It’s been a long, challenging and sometimes dangerous journey for Maryana Kravchenko, OD ‘12
, and her husband Dmitriy, to adopt a Ukrainian teenager. And, it’s not over yet.
The Kravchenkos, who were both born in Ukraine and came to the United States as children with their parents, had been rolling along through the adoption process starting in 2018 and were ready to adopt a 16-year-old boy named Maksym. Then an unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine started a war, and in part because of an unfavorable ruling by a Ukrainian judge, Maksym is stuck inside Ukraine amidst the hostilities.
But that hasn’t deterred Dr. Kravchenko and her husband. In fact, it’s made them work even harder to get their son out of harm’s way and on a path to a better life in America.
The four-year-long journey started when the couple worked with a group called Open Hearts and Homes for Children, in which U.S. families host children from Latvia and Ukraine. In 2018, they hosted two brothers, one of which was Maksym. The older brother didn’t want to be adopted so the couple pursued adopting Maksym, who has visited the family in the U.S. four times.
“By the time it came down to us giving documents to Ukraine, we were doing well,” said Dr. Kravchenko. “It was the summer of 2021 and by October, we had our first trip to Ukraine. Typically six weeks later people get a court date and a month after that we can pick up the kid. So we were looking at December 2021 for getting him.”
But the case got hung up in court with a Ukrainian judge. The judge initially asked the couple to do a virtual court appearance on Feb. 16, 2022, but four days before that date, the judge changed her mind and asked that the couple travel to Ukraine to be in person for the hearing.
The Kravchenkos have three small children, so they had to arrange child care, get time off from their jobs and travel to Ukraine. But tensions between Russia and Ukraine were taking center stage — there were reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin was planning to attack Ukraine on the same day of the court hearing — and the couple got all the way to Amsterdam, Netherlands, before finding out that nobody wanted to take them to Ukraine from there.
Luckily, a Ukrainian company did eventually transport them, but the judge moved the court date from Feb. 16 to Feb. 24.
“So, we sat on our suitcases until then. The court finally called and asked us to come to court while the bombing was going on. We rushed there while hearing the bombs,” said Dr. Kravchenko.
There is a 30-day waiting period in Ukraine after a court adoption hearing where the child has a chance to back out of going to America. Ukrainian judges have the discretion to waive that waiting period and allow the child to leave the country immediately.
But the judge in this case didn’t do that. “We couldn’t get him out of the country. We had to leave him there,” said Dr. Kravchenko.
From there, the series of events continued to get more tangled. Maksym is in a trade school, and because he’s an orphan in a rural village, the director of the trade school is considered his legal guardian. For two weeks after the court hearing, Maksym was in a bomb shelter at the trade school, with a generator that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, while his village was being bombed by the Russians.
Through their church, the Kravchenkos became connected to a ministry of war chaplains in Mariupol, Ukraine, who were able to evacuate Maksym from the trade school to an orphanage in a larger city (the exact location of which is being withheld for the boy’s safety).
But when it looked like the boy’s luck was about to change, another serious complication arose. The woman who ran the orphanage where Maksym was relocated discovered he was going to have American parents. She locked Maksym in a room and demanded a ransom from the Kravchenkos before she would release him.
“Our chaplains went and got him, physically removed him. They’re not giving him to anyone else at this point,” said Dr. Kravchenko.
The U.S. State Department has provided an advisor for the Kravchenkos to make sure they are doing everything legally correct to avoid further problems down the road. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents Pennsylvania’s first district, is the one local lawmaker who has been listening to the plight of the family.
Right now, Maksym is safe, and has a clean bed, food and Wi-Fi where he can have direct contact with the family on a daily basis. Missionary friends of the family in Poland who do humanitarian work have offered to get the boy to Poland, where another friend will take him in while the couple finalizes the details on getting him safely to the U.S.
The Kravchenkos have relied heavily on their faith throughout the journey and will continue to do so until Maksym is safe in the U.S.
“It’s worrisome of course. As parents, we’ve just been going and going but we have peace that we will see him here,” said Dr. Kravchenko. “God promises us peace beyond understanding and we feel like we have that. Because we have that peace, it allows us to do that next thing the best we can. We know we’ll see him. I hope Max knows how much we’re fighting for him and how much people are rooting for him.”