Refugee children in Ukraine
According to the latest numbers from the Associated Press, more than half of Ukraine’s 7.5 million children have been compelled to leave their homes as a result of the Russian invasion. Of the 4.8 million children displaced, 2 million are seeking refuge in foreign nations. Families are split as women and children cross the border alone into neighboring Poland and Romania, among other European nations. Waiting for them are aid organizations that have established bases in these countries to provide food, shelter, and medicine to the staggering number of refugees. The children who remain in Ukraine are at risk of hunger and illness as war efforts cut off ready access to food and medical supplies.
But what about orphaned children?
Among these children are the roughly 100,000 orphans which pre-existed the national crisis. There is no telling how many are added to this number every day. In Ukraine, many orphans are institutionalized in boarding schools or orphanages. As is the case in other nations, a small percentage of these orphans are available for adoption—one former adoption agency director estimated it at 10%—while others may be institutionalized only temporarily with the hope of reunification. The upheaval and chaos of war creates an even more tenuous situation for these orphans when the civil processes which serve to protect their identities, preserve familial ties, and give an account for them are disrupted.
Given that Ukraine has been a hotspot for intercountry adoption among some wealthy nations like the United States, many families were in the process of adopting a child when the war began. Some of these families were able to finalize the adoptions and leave with their children. Others have been left with only questions about what is happening with their prospective child. Many well-intentioned people contributed to a spike in demand for adoption services. And people around the world mobilized to the attempted rescue of these orphans.
Attempts to illegally smuggle children
Some of these rescue attempts have gone beyond the legal process of adoption and venture into murky waters. Scooter Brown is a former marine who, early in the invasion, planned the unofficial rescue of six Ukrainian children slated for adoption in the United States. Matt Shea, a former U.S. politician, arrived at a hotel in Poland with sixty-two Ukrainian children from the city of Mariupol that he intended to take to the United States. Over the past twenty years, stories of similar missions through unofficial channels demonstrate that nearly any action (with a perceived good intention) may be defended under the aegis of rescuing children.
Officially, Ukraine has put a moratorium on adoption and the U.S. State department issued a statement cautioning the adoption of children during crises and stating that it will not issue immigrant visas to children without formal approval from Ukraine. The sixty-two children are now under the supervision of a Ukrainian orphanage director in Poland. And many humanitarian groups are encouraging people to allow the government and established aid workers on the ground to care for the orphans and reduce the risk of further family separation and more nefarious operations like child trafficking. Groups like New Horizons for Children are working with the local military to evacuate children from high-risk areas to safe houses in other areas of Ukraine, converting resorts and universities into habitable places where children can continue to live with their peers from home.
Russia allegedly capturing vulnerable children
The list of atrocities committed by Russia continue to pile on. Several unverified reports, including a statement by Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, claim that Russian troops forcibly detained and transported 121,000 children from the shelled city of Mariupol to the Russian city of Taganrog in an attempt to accelerate them through the adoption process.
As long as the war continues, it will pose a serious security threat to orphaned children. The preservation of their legal identification is paramount, as is their connection to the children and adults they were living with before the war. The merits of halting the adoption processes and dissuading groups from unofficial rescue attempts are that there is more order—more safeguards for vulnerable children and less chance of creating a new class: those who disappeared.
Alfonseca, K., & Moore, M. (n.d.). Extremists harass minority refugees arriving in Poland from Ukraine, witnesses report. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/International/extremists-harass-minority-refugees-arriving-poland-ukraine-witnesses/story?id=83203897
Francovich, E. (2022, March 30). Ukrainian orphans with Matt Shea in Poland get a Polish legal guardian; children can’t leave town for now, officials say. Spokesman.com. Retrieved from https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2022/mar/29/ukrainian-orphans-with-matt-shea-in-poland-get-a-p/
Joyce, K. (2022, March 22). Ukraine’s kids and adoption: Will an ugly history repeat itself? Salon. Retrieved from https://www.salon.com/2022/03/22/ukraines-kids-latest-target-for-the-christian-adoption-industry/
Kamman, S. (2022, April 21). Christian group helps evacuate hundreds of Ukrainian orphans from war-torn regions. The Christian Post. Retrieved from https://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-group-rescues-ukrainian-orphans.html
Kuznia, R., & Ellis, B. (2022, April 22). Americans have rushed to rescue Ukrainian orphans. One mission led to a child trafficking probe. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/22/us/ukraine-orphans-rescue-missions-invs/index.html
Lederer, E. M. (2022, April 11). UN: Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have fled homes. AP NEWS. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-united-nations-europe-bc4bfede3b3e3079fe79d783eb0816d0
U.S. Department of State. (n.d.). Information for U.S. Citizens in the Process of Adopting Children from Ukraine. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/Intercountry-Adoption-News/information-for-u-s–citizens-in-the-process-of-adopting-childre.html
Got a Question?
Get the latest in developing orphan care practices, orphanage administration tips, international news and much more!