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HIAWATHA — Jenna and Scott Breckenridge have adopted three boys from Ukraine, but their fourth adoption from the now war-torn country will be very different — if it happens at all.
The Breckenridge family was nearly two months into their adoption of Artem, 15, when Russia invaded Ukraine. They planned to have him home by the end of the year at the latest.
With their first three adopted boys — twins Ilya and Bogdan, now 17, and 11-year-old Kolya — the process was riddled with preposterous delays and hurdles compounded by a pandemic. But with Artem, it’s not a matter of time. It’s a matter of life and death.
“We don’t even know if he’s going to be alive” by the end of this year, Jenna said.
It’s been about a week since they last heard from Artem. The longest they’ve gone without communication since they met in January was one day.
The teenager lives in Berdyansk, a port city on the Black Sea in southeast Ukraine where Russian forces have been bearing down for strategic control. Information the Breckenridges have received indicates the Russians have taken over the city in nearly every sense, including control of its police department.
As other provinces of Ukraine have managed to evacuate their orphanages to Poland under the directive of Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy, the orphans of Berdyansk remain in the basement for extensive periods of time, sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
Artem was anxiously unaware of Russia’s invasion last week, when he observed teachers getting frantic but saying nothing. He learned of the new war from Jenna and Scott.
“Then it was sheer panic after that,” Jenna said.
“You’re my only hope. I’m begging you to come get me,” he said, before communications stopped.
The last they were able to talk to him, he recounted seeing windows shake and missiles fly by as gunshots continued in the background. The airport in his city has been bombed.
With the ability to file time-sensitive documents paused and critical offices closed in Ukraine, the Breckenridges are fighting to adopt or evacuate Artem by September, when he turns 16 and will be eligible for military service there — something that looms in Scott’s mind.
“With the desperation of the country at this point, who knows,” Scott said. “That’s what I thought — when they turn 16, it’s like they hand them a rifle and say ‘here you go.’”
Before they met Artem, the Breckenridge family had avoided hosting another Ukrainian child.
“I’ll just fall in love and we’ll be back at square one,” Jenna said.
When they learned of Artem being hosted by a family in Maryland in January, Jenna just wanted to find him a good family. Then the host started talking about him more, showing videos of him playing the piano and singing.
They drove through an ice storm to meet him, and the course for adoption was sealed in their hearts. Over two days, they came to love the boy who would was nervous to reveal any of his health issues for fear they would not adopt him. Artem lost both of his parents to cancer and for years has diligently searched himself for a family.
Now, a week’s worth of sleepless nights and one continuous news cycle later, their uncertainty is met with numbness. Jenna stays up late, waiting for any news from Artem or officials from the country eight hours ahead of the Central time zone.
“There’s nothing that can be done until they get out of Ukraine,“ Jenna said. ”I just feel dead inside.“
There were many young children they could’ve adopted, but they chose an older teenager aging out of the system.
“They essentially have nothing when they (age out,)” Scott said. “They have no family.”
But for a family with more love to give, it will take more than sheer willpower to rescue a child from Ukraine.
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