Columbus family recounts adoption story a decade later as Russian law bans U.S. adoptions

When a new Russian law took effect Jan. 1 banning Americans from adopting Russian children, it was another reason for Greg and Anne Appleton to hold their daughter tight.

If that law had existed in 2001, the Appletons wouldn't have celebrated Kaylee's 13th birthday earlier this month -- because they wouldn't have a Kaylee in their lives to celebrate.

"The process was getting tougher even when we went to Russia," Greg said. "We had to fly over there twice, and we had to stay in a hotel and wait for 12 days."

Anne added, "I just felt like, at any given time, they could change their mind, and I could not handle that."

"I was lucky," said Kaylee, a sixth-grader at Veterans Middle School.

Greg, the Columbus State University baseball coach, and Anne, the CSU assistant sports information director, told their adoption story to Ledger-Enquirer columnist Guerry Clegg, whose report appropriately appeared on Valentine's Day 11 years ago.

American girl

Since then, Kaylee has grown into a typical American girl. She plays basketball and golf and violin. She also likes animals and computers and books.

And she saves time to watch her dad's baseball games.

"When she was little, she'd throw a fit when we had to take her home," Anne said with a laugh.

Home for Kaylee sure is Columbus now -- she speaks with a Southern accent -- but she remains proud of her heritage and hopes to visit Russia when she is older.

"I want to learn more about Russia," she said. "Other people say it's a bad country, but I don't care. I'm from there, so I'm going to stick up for it because it's a part of me."

Although it's nurture, not nature, Kaylee's adoptive parents also seem biologically part of her. She has Anne's eyes, and folks say she looks like Greg.

The Appletons said they always have been open about Kaylee's origin.

"We told her that her mom and dad couldn't take care of her," Anne said. "It's not because they don't love her."

But law trumped love as more than 50 U.S. families reportedly were in the middle of an adoption when Russian President Vladimir Putin smashed their parental dreams and signed the controversial legislation last month.

"It breaks my heart," Anne said.

"You kind of have your fingers crossed through the whole process, hoping everything goes smooth," Greg said, "so this is the worst possible thing that could have happened to those families."

Thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Moscow last week to protest the law.

Greg said, "I think adoptive parents develop resiliency -- they've already been through a tough time trying to have kids on their own -- but I couldn't imagine this bombshell."

The ban is in response to a measure President Barack Obama signed into law also last month that calls for sanctions against Russians declared to be human rights violators.

"It's a shame to have the politics on both sides," Anne said. "Who gets penalized by this? The families and the kids."

Thousand of kids

UNICEF estimates about 740,000 children are not in parental custody in Russia, but only about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The U.S. is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children -- more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans during the past two decades, the Associated Press reported.

One of the benefits to adopting from Russia, Greg said, is that you can do it in a year.

"In the United States, you're talking about a process of five to six years," he said.

The only delay before this new law was the regional mandatory 10-day waiting period for the Russian birth parents to waive their parental rights to the child.The Appletons weren't considering an international adoption until they met Kim and Mark Rozycki through First Baptist Church.

"But we still were apprehensive," Greg said. "I mean, you're talking about Russia. It's not like going to Canada or Mexico. You're talking about a place where you felt Americans weren't welcome. I mean, it would be like adopting from Afghanistan or Iraq nowadays."

"But people were very nice to us there," Anne said. "We were very spoiled."

"We came back with a whole different view of Russia," Greg added.

The Rozyckis adopted Caroline, now a home-schooled 13-year-old, in 2000. They have helped a total of five local couples get in touch with the Alaska International Adoption Agency.

"We were among the last ones who were able to go only one time to Russia for the adoption," Kim said. " From there forward, everybody else went over to meet their children but had to come back and wait six weeks and went back to pick them up."

Kim estimated the adoption cost her family about $25,000.

"It's a journey, and it's expensive," she said. "Once you get over there, it's eight time zones, so it can be costly to get to your child. As bad as it was for us, it was magnified for the couples who came after us."

Another blessing

But the arduous process also enabled the adoptive American to form friendships among themselves that still bond their families.

"One of the neat things when we were over there," Greg said, "is that we weren't by ourselves. There were probably seven or eight other families from all over America in our hotel waiting to adopt."

The photos from that trip are in Kaylee's baby album.

The Appletons still exchange Christmas cards with those families. And the photos of Kaylee and Caroline are on the website of the Alaska International Adoption Agency.

The phone number for the agency isn't in service. An email from the Ledger-Enquirer to the agency wasn't returned.

Even the agency's beloved woman who helped the Appletons and Rozyckis adopt their daughters, Olga Byrnes, couldn't be contacted for this story.

All of which is more reason for the parents to hold their adopted daughters tight.

"It's a two-way street," Greg said as he looked at Kaylee. "I think we might have gotten more benefit out of this than she did."