It has been more than four years since Pam Romano, her husband, Mark, and their three biological children have spoken to Bogdan, one of the Russian orphans who was to become their son and brother.
The Romanos, of Jefferson, Ga., were among more than 200 families nationwide who were in the process of adopting from Russia when the country abruptly shut its doors to the practice in late 2012.
The law was approved by the Kremlin, which couched it as a move to protect the well-being of Russian children. The law was named after Dima Yakovlev, a child adopted by American parents who died after being left in a hot car for nine hours.
But for their part, the families believe the timing — just after Congress imposed the Magnitsky sanctions — show that it’s all about politics. The Russian legislature implied as much in statements to the press as relations deteriorated.
“They’re just honestly political pawns,” Ms. Romano said of Russian orphans.
The Romanos were on their first visit to St. Petersburg in November 2012 when they signed the final paperwork committing their lives to Bogdan, who was 6 at the time, and his younger brother, Yura, who had significant developmental issues. They had actually met Bogdan before: He’d come to the U.S. on an orphan fostering program and stayed with a friend in the community.
“We had no idea that anything like this was about to transpire, and we weren’t actually paying attention at all to the political landscape at the time,” Ms. Romano told Global Atlanta about the trip to Russia. “We told them, ‘We’re coming back for you, we’ll be back as soon as we can.’”
Now, the boys remain separated, Bogdan in an orphanage and Yura in foster care. Their fate and that of others like them hangs in the balance of the U.S.-Russia relationship, which has seemed to grow more fraught by the day during the first month of President Donald J. Trump’s administration. Advocates say the longer the wait, the less likely the children are to find permanent homes — especially those with special needs.
After six visits to Washington to meet with legislators and other families, plus an appeal to President Obama that fell on deaf ears, Ms. Romano said the change of leadership in the White House provided the right time for another push.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, this week sent a letter to new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking for his help in finding a solution. Mr. Collins has been a tireless supporter of the orphans cause. Of the more than 40 families who had already had court cases when the ban took effect, four were located in Georgia, according to reports.
“Loving parents in America have invested their love and personal resources in creating homes for Russian orphans, and we’re asking Secretary Tillerson to act on behalf of these families, who have waited years to be united with their children. It is our hope that both countries will find a way to act in favor of children,” Mr. Collins said in a statement.
Mr. Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO, came under fire during his confirmation hearings over his wide portfolio of oil investments in Putin’s Russia and his personal relationship with the president. But that’s exactly what advocates are hoping could turn the tide on this issue.
The outlook, however, seems grim. In addition to allegations of Russian election hacking and ongoing disagreements over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, recent relational stumbles include the resignation of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn over alleged sanctions discussions with the Russian ambassador and the awkward meeting at the G20 between Mr. Tillerson and his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, at the G20 Thursday.
Michael Manely, partner at the The Manely Firm, which handles international family cases like divorces and child abductions, said Russia’s adoption ban was in part aimed to counteract cases where American parents tried to return Russian children over behavioral issues that may not have been disclosed during the adoption processes.
In the case of the ban, he said, there’s little legal recourse to recoup thousands of dollars paid to adoption agencies throughout the process — especially on the Russian side — unless they have U.S. property.
“That’s really the takeaway for somebody thinking about getting into it: They need to do something where if it all goes to hell in a hand basket, there’s an enforcement mechanism, which usually means U.S. assets,” he said.
For the Romanos, it’s not about the money. Even after the ban went into effect, they filed paperwork to position themselves to go through with the adoption in case it was removed. Agencies told them that they’d seen bans in the past, but they’d always been overturned.
More than four years later, Yura is in a stable environment the Romanos believe is best for him. But they’d be on a plane for Bogdan as soon as possible if Mr. Tillerson were able to work some magic and get a reversal from Mr. Putin.
Win or lose, they plan to keep fighting, Ms. Romano says.
“If we never get to bring Bogdan home, he will see a trail of evidence years long, and he will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not forgotten and that he is pursued, cherished and loved.”
See the letter sent to Mr. Tillerson: