In Contentious System, Hope For A Russian Orphan Artyom Savelyev's adoptive mother in Tennessee put him on a plane two years ago and sent him back to his homeland, unaccompanied. Now, he's living with a foster mother near Moscow. The 9-year-old's journey highlights the challenges both within Russia and between Russia and the U.S. over how to care for orphans.
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In Contentious System, Hope For A Russian Orphan

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In Contentious System, Hope For A Russian Orphan

In Contentious System, Hope For A Russian Orphan

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg. Two years ago, a young boy arrived in Moscow unaccompanied on a plane from Washington, D.C. He'd been adopted from a Russian orphanage by an American nurse named Torry Ann Hansen. Hansen sent her son back to his homeland with a note, saying he mentally unstable and she couldn't be his parent anymore. This month, a Tennessee court ordered Hansen to pay child support. NPR's Martha Wexler has an update on the child, who's now 9, and the status of U.S. adoptions from Russia.

MARTHA WEXLER, BYLINE: The blond boy who spent less than a year in America as Justin Hansen is once again Artyom Savelyev. He is living in a tidy brick house in a still-snow-covered stand of birch and pine trees in Tomilino, on the edge of Moscow.


WEXLER: This suburban cluster is part of the SOS Children's Village Network, an Austrian-based NGO. It's one of a handful of these villages in Russia, each with about 60 children. Artyom is living with a married couple and five other kids, also orphans or abandoned children. We were told that Artyom had been spooked by all the press attention he'd had, and so we couldn't meet him.

VERA YEGOROVA: (Russian spoken)

WEXLER: But the woman Artyom now calls mama welcomed us into their home while he was in school. Vera Yegorova has made her living being a mother to 17 children since leaving her job as a systems analyst in 1995. She rattles off her kids' birthdays and relishes recounting snippets of their conversations. Yegorova cooks, cleans and says she sends her current crop of six off to the local schools with a kiss in the morning. In the evening, she's their tutor.

YEGOROVA: (Through Translator) Without all the teacher's help, without my help, they can't do their lessons. We're working on multiplication tables with Artyom now. It's hard for him.

WEXLER: He's behind in his studies and older than his classmates, which is why Yegorova thinks he acts out in school. When Artyom arrived in Tomilino last fall, he was withdrawn, she says, and refused to leave the house.

YEGOROVA: (Through Translator) At first, he couldn't settle down and go to sleep. I had to sit with him for a long time. He's coming down now.

WEXLER: It took a while to place Artyom in the Children's Village. After he arrived back in Moscow, he spent more than a year in a regular orphanage.

YEGOROVA: (Russian spoken)

WEXLER: Yegorova says she hasn't felt any aggressiveness at home. He likes to sit next to her and cuddle, help out in the kitchen. She says he plays well with his new brother, another Artyom with whom he shares a bedroom. He's a good boy, she says.

ANATOLY VASILYEV: (Through Translator) They all have psychological problems - not psychiatric disorders but psychological problems - because they were torn away from their mothers.

WEXLER: Anatoly Vasilyev is the director of the Children's Village. He says a staff psychologist refers 30 to 40 percent of the children to specialists. And Vasilyev says he makes sure caretakers get regular training in child psychology and extra help when needed. Artyom isn't the only child here taken away from an alcoholic mother, not the only one given up by a parent who'd taken him in. Artyom's case seemed to be the last straw after a series of adoptions in America that went horribly wrong. There were even deaths of Russian children.


WEXLER: Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would freeze the adoptions that have brought 60,000 Russian children to the U.S. over the last two decades. That freeze never happened, but the rate did slow to fewer than 1,000 last year. Lavrov called for a bilateral agreement governing adoptions, and one was signed last July. It requires adoptions to go through agencies accredited by the Russian government. It provides for checks on the kids once they're in the U.S. And the Russians must give more complete medical reports.

SUSAN JACOBS: The parents will know more about the child and will be able to make a better decision about whether they can meet those needs. If a child has special needs, a parents need to know that before they adopt.

WEXLER: That's Susan Jacobs, the State Department's special adviser for children's issues. Recently, she says, she's heard that families have been told Russia won't allow new adoptions until the Russian parliament ratifies the agreement. That's expected to happen this spring. Officially, though, Moscow tells the State Department there is no moratorium. Meanwhile, 100,000 Russian children languish in orphanages. In 2006, then-President Vladimir Putin ordered state agencies to move children out of them. But two years later, the parliament put a stop to efforts to improve foster care in Russia's regions. Child advocate Boris Altshuler suggests why.

BORIS ALTSHULER: Behind this great orphanage system of Russia, there's enormous money - several billion dollars per year. If there will be no orphans, children institutions, they will not receive this money.

WEXLER: And Altshuler, director of an NGO called Children's Rights, also points the finger at nationalist rhetoric against foreign adoptions.

ALTSHULER: This means that thousands of Russian children or babies, who earlier were adopted abroad, stayed in Russian orphanages.

WEXLER: With all their bad consequences, he says, for children's emotional health. Martha Wexler, NPR News, Moscow.

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