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HIAWATHA — Waiting on pins and needles doesn’t quite describe the feelings some parents experience when waiting through countless hurdles to bring a child home from a foreign country.
Jenna and Scott Breckenridge found that out in the journey that took over two years to bring home adopted twins Ilya and Bogdan, now 17, and 10-year-old Kolya, who arrived from Ukraine last October to Hiawatha. They’re used to the usual range of preposterous delays that were amplified by the pandemic.
But with Artem, the fourth teenager they’re hoping to adopt from now war-torn Ukraine, the experience has become an alternation of accepting grief and clinging to diminishing splinters of hope.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Breckenridge family was nearly two months into the adoption of the 15-year-old from Berdyansk, a port city on the Sea of Azov now under Russian control.
“You’re my only hope. I’m begging you to come get me,” he said, before communications stopped abruptly in March.
What’s happened since
At the end of March, Artem was able to flee Ukraine with 250 other children at his orphanage.
After days of traveling, first northwest by train to Poland and then by bus through the Czech Republic and Austria, Artem arrived in Bergamo, a province in northern Italy near Milan. There, he remains housed in a hotel with the orphanage indefinitely — “until the war is over,” they’re told.
But as families like the Breckenridges work with Exitus, an anti-human trafficking organization helping orphans from Ukraine, the uncertainty only continues to mount. A murky route home is the moat between Artem in Italy and adoptive parents Scott and Jenna in Hiawatha, it seems.
“We’re still clinging to something, that we get him out or that the (Ukraine Ministry of Social Policy) approves (his departure,)” Jenna said. “That’s his only chance.”
Occasionally, they receive news that brings a glimmer of hope for his departure from Italy to North Carolina, where they would meet him to bring him home, if he gets out of Europe. But other than requesting updates, which are often met with the same response, the family is powerless to advance his adoption.
Unlike with Ilya and Bogdan, the parents have accepted the possibility that Artem might never make it home. And the grief of losing an adoptive child that never made it across their threshold in Hiawatha is no different from the loss of a biological child, they said.
After weeks of crying out for help to attorneys and congressional representatives to no avail, she spoke aloud their worst fears to the children at home — that they don’t know if Artem will ever arrive.
“It took weeks to come to accepting some sort of peace and not being totally grief stricken all the time,” said Jenna. “I had to. It was killing me.”
So they continue to refill his debit card, talk to him and look after him in the only way they can from afar. Amid rumors they hear among other families that Ukraine will attempt to enlist 15-year-olds in the fight against Russia, they take some comfort that he’s an arm’s length away in Italy.
Jenna and Scott have converted rooms into bedrooms for all of the children in their rapidly expanding family and are considering a new addition to the back of their house for more space. But until Artem arrives home, it’s a preparation of uncertainty.
When pins and needles become grief and anxiety, hope can seem like an exercise in futility amid teases of progress.
“The grief is real, it’s deep. I’ve never felt that before,” Jenna said. “I’m just trying to focus on what I can control.”
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