thoughts on a second honeymoon from the fringe of hell
Call us crazy, but our idea of a mid-life crisis is having more children. Okay, I’ll be honest; that’s my idea of a mid-life crisis. My husband just happens to be good-natured enough to go along with the half-witted notions I embrace as we travel together through life. What can I say except that he’s a swell guy? I, on the other hand, go off half-cocked beyond the rubble of what was once the Iron Curtain, dragging my husband behind as we travel on a quest built on the flimsy foundation of a deceitful international adoption agency named Yunona.
We now facetiously refer to this company as Yu-(k)no(w)-nathing.
Our quest? To retrieve two daughters, ages 8 & 11, from an orphanage in the region of Donetsk. Yunona’s repeated promise? That these girls were indeed available, that they had received our letters and were aware we were coming, and that they (Yunona) could provide for their adoption.
We had gone the route taken by the majority of parents: spying on a photolisting endearing kids, our hearts and consciences wrenched by the thought of their childhoods being lived out in a dismal impoverished orphanage while we relished the relative materialistic ease of middle class American life. We did not know until we arrived in Kiev that Yunona purchases the photos they place on the Internet. We learned that the photos are taken by the orphanages to update binders filled with child profiles lining the shelves at Ukraine’s National Adoption Center (NAC), but for a dip in Yunona’s pockets, certain workers at the NAC will instead sell those photos. The effect of this practice leaves the binders filled with grossly out-dated profiles of children waiting to be adopted and fills the Internet with the faces of children about whom Yunona in truth knows nothing.
Parents aren’t told – at least not until they arrive overseas — that they must not mention the name “Yunona” and that they must never mention they “pre-selected” the children they have come to adopt. Suddenly, parents become a part of the conspiracy, taken to the NAC to scramble through countless binders (or at least those selected to be shown to them) — only able to hope they’ll come across the face of the child whom they thought had already been arranged to be theirs.
It is quite a shock.
Putting aside all the bureaucratic hoops and financial strains that precede such a trip for willing parents, it is heinous for Yunona and agencies like them to issue contracts for children over whose fate they in fact have neither knowledge or control. The owner of Yunona, one Ivan Jerdev, fancies himself a sort of Cyrillic Robin Hood, justifying his questionable means by the common end: that of having nevertheless brought about the adoption of orphans.
But the primary reason children are still getting adopted through this agency is that once there, parents who can’t for one reason or another adopt the children they traveled to adopt (which is the vast majority of parents) are then prodded to select a child from the out-dated profiles in the binders at the NAC and encouraged to adopt them instead. Parents travel to distant regions to meet children they are told are healthy, but frequently aren’t. For many parents it is a heartbreaking journey. They may have placed their life savings in Yunona’s wallet in the hope of adopting. Doubtless, they have completed countless forms at substantial cost, may have left other children waiting at home, and have traveled thousands of miles to a country where, save for Yunona’s paid interpreter, they can communicate effectively with no one. It is a position of high vulnerability. We know. It was a position in which we stood.
We know how easy it is for parents in this situation to succumb to this pressure and accept a different child than the one they traveled to adopt. We almost did it ourselves. They tell you that you literally only have minutes to decide or you will have to go home empty-handed. They remind you that you have come this far and gone to all this work and expense and now how could you possibly leave a poor suffering orphan behind? Never mind that Yunona’s contract promises specific children for whom you have already prepared your heart and your home. And never mind the contract promises a refund if they can’t deliver the specific children you planned to welcome into your lives, because there’s also a clause that nullifies this promise if you chose a different child. For Yunona, regardless of the fact that they know little or nothing about the children whose faces they post on the Internet, the odds are still on their side.
One common result of Yunona’s blind-sided practices is for parents to discover upon their arrival that a child they intended to adopt has a sibling or two or three. This is one of the things that happened to us. The NAC then tells parents that they must adopt all siblings; that, by Ukrainian law, families cannot be split. Lest it sound as though I am opposed to this philosophy let me state clearly that I am not. What I take exception to is Yunona’s failure to know the status of children for whom they issue contracts. We were not prepared to learn we were now going to be expected to adopt 14-year-old boy. The NAC couldn’t even find a profile on him, just as they couldn’t find a profile on the younger of the daughters we went to adopt. Without a profile, the NAC won’t issue the necessary permission to meet the child anyway, so our hands were tied.
On chat sites for adoptive parents we have been vilified both for speaking out about Yunona and for not having selected alternative children on the spot, under pressure, while still distraught after having learned we’d been deceived. I suppose some parents who have been in our position, yet made a different choice, feel defensive – perhaps because they feel to be otherwise is to implicate themselves as victims or to somehow denigrate their love for the children they nevertheless did wind up adopting. It is a shame they cannot see Yunona for what it is without removing the innocence of their adopted children from the equation, because to defend Yunona is to defend everything that is wrong with international adoption.
Yunona could easily abandon their deceptive practices and cease issuing contracts for specific children. They could stop buying photos of kids they know nothing about. So why don’t they? I believe it is because there would then be a sharp decline in a call for their services and therefore a sharp decline in their income. The faces are the bait. Bait gathers clients. Pressuring parents to adopt alternative children once in country is the switch.
Yunona runs a bait-‘n-switch operation because that’s where the money is.
What, then, about the other type of contract Yunona offers: the open contract? An open contract secures adoptive services in which the client parents are aided in selecting children the way Ukraine expects them to – ridiculous as it is – by choosing in a matter of minutes a child from an out-dated profile book that they can’t even read for themselves. But there is no money-back clause in an open contract, and besides, even parents who took the switch readily admit they wouldn’t have gone halfway around the world to adopt if they hadn’t fallen for a specific photograph in the first place. They’re okay with this, mind you, now that they have chosen to adopt a different child; but they don’t want to hear their lost dream of a child called bait.
Another reason the open contract route is less popular is that this route can be taken for a whole lot less money — by merely excluding Yunona from the process in the first place. Adopting “independently” is the method sanctioned by the Ukrainian government and there are helpful groups of parents readily available on the Internet (see: www.frua.org) who will help new and interested adoptive parents through the sometimes daunting journey of independent international adoption. Tens of thousands of children living in American homes today testify to the effectiveness of sanctioned routes to adoption. Unfortunately for us and for many other unsuspecting, uninformed parents, falling in love with a face and signing on the dotted line preceded understanding.
We learned all we know too late.
We did, however, have our share of suspicion before traveling, though not due to any information forthcoming from Yunona. It was because of adoption chat groups I encountered that we began to question our agency. But met with inquiry, Yunona artfully and continually deflects parental worry by wielding a shield of propaganda that’s been polished to a high sheen by half-truths and outright lies. If you tell Yunona other parents informed you photolistings are illegal in Ukraine, Yunona says they don’t use photolistings in Ukraine – they use them on the Internet. When we asked for details about what would take place at the NAC, such as how long our appointment would be and what would take place there, we were given vague platitudes consisting of statements like, “Don’t worry. Your coordinators in Kiev will take care of everything.”
Now that we are back and voicing our dissent, one indignant parent has accused us of “being willing to go along with Yunona so long as we thought we could get what we want.” To an extent she is right. But she, like Yunona, is skirting past several salient points. For one, most of what we now know we didn’t know prior to traveling. What we thought we were “going along with” didn’t include the realization that money we believed was being spent to make the lives of orphans better was in fact being used to bribe officials such a notaries, judges, and employees of the NAC. For another, suspicions notwithstanding, Yunona held two very important things over our heads: all of our liquid assets and the lives of the daughters we expected to raise. Pretty hefty stakes.
To be sure, we would also be less upset if Yunona at least honored its contract in that it returned our funds. Instead they are attempting to extort our complicity in their schemes by trying to force us to sign a gag order — which includes a waiver of a multitude of our rights — in order to secure our already-contractually-agreed-upon refund. Well, I may be one stubborn woman because my silence cannot be bought. Not even for the $14,400.00 that Yunona still owes us. Our right to free speech and the rights of other unsuspecting parents to be duly warned is in fact worth a whole lot more, don’t you think?
Organizations like Yunona that run afoul of international laws and standard codes of ethics in their conduct do more in the long run to harm orphans than they do to help them. If Yunona were sincere in their claims to care about orphans, they would serve them appropriately and further the cause of adoption in an upright and unsullied manner. There would be no need to deceive parents. And if deception isn’t at play here, why do parents like us have to wrestle and sue for our refunds?
One parent recently told me that she has been reading the adoption chat sites long enough now to see the cycle repeating itself. What cycle you ask? Why, the one of which I and my husband are now a part: that of starry-eyed parents announcing their impending trip overseas to adopt, only to find they must defend Yunona against those in the know, then later returning from their disappointing travels to link elbows with the angry masses. This particular parent justifiably pondered how the cycle would ever end.
If you’re wondering the same thing, all I can say is … I’m working as fast as I can.
Author’s note: For those readers astute enough — and for those with attention spans rivaling the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, who may actually recall the title of this piece by the time they read to the end — here’s the punch line: our trip wasn’t totally a waste. Not only did we learn how to ask for “one large beer” in rather broken Ukrainian, but outlandishly poor flight connections and bureaucratic complications led us to experience life in Kiev while our luggage toured Prague and permitted us an unanticipated night in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling golden lights. Life is an adventure. Go live it. But don’t forget to ask for your money back from unscrupulous shysters along the way.Powered by Sidelines