briefly on the way.  We eat lunch at a McDonald's, which the children recognize immediately, though they probably have never eaten at one before.  We check back in at the Hotel Rossija, this time getting two rooms, because the rooms are only large enough for two people apiece.  We walk down to the nearby GUM shopping mall and have supper.

 

Day 8: February 18, 2000

We go to the United States Embassy in the morning to get the children's immigration visas and packets to take to Chicago.  Afterwards we eat at a Patio Pizza near our hotel and then walk back.  Later that evening, Olga's friend Vera baby-sits while we go with Olga to a concert of Russian folk music set in a modern style.  Very entertaining.

Red Square

 

Day 9: February 19, 2000

Olga baby-sits for us while we go with Vera and her husband Greg to an open-air market near Izmajlovskij Park.  We take Moscow's subway, the Metro, which is more than just a means of transport.  Each stop is decorated differently and quite elegantly. The outdoor market consists of a few hundred booths, about half of which sell either fur hats or matrushka dolls, so the shop owners are quite aggressive and ready to deal.  GregVera
We eat at a TGI Fridays in an underground mall on the north end of Red Square, then go back to the hotel.

 

Day 10: February 20, 2000

Irina Today we meet a new friend: Irina, the mother of a foreign exchange student that we met back home.  She shows us around Red Square and the Cathedral of the Ascension.  We have pizza with hot dog topping at the underground mall's food court. Our children are tired and cold so we take them back to the hotel for a rest.  That night we visit the Moscow Circus with the children.

 

Day 11: February 21, 2000

We meet with Vera again and she shows us around the Kremlin while Olga baby-sits.  Inside the Kremlin walls are several cathedrals as well as the buildings of government.  The Kremlin is on the spot where the original walled city of Moscow stood.  We eat at the underground mall and then turn in early.

A cathedral inside the Kremlin

 

Day 12: February 22, 2000

We get up at 3 a.m. to get to the airport by 5.  Our flight home leaves at seven.  Flying westward, the flights take a little bit longer because we fly against the prevailing winds.  We fly from Moscow to Frankfurt, Germany, then a nine-hour flight to Chicago on a 747 with enough empty seats to allow us to stretch out with our children.  Lufthansa even changes our seats to give us more room.  The children nap for a couple of hours.  Thanks to the time zone difference, we leave Frankfurt at 10 a.m. and land in Chicago at noon.  Getting through customs and immigration is a breeze, and we have two hours more before our next flight.  By now we're used to hanging around in airports.  The next flight is an hour and gets us into Des Moines at 4:30.

Family and friends are waiting to greet us and our new children - 35 people in all.  The sight is a bit overwhelming for the children, and they stick close to us and don't say or do much, but they soon recover, and are helped along by their new siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  By the time we get home, they are busy and active, though we are all very tired.

And so, this journey is over, and a newer and larger one has begun...