A Utah family reportedly adopted a 4-year-old Russian girl with Down syndrome just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children — presumably making the girl, Hazel, one of the last of those now-banned adoptions.
Heather and Jeremy Fillmore welcomed Hazel into their American Fork home only an hour before Christmas began, the Deseret News reports. It took about 11 months for the Fillmores to bring the girl home from Russia prior to her arrival at Salt Lake City International Airport.
“It’s been tough, but worth it, and to have her here and be part of our family, it’s now great,” Jeremy Fillmore told the newspaper. “We feel like we’re complete and we’re excited to have her.”
The Fillmores found Hazel through a website that advocates for children with special needs called Reece’s Rainbow Down Syndrome Adoption Ministry. She was the family’s second girl they adopted from Russia via the website. Anya, now 7, was adopted in March 2011, the newspaper reports.
Other families approved for adoption are currently undergoing a 30-day waiting period and it’s unclear how Russia’s ban will affect those cases.
“It takes months and months to gather all the paperwork, and you turn it in to them and they are kind of on their own timetable,” Heather Fillmore told the newspaper. “We went on our first trip in May and didn’t return for court until November, and it was because the judge was on a vacation for a lot of the time.”
If the ban does goes forward, children with special needs in the country will have little hope, the Fillmores said.
“It’s just sickening,” Heather Fillmore told Deseret News. “I don’t even want to believe that it can happen because it’s very personal to us. We know many families who are in the process to go to save these children from a horrible life. It just doesn’t make any sense that the children are the ones that are suffering because of retaliation in politics.”
It was not immediately clear when Russia’s new law would take effect, but presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying "practically, adoption stops on Jan. 1."
Children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said 52 children who were in the pipeline for U.S. adoption would remain in Russia.
The bill has riled Americans and Russians who claim it victimizes children to make political statements, cutting off a route out of frequently dismal orphanages for thousands.
"Our unlucky children, our orphans are suffering because they became small change in a political game between two states. This is immoral, this is cannibalism," veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva was quoted as saying by the state news agency RIA Novosti.
Vladimir Lukin, head of the Russian Human Rights Commission and a former ambassador to Washington, said he would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.
UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia while 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 over the past two decades.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.