Russian ban on U.S. adoptions leaves a local couple in limbo
By Kim Walter
More than a year after deciding to adopt 14-year-old Maxim Kargapoltsev from Russia, Woodstock residents Mil and Dianna Wallen continue to play the waiting game.
After knowing the boy for almost five years, the couple had hopes of bringing him home soon. But those hopes are on hold following the sudden passing of a Russian bill banning the adoption of Russians by Americans.
On Jan. 1, Russia informed the U.S. embassy that independent adoptions of Russian children would no longer be allowed, while adoption through an accredited agency would still be permissible. Late Thursday, though, it was announced that the ban wouldn't go into effect for another year.
The news still leaves the Wallens in an awkward position, as the law doesn't address adoptions already in the middle of the process.
The couple, married for almost 30 years, has donated their time and funds to Orphanage 13 in Chelyabinsk for 13 years, Mil Wallen said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. They met Maxim in 2008, and "have loved him since."
When the Wallens returned to Russia for the orphanage's graduation, amid all the excitement and celebration, they had a realization.
"It was kind of bittersweet," Wallen said. "The kids knew that after the graduation, they were going out on their own with nobody to care for them. It's so sad ... they knew their future would probably be bleak."
So, in November 2011, the couple decided to move forward with an independent adoption. They didn't go through an accredited agency because there wasn't -- and still isn't -- one for the area, Wallen said. In March 2012, the two returned to Russia with documents to get the process moving, but they weren't accepted.
"They wouldn't take our papers because they weren't stitched correctly," Wallen said. "Literally, they were supposed to be hole punched and held together a certain way."
Wallen said that if the papers had gone through at that time, the family probably wouldn't be in the present situation.
"On our end, we didn't delay anything," he said. "On their end ... we felt like we were being held back with them making us jump through these tremendous hoops."
Wallen said he understands the importance of complying with the Russian laws concerning adoption, keeping in mind the safety of the adopted child.
"I get it, adoptive parents should absolutely go through intense background checks," he said.
Maxim's story began to gain international attention when an interview with a TV reporter got "blown out of proportion." Wallen said Maxim had voiced his desire to go to America, but from there the media "turned it into something bigger than it really was."
Now, the boy is receiving gifts from government officials, and the attention has excited Maxim, Wallen said. He and his wife have spoken to him at least 10 times over the past two days.
On his Facebook page, Maxim added the last name 'Wallen' to his own, and has posted a slew of pictures of him with his would-be parents, long before his story gained momentum. Some of the pictures are just of the couple, and even a modest painting of the Wallens and Maxim can be seen.
Wallen noted that they hoped to find some medical answers for Maxim once he arrived in the states. They aren't sure what kind of health problems the boy might have, but Wallen said he's "not as big as other kids his age."
"As far as we're concerned, he's just small, but smart as a whip," he said. The boy can speak better English than the Wallens speak Russian, he added.
On Saturday, an interpreter who knows the Wallens and is close to Maxim, will meet with the boy to talk about the current situation. As for what Maxim wants for the outcome, Wallen has no doubts.
"I'll say that if tomorrow, Putin said 'I'll do whatever I can to make you happy, and you can go wherever you want,' [Maxim] would want to come to America," Wallen said.
While some Russian officials have backed the reasoning for the ban as hoping to promote Russians adopting other Russians, Wallen isn't sold.
"I guess there's some truth behind it, but that's not their main goal," he said. A large number of Russians must agree, as a protest against the law is planned for Sunday in Moscow, Wallen added.
"It's very frustrating, because until [Thursday] we were under the impression that the adoption was 100 percent off. Then [Friday] they say it won't take place until 2014," he said. "But we still don't know what's going to happen."
Wallen asks that Russian officials allow he and his wife to continue the adoption process independently as it's the "shortest route" to getting Maxim. However, even if the documents were approved, a court date would have to be set, and Wallen worries that could be pushed back until months into 2014. Even if the couple were to somehow find an accredited adoption agency in the area, he said it could still "take forever."
Willing to try anything, Wallen has tweeted Putin and the regional governor, Mikhail Yurevich, with his request -- he has yet to receive an answer.
"We love this boy dearly," Wallen said. "We already call him our son ... we just want to give him a good home, and I believe he wants that too, with us."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org