116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HIAWATHA — Nearly 28 months after Ukrainian twins Ilya and Bogdan first walked through the terminal exit at The Eastern Iowa Airport, they returned — this time, with their mother and a newly-adopted little brother.
It was at these doors that Jenna Breckenridge first fell in love with the twins she instantly realized were meant to be her children. It wasn’t until the plane landed last Tuesday in Cedar Rapids that she could release the tension she carried for over two years from an arduous adoption process.
Now, the kids she met through a host program aren’t just her boys — they’re her sons.
“It wasn’t until we hit Cedar Rapids and the wheels hit the ground that I lost it,” Jenna Breckenridge said. “I was sobbing. … I wasn’t going to accept it (as final) until we were on the ground here.”
The adoption process
Ukraine may not be the “end of the earth” in proximity to Iowa. But considering the circumstances Jenna and Scott Breckenridge surmounted to adopt their three boys, they may as well have traveled to the ends of the earth.
The adoption process was supposed to take only about nine months. Jenna spent about four months, from June to October, living in Ukraine to finalize the legal adoption process. The couple started the process for the twins over two years ago. They went through three adoption agencies, losing thousands of dollars and months of progress after the government shut down one and corruption cordoned off another.
Applications and paperwork were rejected for the wrong color of pen ink, a middle name missing from a notary’s signature, a slightly misaligned stamp and paying a fee they were incorrectly told to pay. The last one put them on the verge of being unable to adopt Ilya and Bogdan, with a filing rejection returned a mere month before the twins’ 16th birthday, the deadline for one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requirement.
And in case you were wondering, Ukraine officials prefer blue ink, not black.
In a mix of Ukrainian and English, “I miss you” and “I love you” were the refrains that bridged the relationship over 5,000 miles through the entirety of the pandemic. Now, the family doesn’t have to rely on words over Wi-Fi to express their love.
Treated like a criminal
Jenna and Scott flew to Ukraine on June 28 to meet Mkolya for the first time and start the final processes to adopt all three boys. Scott returned to Hiawatha in August as Jenna finalized the process in Ukrainian courts, working remotely from her apartment as she lived there.
“Nothing went as planned,” she said.
The deviations from what is normal even in that country happened so often that the family developed their own slogan: “It’s Ukraine.”
“Everything that happened to us is unheard of,” Jenna said.
Mkolya’s adoption hearing, which would usually be finalized in a day, was being handled by a judge who dealt mostly in criminal proceedings — and she treated Jenna no differently than most criminals in her courtroom.
Jenna was interrogated about her criminal history, why Scott wasn’t present and why she hadn’t brought Mkolya a gift at their first meeting. Then the questions became more sinister, Jenna said, as she asked why the Breckenridges wanted a child with special needs from Ukraine.
“She couldn’t believe we wanted to adopt him because of his special needs,” Jenna said. “They shun these kids in this country.”
Those special needs were a simple cleft palate and developmental delay. Mkolya, now 11, has spent almost his entire life in an orphanage since his mother left him at the hospital as a baby.
Eventually, Jenna’s adoption facilitator spelled it out: The judge had suspicions she was adopting Mkolya to harvest his organs for one of her other children.
“I didn’t think we were going to get (approval),” Jenna said.
But the instant, inseparable bond between Mkolya and Jenna cracked a single smile out of the judge.
“This is my mother,” he told her — something he managed to recognize despite never having known one before.
“You would have thought he’s known us forever,” Jenna said. “He was so attached, which is really uncommon.”
Why nobody wanted to adopt someone as motivated, smart and kind as him is something the Breckenridges may never understand.
Twins Ilya and Bogdan, 16, can confirm that their mother and father love them.
“Maybe too much,” Bogdan told the judge in court.
The teens, who were 14 when they met their now adoptive parents, aged out of the orphanage when they finished ninth grade. Since then, they had been living in a hostel room with four people.
Now, the boys are only 15 months away from being legal adults in their new country. But for the first time in years, they’re being afforded the freedom of youth after taking care of themselves for so long.
The pair distinguished by their personalities — Bogdan poses a more serious contrast to happy-go-lucky Ilya — has been in the orphanage since age 12, when they were removed from their mother’s neglect. They went through six foster homes in three years.
“I keep telling Bogdan he can be a kid now,” Jenna said.
As the twins approach 17, Scott and Jenna feel robbed of a childhood they could have been part of earlier as parents, had it not been for extensive adoption delays. But no matter when their lives together started, the twins will always be their children. And no matter their age, they know they belong in the family because of a love they said transcends words.
The hard work doesn’t stop here, though.
Soon, the boys will be tested to see their grade placement in school.
For Mkolya, having brothers, a family and the ability to be alone in a room outside the orphanage are new realities he’ll have to adjust to. Soon, he’ll establish medical care for any special needs.
Ilya and Bogdan will soon schedule a naturalization ceremony to become U.S. citizens. Ilya wants to become a police officer; Bogdan dreams of playing professional soccer but is working on a backup plan at his parents’ insistence.
Though Jenna said their family will continue to be open to more children, they will never adopt from Ukraine again. They continue to pay off the debt remaining from the $65,000 it took to bring their three sons home.
“We have the ability to have a big family and give all the children equal attention and equal amounts of love,” she said.
Two years ago, Jenna was a biological mother to one and a stepmom who never considered adoption. Now, she has a drive to be the mother she said she never experienced herself.
“We’re just happy they’re home,” Scott said.
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