Monstrous, Drunken Russia ravages its Children, Heroic Americans rescue Them

The New York Times reports:

Hundreds of adopted children, most of them Russian, have come here to northwest Montana to live and perhaps find healing grace with the horses and cows and rolling fields on Joyce Sterkel’s ranch. Some want to return to the families that adopted them, despite their troubles.

Others, like Vanya Klusyk, have seen far too much of what the world can dish out.

Vanya, 17, suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects his reasoning ability, his impulse control, his intelligence and even his height. Then there were the beatings in the Russian orphanage, he said, where he lived from age 8 to 14, until a California couple brought him to America.

“There were bigger boys, 18 and 19, and I was too small,” he said in a quiet voice, standing in the bright sun outside the ranch’s school on a recent morning. Vanya, who turns 18 this summer, wants to stay on after graduation, working with other wounded children, and Ms. Sterkel has said he can.

An international adoption can be a journey into the waters of the unknown, and sometimes the rocks and shoals — for the parents, the child or both — are too much to negotiate. Ms. Sterkel’s remote ranch, five miles from the Canadian border in a homesteader’s valley that got electricity only around 1960, is for some of those families the end of the line.

In the weeks since a woman from Tennessee put her daughter’s 7-year-old adopted son, alone, on a plane back to Russia, saying he had been violent toward his mother, much of the furor has focused on parents, governments and adoption agencies, and what they do right — or do not do right — by adopted children.

Missing from the debate have been the voices and perspectives of the children themselves and the wrenching life that many face as a legacy of fetal alcohol, institutionalization, poverty and the sometimes socially corrosive survival skills they were required to hone in their early years.

“Lying, stealing and hoarding food,” Alexi, a smiling, upbeat 13-year-old girl, said when asked why her adoptive parents had sent her here. Alexi, whose family did not want her last name used, sat on the edge of a pool table in the main ranch house, swinging her legs and reading a book, “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.

She spent the first two years of her life in a Russian orphanage, she said, and does not remember anything about it. She just knows she has always had a hard time trusting adults, including her adoptive parents.

Here at the Ranch for Kids, a nonprofit established seven years ago and focused on adopted children from Russia — where Ms. Sterkel’s family came from a century ago, and where she worked as a midwife in the early 1990s before adopting three Russian children herself — background stories of hard luck or horror are as common as skinned knees.

Ms. Sterkel, 63, said those stories gave her great sympathy for parents who had reached a point of desperation. Adoptees with inner lives, and brains, twisted by experiences that began even before birth can be mercurial — sunny one minute, explosively violent the next, with no ability to make moral judgments about what they have done. They can also be emotionally distant, self-destructive or both.

In Russia, vodka’s curse has been woven through history since the early czars. One widely cited study concluded that Russia’s rate of fetal alcohol syndrome was eight times that of the rest of the world.

Exposure in utero to alcohol can cause irreversible brain damage, with visible manifestations that include smaller eyes and a smaller upper lip with the lip’s groove flattened. Even those with lesser exposure can have an interior rewiring of their brain chemistry, according to extensive medical research.

Isolation in infancy — in an understaffed orphanage or with a drunken parent — compounds those problems. A paper published last year in The American Journal of Psychiatry about preschool-age children from Romania found that more than half who had lived in an orphanage had psychiatric disorders, from attention deficit to post-traumatic stress. Boys tended to have more symptoms than girls, the study said.

That well-documented path of devastation makes Ms. Sterkel impatient with remarks like the one made by President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, who called the return of the boy from Tennessee a “monstrous deed.”

“What he experienced was monstrous,” she said, gesturing toward Vanya. “Sending a kid back was not.”

Ms. Sterkel can be just as tough in talking about some of her own clients, like the adoptive parents of a Russian boy who was recently brought to the ranch with early signs of fetal alcohol troubles. The parents had agreed to pay $3,500 a month for the boy’s keep, but they knew, they said, that whatever happened, they just could not take him back.

“That’s when it’s sad — they haven’t exhausted all the possibilities,” Ms. Sterkel said.

Ranch for Kids now has 30 children, ages 5 to 17, some of whom stay for a month or two, some for years. Critics say the ranch, and places like it that focus on experience as therapy — exposure to nature, animals and rules of ranch life — are islands of unreality that do not fundamentally address a child’s problems.

“All it does is give them a hiatus,” said Ronald S. Federici, a clinical neuropsychologist in Virginia who mainly treats foreign adoptees.

Dr. Federici has tracked international adoptions since 1992 and estimates that about 4,000 from Eastern Europe alone have foundered — with children being sent into state care or to places like the Ranch for Kids or back to their home countries. He said that while he respected the impulse behind the ranch, permanent improvement could not happen without a spine of rigorous medical and therapeutic treatment.

“It’s like a vacation at the beach — we’re always better when at the beach,” he said.

Ms. Sterkel and her staff do not fully disagree. The rhythms of the ranch — afternoons on horseback, two teachers in a room of eight children, cow-milking — are not how life back home really works. But she believes that strict routines and responsibilities, like cleaning one’s room and close contact with nature and animals, can make a difference in upended lives.

“We can’t fix the fundamental damage,” she said. “Generally, our parents have reached a place where they need to restore sanity.”

About 70 percent of the roughly 300 children who have come here, Ms. Sterkel said, do go back to their adoptive families — though she admits she often loses track after that. Of the remaining 30 percent, the younger ones are often readopted, while adolescents typically go into the federal Job Corps program. And now there is even a second-generation to work with — a 10-month-old girl named Lilia.

Lilia’s mother was adopted from Russia and came through the program herself a few years ago — fiercely unmanageable and claiming, in full embrace of the Goth lifestyle, to be a vampire. The young woman’s life did not much get better: She ended up on methamphetamine, tattooed, pierced and pregnant at age 19.

But she came back to the ranch last year, Ms. Sterkel said, for the final months of her pregnancy, and then agreed to let the infant stay on in the Sterkel family’s care. Ms. Sterkel, now the baby’s legal guardian, said she assumed Lilia had prenatal exposure to alcohol, so she is trying everything she has learned over the years — especially physical contact, usually with the baby on her hip or lap — as an effort at early intervention therapy.

And Vanya now has a big brother figure, a former resident as a child, Jenya Davidson, 21, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, too, and came originally for help, only to return years later to work as a handyman and to help attend to the younger children. The two young men share an apartment over Ms. Sterkel’s garage.

Mr. Davidson, with a nearly constant smile, said northwest Montana was now home. He dreams of starting his own landscaping business.

38 responses to “Monstrous, Drunken Russia ravages its Children, Heroic Americans rescue Them

  1. I know that the Russian authorities have suspended all US adoptions of Russian children; this suspension was prompted by an adoptive US mother sending her unwanted 8 year old adopted Russian son back unescorted to Moscow, This woman was wrong and deserves to be punished.

    But to suspend all adoptions is an over reaction by the Russian state, tens of thousands of decent loving US families have adopted Russian children and 99.9% have been successful benefiting both parents and these lucky children.

    Russia’s position stinks of hypocrisy, there are currently 800 thousand unwanted children in orphanages all across Russia, these poor children need and deserve loving parents the Russian state who really couldn’t give a stuff about them are using their plight as a political tool this is outrageous. I know they want a new adoption agreement with the US one where “they” the Russian state can have a say in the adopted Childs upbringing, including an assurance the child will be taught the Russian language. This is ludicrous the child must become a member of the society its raised in. Russia can not be allowed to impose such monstrous rules.

    The Russian state has helped create an environment where its acceptable to have 800 thousand orphaned children, solving this internal crises is the challenge they face, not poking their nose into the happy life’s of US families and their adopted Russian children.

    • Now the kremlin wants to rucify the USA?

      • Maybe they just want a better control over adoptive mothers. Say, not to allow them kill adopted kids, or sent them alone over Atlantic ocean back home, when they think a kid is wrong?

        Imagine a Russian mother does such a thing, and imagine your reaction.

        • russian mothers do not care about russian children.

          A news report today reveals, for example, that, at nearly 700,000, there are more orphans in Russia today than there were during World War II. And, in the last year, over 30,000 Russian children have been returned to orphanages by their Russian adoptive parents. Usually, it is because there is very little support for families who take in these children, but often it is because the money the state awards them for taking someone in has run out.

          And, lest we forget, there’s the story of 12 year-old Denis Khokhryakov. He is the bizarro Artyem, and was lost in the hooplah of Adoptiongate. Around the time the American and Russian state departments were trading parries, Khokhryakov — aka Diego Sologub — was discovered in an orphanage in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. He had been adopted by fellow Russians in November 2003. In July 2004, less than a year later, his adoptive parents had abandoned him in the DR, having traded him in for some cocaine

          • You complain that one American mother returned a deranged russiaan child back home, but ignore the FACT that the kremlin murders children?

            RIA Novosti reports that it’s more than 25 times as dangerous for a Russian child to be adopted by Russians than to adopted by a foreigner:

            MOSCOW, May 29, 2006 (RIA Novosti) – A Moscow children’s rights expert said Monday that 1,220 Russian children adopted by Russians had died since 1991, including 12 killed by their foster parents.Galina Semya said that 116 cases of serious physical abuse had been registered in the same period, with 23 cases of serious physical abuse by foster parents.

            Adoption has been in the political spotlight recently following a string of high-profile abuse cases involving Russian children adopted by foreigners that have prompted calls to tighten up regulation of adoption procedures.

            “Since 1991, five children adopted by foreigners have been killed, and 16 have died in accidents,” Semya said, adding that another 119 children had been returned to Russia.

        • russian women would prefer to be sterile, rather than give birth to a russian baby in russia.

          But let’s go back to the question of population. Russia has given up on demographic matters. Not that it’s possible to do a detailed analysis of the demographic situation and get at the reasons for the low birth rate: since 1997 to date, data has not been gathered in any meaningful way. The birth rate has gone down in 79 Russian regions and the death rate has gone up in 60. There are 8 million abortions a year in Russia, 1.5% of them late-stage ones. 90,000! – A whole townfull of children killed for money.

  2. From what I’ve read, it seems that fetal alcohol syndrome is what creates most difficulties with many of these children.

  3. It’s my understanding that there are statistical means to determine what happens to children who are adopted by Americans but none for the internal adoptions. This is a very strong indicator of government propaganda especially in light of the feigned indignancy which they must be playing at here.

  4. Voice of Reason

    One widely cited study concluded that Russia’s rate of fetal alcohol syndrome was eight times that of the rest of the world. Exposure in utero to alcohol can cause irreversible brain damage, with visible manifestations that include smaller eyes and a smaller upper lip with the lip’s groove flattened. Even those with lesser exposure can have an interior rewiring of their brain chemistry, according to extensive medical research. Adoptees with inner lives, and brains, twisted by experiences that began even before birth can be mercurial — sunny one minute, explosively violent the next, with no ability to make moral judgments about what they have done. They can also be emotionally distant, self-destructive or both.

    Wow. Sounds terrible. Sounds like no sane person would want to adopt these brain-damaged self-destructive uncontrollable children from Russia.

    Aren’t there tens of millions of orphans in Africa, Asia and Latin America dying to get adopted? Why is it that so many “Heroic Americans” choose to adopt the “self-destructive” Russian kids? Could it be that these adopted Russian kids are white and Aryan-looking?

    • Do not ascribe your racist tendencies to others, and speak for yourself. Americans do adopt hundreds of thousands of orphans from all over the world, Africa, Latin America, Asia included.

    • Once again VOR takes time out from worshiping his capo ancestors to take a swipe at people who actually try and do good in the world.

      How Russian of him

  5. Psalomschick

    AAH! welcome back, ‘Voice of Unreason’,
    What would we do without your monotonous
    Kremlin propaganda du-du.?
    We can always count on you, to tell us lies.
    Thanks, for at least never changing.

    • “Heroic Americans” cannot adopt Russian children anymore! Russia suspends all adoptions after the case with Artyom Saveliev.

      • Francis Smyth-Beresford

        Well, that likely had a lot to do with it, but it also was a culmination of events since 1996 which have seen 15 Russian children killed by their adoptive American parents.

        http://adoption.about.com/od/adoptionrights/p/russiancases.htm

        That’d be….let’s see…carry the two…14 years. Granted, compared to the thousands of children adopted by American families during that time period who vastly bettered their lives, it’s a small number. However, child murders – most of these only babies – have a visceral impact out of proportion with their frequency, like shark attacks and axe murders. Loopy cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, killed only 17 people in and around Milwaukee, of a population of about half a million. But you never hear anyone say, “Only 17, that’s not bad, compared to the number of people in Milwaukee who DIDN’T get killed and eaten.”

        It’s not like the Russian government, never mind the people, is doing nothing about the problem.

        http://www.familyhelper.net/news/russia.html

        All agencies are required to be accredited, since 2000, and can have their accreditation yanked if the government is unsatisfied. A recent reaccreditation process is ongoing for all agencies. Prospective parents who wish to adopt must visit Russia twice; once to choose a child, and a second time to complete the process. Once the child is in the foreign country, the parents are responsible for furnishing regular progress reports to the Russian government. It’s not like they’re just mailing children off via parcel post.

        Additionally, the mandatory waiting period has been doubled from 3 months to 6, and the stipend paid to adoptive parents by the government has been increased, both efforts to encourage domestic adoption of Russian children.

        Russian orphanages are a scandal, it’s true. Although I’ve only ever visited one, I suspect that’s one more than the majority of you have ever seen. That particular orphanage was clean, well-maintained, had its own in-house clinic, and the children appeared well-fed and well clothed. However, it was a small village facility that was kept up mostly by local donations (as opposed to a state orphanage), and I imagine it was an exception to the general rule. Please don’t suggest it was a Potemkin setup staged for my benefit, as the visit was random and unannounced.

        The latter reference is clear that most killings of adopted Russian children took place in the U.S. That needn’t suggest Americans are bloodthirsty child-killers, but is a function of an affluent society that can afford to adopt. Most Russian families cannot. Americans are, in the main, warmhearted, generous and kind. However, it’s wrong to assume (a) Americans are all candidates for sainthood, and (b) Russia is doing nothing to alleviate the distress of its orphans. Neither is true, although that’s what the typically hyperbolic headline infers.

  6. Why aren’t heroic Americans rescuing Iraqi and Afghan children, whose two nations which they devastated?

    • dima, and pray tell just what did your beloved fascist Russia do in Afghanistan? why don’t you tell us about the “booby trap anti personnel mines” that your wonderful fascist ruSSia made and air dropped over that nation, while they were attempting to ‘liberate’ those ‘oppressed’ people.

      Mines which were colored green and resembled little butterflies. Which the innocent children thought were toys and picked them up to play with. Needless to say that they were either killed or maimed when the booby trap exploded.

      But getting back to the main topic. So one Russian adoption does not work out of the thousands that succeed? How petty of you. Why don’t you tell us about the large number of children that die through beatings and sheer neglect in Russian orphanages? and get buried in mass communal graves.

      • Why don’t you stay on topic, and at least try to answer my original question?

        I’m sure the orphans and widows of Iraq and Afghanistan would be interested in hearing a constructive and logical answer from you.

        • dima I answered your comment. Fair and square. So if anyone is not staying on topic, it is you. Besides it’s a fact of life that the truth always hurts!

          Like a good ruSSophile you twist the facts. At least read the comment before you add your distorted trash.

          Since when have you been the (albeit self appointed) spokesman for “the orphans and widows of Iraq and Afghanistan”, but for me to go there that would be very hard as I don’t speak either language. As a suggestion, why don’t you go with a big red USSR flag fluttering above your head and ask your questions yourself. Should you return live and well with recordings of your ‘live’ questions on a video camera in both countries, then and only then will I believe you.

          But I won’t hold my breath!

          And another thing, if you have the decency to visit Afghanistan and Iraq, ask the average mother what she thinks of your beloved fascist Russia. I bet you will be surprised.

          • “if you have the decency to visit Afghanistan and Iraq, ask the average mother what she thinks of your beloved fascist Russia. I bet you will be surprised.”

            I wish you could substantiate your words with anything but profane language this time.

        • Dude, you’ve come to a wrong place in your search for answers, and asked a very wrong person in this wrong place:D

          Let me answer the question to let you go back home: heroic Americans do not adopt people from Iraq and Afghanistan because 1) it’s too complicated- both countries are ravaged by wars, and 2) those children are not quite white.

          Now go home. And take care.

          • I realize that this post was from a few weeks ago, which means that probably no one will read my reply, but I wanted to write anyway.

            My wife and I adopted a little girl from Ukraine 3 years ago. The color of her skin did not in the slightest bit factor into our decision. My wife and I had been to Ukraine and seen needy children and children from orphanages and wanted to be able to help children like the ones we met. We also knew a little bit of Russian (more now, since we actually live there now) and thought that we could understand our new child a little more and give her more appreciation for the culture. While I am sure there are those who do pick Russian or Ukrainian children for the color of their skin, I personally find it extremely offensive when people just assume that this is a reason that most people adopt from this region.

            Also, for all those quoting statistics on the death rate of orphans who have been adopted by Russians, the Russian government does not officially track these numbers at all, so any statistics are not at all valid. Also, the extremely high rate at which Russians return the children to the orphanage should be an indicator of the “high regard” Russians hold for orphans. I am absolutely positive that if the true numbers were known, the rates of Russians killing adopted children would be significantly higher than foreigners killing Russian orphans. It just doesn’t make the news in Russia like it does in other countries.

  7. Francis Smyth-Beresford

    Here’s another view of the adoption process – cynical, I suppose, and I should include the disclaimer that it is a web-based special interest group. Nothing wrong with that, and they’ve been around since 2006, but sometimes such groups include zealots who can see things only one way. In any case, this group makes the case that curtailing adoptions is in the best interests of Russian children,

    http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/43194

    and that the arbitrary figure of 143,000,000 orphans worldwide is a nebulous figure exploited by adoption agencies.

    http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/41513

    Not only that, it argues that the appalling nature of their living conditions is often overstated. Also, only 12% of the world’s orphans are under 6 years of age, and those older are unlikely to ever be adopted no matter how relaxed the rules, because adoptive parents are almost always looking for a baby or very young child.

    The statement “Given America’s track record in treating foreign adopted children, a suspension would certainly be in the best interest of Russian children. Since 1996, 18 Russian children have been killed by their American adoptive parents, while only one such case is known outside of the US. So adoption by Americans is 1800% more dangerous than adoption by non-Americans” will likely anger Americans, but is mathematically correct using these numbers. For the record, every other source states the actual number is 15.

    However, what was really an eye-opener for me was the amount of money being made by adoption agencies, many of whom claim to be non-profit.

    http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/38035

    If true, a few people are making out like bandits on the business of selling children, and have a vested interest in keeping the adoption lines open. I make no claims as to its accuracy, and you’re as capable of looking into it as I am. But if you’re like me, this aspect of adoption never even crossed your mind.

  8. Francis, your first link I read and it is excellent. If half of all their adopted children go to America, and the other half to other Western nations, and if our adoptions are 1800% more dangerous (18 death to one) and if the other Western nations can well fill the vacuum Russia may be in the right on this one! Sorry about all the ands. LOL!

  9. A news report today reveals, for example, that, at nearly 700,000, there are more orphans in Russia today than there were during World War II. And, in the last year, over 30,000 Russian children have been returned to orphanages by their Russian adoptive parents. Usually, it is because there is very little support for families who take in these children, but often it is because the money the state awards them for taking someone in has run out.

    And, lest we forget, there’s the story of 12 year-old Denis Khokhryakov. He is the bizarro Artyem, and was lost in the hooplah of Adoptiongate. Around the time the American and Russian state departments were trading parries, Khokhryakov — aka Diego Sologub — was discovered in an orphanage in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. He had been adopted by fellow Russians in November 2003. In July 2004, less than a year later, his adoptive parents had abandoned him in the DR, having traded him in for some cocaine.

  10. Hey, LR.
    Why don’t you adopt a couple of disabled russian kids. I bet you’re going to be a careful mother.
    That way you’d win my deep respect. I can even help you with money. Or participate the antiPutin’s protests if you like it better.

    • You can teach these kids to play tennis properly BTW. So russians will finally win something important and you’ll show us the way Russia has to be managed at the same time.

  11. @ Ouch

    Are you up for adoption mate? Pop over to Australia and I’ll sort you out.
    Cheers.

    • Don’t hold hold your breath Wal, that Ouch “is as thick as two sh*t planks put together”.

      Your Aussie mate from “down under”.

      • Uh oh, our Bohdan is sooo free worldish:D Get back to Ukraine, you traitor of the free Ukrainian nation!

  12. Sorry Ouch, I hope you realise Australia isn’t a prison any more. You may have trouble assimilating from Russia.

    • You mean you want to adopt me?
      I’m thrilling. Can i call you daddy?
      Are you as experienced in tennis as KZ?

      Don’t you worry. I do belive you have few prisons left there in Australia. Must be enough for an obedient russian like myself.

      • Wal, can you tell me, why Russia interests you at all? What was the first step? The kick-off point? I just wonder how people start going out for hobbies…

  13. For three hours they will sit in a tiny room at the table with a warden. He makes sure that they only talk about private topics and never touch each other. It is not allowed for mother and son to shake hands.

  14. There are quite a few blogs on the net written by American adoptive parents describing what they have to go through after adopting russki kids. With love and patience and help of the therapists they try their best and succeed. Most of the kids come to the USA with fetal alcohol syndrome and attachment disorder which makes them very aggressive. Read the blogs and see for yourself.

    here’s one of them
    http://www.alwayswanted4.blogspot.com/

    Read from the start of the blog.

  15. 25+% of the russian babies are born abnormal; and 50% of the russians are sterile.

    According to the head of the UCRM clinical department the rate of leukemia has doubled in the last two decades. Skin cancers have quadrupled over the last 33 years. The total number of people suffering from cancer has risen by 21%. The number of people suffering from vascular diseases has risen 31%. Birth defects have increased by 25%. Kosenko carried out a small epidemiological study of 100 people selected at random. From this group 96% had at least five chronic diseases (heart diseases, high blood pressure, arthritis and asthma), 30% had as many as ten chronic conditions. Local doctors estimate that half the men and women at child bearing age are sterile.

  16. Hi, Nice post!

    I really like it especially the part “And Vanya now has a big brother figure, a former resident as a child, Jenya Davidson, 21, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, too, and came originally for help, only to return years later to work as a handyman and to help attend to the younger children. The two young men share an apartment over Ms. Sterkel’s garage.”

    I will surely reading your other posts.
    Thanks!

  17. testing yo writing my first comment today!

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