Saturday, February 28, 2009

Homecoming!

I so apologize to you, our faithful readers, who have been emailing, phoning, and personally asking for an update to our blog. Yes! we are home. We have been home for 13 days. I will catch you all up on what has happened since we've been back, starting with this post, about our arrival in Sioux Falls.

I wrote this post a week ago - I never got it completed then, so I will post it now. I'm sorry - but it's better late than never!

---------------------------------------------------

Well where did this week go. The last time I posted, on Sat. evening, we had just landed in Chicago, where we stayed overnight.

Sunday morning (Feb. 15), early morning, the kids woke up at 2:30 am, awake for the day. They graciously let me sleep until 5:30, when they tickled me awake. On our body clocks, 2:30 was really 10:30 am, which was very late for them, since they always got up at 7:30 while we were in Odessa.

We enjoyed the American breakfast buffet at the hotel. Even Valya found things she likes. She is very picky, not quick to try new things.

On the way to the elevators I noticed the exercise room, so we stopped in there. The kids loved it, especially Valya. She spent an hour on all of the various machines. She is very physical.

We took the hotel shuttle for O'Hare to catch our 1:00 flight to Sioux Falls. On the way to the terminal we saw Air Force One parked there. President Obama was in Chicago over the Valentine's weekend for something. It was fun to show the kids the president's airplane. Our flight was quick - we actually arrived in Sioux Falls 20 min. early. I was concerned about that because I knew that we had a crowd of people that would be there to greet us and I didn't want to get there before them! I made sure we were the last ones off the plane and we walked slowly out of the concourse to give them more time.

Nancy and Mark greeted us at the top of the escalator. She had asked everyone else to wait below so that we could have a little private time together first. We had all been together only once before, on Dec. 27, when we had taken Sergey from his orphanage in Odessa up to Andreyevo to let Valya and Sergey meet for the first time. After hugs and kisses, it was down the escalator to greet our friends and family. I didn't count but I would guess there were about 30 who came to meet us. What a great time we had. Thanks so much to everyone for coming to meet us. It was unforgettable.

And so we end this phase of our adoptions. Now, we are a new forever family embarking on a new adventure!



Saturday, February 14, 2009

US Population: 305,818,710 + 2

After about 19 hours of traveling, we have arrived at our hotel in Chicago. Our two flights today went very smoothly and on-time.

Valentina and Sergey officially became US Citizens when their immigration paperwork from the US Embassy in Kiev was processed at the Port of Entry at the airport. They actually have dual citizenship. At the age of 18, under Ukrainian law, they may formally renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. But until then, they are both Ukrainian and American citizens. The US Embassy in Kiev sent home with us some helpful information that explains all of this. We would have to be careful taking Sergey over there after he turns 16 because they could conscript him into the military.

Our day started at Borispil airport, which is a city about 15 mi. east of Kiev. It is a beautiful drive to Borispil as it is birch forest almost the entire way.

After we got checked in and got our boarding passes, we headed upstairs to the international departures lobby. At the east end of a very large room, there is a collection of booths called Passport Control. It is here that they check your passports, and in the case of adoptions, check the adoption papers.

I've read bad stories about this area on other blogs, so I quick scanned the booths and picked one with a young woman. When we walked up to the kiosk, the lady was wearing an army green military type dress uniform, complete with shoulder placards with some bronze stars on it. That looked very normal. But later when she got up to do something, she was wearing a short short tight miniskirt of the same uniform material, black nylons, and knee-high glossy black leather boots. I mean this is an official uniform. It's very odd to see. Anyway I picked a woman, supposing that she wouldn't be as intimidating as the other guys.

Our facilitor had reminded us to be sure that we brought one of the original 16 signed court decrees granting the kids to us. Yep, she asked to see that along with the passports. Taking about 10 min., she read all 4 pages of the decree, then asked the children, "Do you want to leave?" In unison they both replied "Da". I guess that is the last safeguard the Ukrainian government has in place to protect the children. I wondered what would have happened had either of them said No. We got the approval to pass through to the gate and we were off for Frankfurt, Germany.

While we were waiting at Borispil, we ran into Jim Vanderburg. He was also leaving Ukraine, with his three new daughters. Turns out we were on the same flight out, and our connecting gates in Frankfurt were even near each other. Valya, of course, hit it off immediately with his girls, and they all became friends in a short time.

In Frankfurt, Jim and I spent quite a bit of time visiting about our adoptions, and the girls goofed around like girls do. When it was time for our flights to board, we said goodbyes and traded email addresses and phone numbers so that the girls can keep in touch.

As we were boarding the flight to Chicago in Frankfurt, I was suprised, but glad, that the gate agent requested to see the US Embassy packets for the kids. Yet another safeguard in the system to protect the children.

Our flight to Chicago was 9 hours, which went pretty fast, in retrospect. United gives every seat a video screen with 15 channels or so of programming, plus a dozen music channels. Valya was unusually cuddly with me, which I really enjoyed.

The kids have been great. I've never had one discipline problem in the last two weeks. Everyone was tired today, but they hung in there and never whined or complained once.

When we got to the hotel, we all showered right away, then they both fell asleep watching Sponge Bob. They are both breathing deeply in slumber. Before Sergey fell asleep he commented to me that he couldn't believe that he was in America. I know this is a dream come true for him. What a joy and blessing they are.

Tomorrow, we can sleep in and relax before we catch our 1:00 flight to Sioux Falls. We are looking forward to being reunited with Nancy and Mark as a complete family of 5 again, something we have only been able to do once before, on Dec. 27th last year.


Here are some pictures from a great day.


Jim, Miranda, Karina, and Jessica Vanderburg and us together at about 4:30 AM at Borispil, waiting for our flight to Frankfurt.



Jessica and Valya talk about music.



Last moments on Ukrainian soil, on the way to a new life in America.



Hanging with Sergey as we wait for our flight to Chicago.



Valya saying goodbye to her new friends Miranda and Jessica in Frankfurt.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thank You

It is 3:00 AM in Kiev, we are waiting for our driver.

After looking at the comments from our new friends on my previous post, I realized that I forgot to say Thank You! for all of the nice comments you all have left for us these last 2 1/2 months. They truly are a blessing when you are so far from home. Even though I don't make comments on your comments, please know that Nancy and I read every one and looked forward to seeing them in our email every morning.

God bless you all.

Our driver is here, it is time to go.

-- Alan

Finished!

Embassy of the United States of America
Kyiv, Ukraine

Congratulations on your successful adoption!


Superstitions are for pagans. Today, Friday the 13th, is a day that the Lord has made, and we rejoice in it!

In July of 2007, we started on our adoption of these two great kids. Today, Friday, February 13th, we completed everything. We are done. All that remains is to come home.

We were able to get the kids' American visas today. I must give credit to the personnel at the US Embassy, Officer Egli at the DHS/USCIS office in Bloomington, MN, our social worker, your prayers, and the Lord, for a speedy resolution to our problem.

Due to an oversight on my part, I did not provide our updated homestudy to the Dept. of Homeland Security. Incredibly, I was able to get another updated homestudy from our social worker, and get it processed and approved by the US Government all within 24 hrs.

We lost a day here in Kiev due to my screw up, but as it turns out, we would have lost a day anyway because the machine that prints visas at the Embassy was broken down on Thursday.

We fly out at 5:35 AM from Borispil airport. Ugh, we have a 2:15 AM wakeup call. We will fly into Chicago and stay overnight, then continue on to Sioux Falls on Sunday afternoon. If you'd like to meet us at the Sioux Falls airport, we are coming in on United flight UA5965 on Sun. Feb 15 arriving at 2:30 PM. We would love to see you there.

This will be our last blog post from Ukraine. What an adventure this has been. Our SDA appointment was on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 2008.


Here's a few pictures.


Valentina and Sergey waiting for our ride to the US Embassy to pick up their American visas. We were also moving from our apartment to a hotel. We had to stay a day longer than anticipated.



The kids playing with $8500 that I paid our facilitator today. This was our 3rd and final payment. They were quite amazed, it is equivalent to 69,700 grivna.



All the running around in Kiev caught up with the kids.



Each child has a sealed envelope that we received from the US Embassy today. We have to keep them in our carry on bags on the airplane and must present them unopened at our US Port of Entry. It contains all of their official immigration documents. The US visas are affixed to a page in their Ukrainian passports.



We also received instruction sheets from the US Embassy that tell us what we need to do at this point. The sheets are very helpful, and start with the quote that I have above.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Visas Tomorrow

We ran into a complication getting the American visas for the kids.

In our original homestudy, we had listed Valya's age as the upper limit that we would accept, in case the SDA did not give us the referrals we were petitioning for. At the time, that upper limit for us was 12 y.o.

The problem for us has been that our original homestudy for the I-600A was finished about 15 months ago and the kids have had two birthdays since. I wanted to wait until after our SDA appt. to update because of the uncertain situation we had with Valya and her siblings, and also after court in case something unexpected were to come up. But afterwards, somehow, I forgot all about it.

Yesterday, our social worker updated the age limit to 14 y.o. and emailed me the new homestudy, which I forwarded to the DHS person in Minnesota. Today, I also had the US Embassy personnel push for them to expedite. It appears like DHS and the National Visa Center will give approval same day Thursday, which is really remarkable. Thursday in the US is overnight in Kiev. The Embassy has told me to call in the morning (Friday), and we will probably be able to get our visas.

Today, we had our interview with the consular officer. He did a final review of our paperwork, looked at the results of the blood tests, and made me raise my right hand and swear under oath that all that we submitted was true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.

One other interesting tidbit here, Valya needed to have her fingerprints taken at the Embassy because she is 14 y.o. Sergey didn't need to.

We are losing a day but it is working out. So, the tentative plan right now is to fly out on Saturday, stay the night in Chicago, and then fly into Sioux Falls on Sunday. There is something going on back home on Saturday and if we fly in then, no one will meet us at the airport!

Today at the Embassy we saw a family in the American Citizens' waiting room, but we never talked to each other. Later, we went down to the SDA to take some pictures with the kids, and we ran into them again at the souvenir vendors. It turns out that they recognized me because of our blog, but never said anything! They are the Sawchuk family from Atlanta and they adopted two young boys.

Tonight we went down to Independence Square. It was really hopping tonight. There is so much life down there and along Kreshetuk street. I can only imagine what it is like in summertime.

At 8:30 AM today I went sightseeing by myself as the kids really didn't want to get going that early. I walked to the Parliament building and the Presidential Palace. They are far from our apartment, which is across the street from the Kiev Opera House. On the way back, there was a huge political rally down the street from Independence Square. Also, at the square itself there are several tents set up. There are people protesting against the government because of the economy. I'll post pictures when I have decent internet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ooops

This is an urgent prayer request!

We are in Kiev now. The kids had their medical checks and bloodwork today, and we had our first appt. at the Embassy where I turned in the I-600 and other forms.

But due to an oversight on my part, I neglected to submit our updated homestudy that reflects approval for older ages of our children on the I-600A. So the Embassy will refuse to provide visas.

I called the DHS office in Bloomington MN all day today, but they never returned my call. The guy was in meetings all day then left early. I do have the updated homestudy in my possession, and my facilitator printed it out. I will take it to the appointment tomorrow and beg and plead that they will give us the visas. If so, we will be able to leave Friday. If not, we will be here another 5 days because of the weekend.

Please pray for us!

A New Day

We are on the train, 10 min. from Kiev, early in the morning.

My shirt looks like I slept in it, my hair looks like I just got up, and out our window there is a New Day dawning.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Poka, Odyesa

We are on the train and the wheels are rolling. We had intended to get 2nd class tickets, but we ended up in 3rd class. They aren't called classes in Russian and Sergey didn't know how to ask for it at the ticket counter. Ooops. I think I am the only person in 3rd class blogging with my cell phone!

Sergey's Godmother stopped by and visited with us on the train until it was time to depart.

We have a seatmate to complete our 4 berths, He is a young guy with a sense of humor, and paired with Sergey, Valya has been laughing nonstop. She is like that.

The next stop in our story: Kiev. Our facilitor in Kiev just called and said that when we arrive at the train station there we will take the kids straight to the medical clinic for the US Embassy's required blood tests and physicals. Looks like we will hit the ground running. I hope we get some sleep tonight.

We are all very glad to be at this point

I was going to post a couple of pictures but they won't go for some reason.

"You Are Done in Odessa"



This afternoon we got word that Valentina and Sergey's passports were ready. So at 3:30 we went down to the passport office to get them. Alyona was already there and after a little waiting, she came out to meet us and said, "You are done in Odessa". Yay! From there we went down to the train station to buy tickets. We leave tonight at 11:09 PM and will get into Kiev at 8:30 AM.

If things go smoothly we will fly back to America on Friday the 13th!

The kids are bouncing off of the walls, they are so excited.

It was cute watching Valya write her name in English on her luggage tag.

The Blue Sea

We are still killing time in Odessa waiting for Valentina and Sergey's passports to be ready.

Yesterday, we had a rare sunny, beautiful day in Odessa. We decided to go down to the shore again, as the day before it was very cold and overcast. It was great to enjoy ourselves in the fresh sea air and sun. It was a real morale booster for me. I grew up at the ocean in Long Beach, CA, so I do enjoy being near the water when I have the chance. The Black Sea was a beautiful blue today.

Though it was sunny and mild, there was still a strong sea breeze. The waves were crashing and the kids enjoyed playing "chicken" with them as they would break.

At the end of the afternoon we took the long way home via downtown Odessa, just enjoying the sights.

We were invited to Sergey's Godmother's apartment for a borsh supper. I had borsh a couple of times in restaurants here but hers was outstanding. We had a nice visit. She showed us a camcorder video of a program that Sergey was in that she went to at Orphanage #4 last year. That was fun.

Last night I was looking at pictures from the day and was thinking to myself how different this day was for them than it would have been had they been in their orphanages. I wish all those kids had families to do things with.

I was able to talk to Nancy this morning. All is ready back home for our arrival. We will be home soon, it just depends on when their passports are ready. We have been told today, but who knows? Things will move quickly for us once we get the word. We'll need to pack and cart all of our food, games, and movies over to M's, and say goodbye. We'll probably try to move a bunch over today yet if we can, even if the passports aren't ready yet. As we start making preparations to leave Odessa, I think it will start sinking in with the kids that they really are going to America!

Blessings to you!


Here are some pictures.


Walking down to Chevchenko Park and the shore. The pink building on the corner is being restored. You see a lot of this right now in Odessa. The sea air is very hard on buildings. Many others are in need of restoration.



At Chevchenko Park, stray dogs and people were enjoying the beautiful day.




Portraits of Valentina and Sergey overlooking the Black Sea.




The flame at the Memorial to the Unknown Seaman burns eternally, except when it doesn't. These workers were doing maintenance on it.



The kids enjoyed themselves at the shore.







We took the scenic way back to our apartment. Here, Chevchenko Park overlooks the southern end of the Port of Odessa. Ukraine's main exports are wheat and steel. A lot of it goes out here.



There are many monuments in Chevchenko Park.




Nancy called from America while we were on our way downtown. Had to tell her to call back later as the city noises made it difficult to hear.



Yet another monument to someone or other in Odessa.



A couple of famous landmarks along Primorsky Boulevard.



This pedestrian bridge is caller Lover's Bridge. There are thousands of lovers' personalized padlocks locked to the bridge's fences here. In the second picture, their names are Alyena and Sasha. Some of the padlocks had very elaborate engraving. Some very large padlocks had long script, I suppose a love note of some kind. While we were there, we did see people walking along the bridge and actually reading the locks. At the other end of the bridge are little scenic photo spots for lovers to take their pictures. They have a gazebo, arch bridge, overlook, wishing well, and a statue.





We were invited to Sergey's Godmother's apartment for delicious borsh and a nice time of visiting. She has been very kind to us.



A little example of the kids playing.

video