Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Internet in Ukraine

I have an "open mic", so to speak, for you to ask me any questions you want about adopting from Ukraine.

Dave Baldacchino asks:
I read that you did work while there so I suppose you had reliable internet access. What did you use? Is wireless affordable & reliable? I guess that really depends where you are but thought of asking about your experience in general. I'd like to stay connected and perhaps keep writing on my other blog and do some extra work too/respond to work emails.

Yes, depending on where you go in Ukraine, it is easy to stay connected, at least with mail and blogging/surfing. What I had trouble with, though, was the VPN connection to our office back home. On our first trip, we stayed with a friend at her apartment in Odessa, which had broadband internet. Unfortunately, the service was intermittent. It would be up for 3 min. then down for 2. Up for 2 down for 3, etc. When you're web surfing or doing email, that's just annoying, but it works. However, to use a VPN, I had to log in to the VPN, then start up Remote Desktop, then log in to my computer, which takes a couple of minutes to do. Then the connection would go down and I would have to start over. That just didn't work at all. Another interesting thing that happened was that there was a power surge that destroyed their wireless router and the power supplies for two laptops (not ours, we weren't home at the time). I bought them a new router, they bought new power supplies for their computers and surge protectors! Lesson: Bring a surge protector along rated for 220V.

Using our two computers at our friend's apartment in Odessa.

On our second trip, we stayed at the Odessa Executive Suites, which had excellent internet. Except for about a 4 day period when it didn't work at all because someone stole some equipment at the ISP. I got a lot of work done while I was passing time during the waiting period after court, then early in the morning after I had the kids. When I was alone, there were several days that I never left the apartment, putting in 12-14 hour work days. Since we had two computers, I also had along a little $25 4-port hub that would allow up to 4 computers to share one network cable, in the event there was no WiFi. I did set it up at OES and gave it a try, and it worked, but in practice we didn't really need it because Nancy was only with me at OES for a couple of days before she went back home again. But if you are going to have two or more computers along, taking a hub or router with you is a must in case your internet access is through a network cable only. If you are in a larger city you could buy this there, but it is a hassle and will definitely be more expensive (for example, 20% tax on it).

Kids using the computer at OES. OES supplies a computer in the apartment complimentary, but I used my own. Just plugged the network cable in to mine.

We also had rented a cell phone while we were there from Lonnie Roland, which had internet capability. The phone plugged into my laptop computer with a USB cable and acted as a modem. This actually worked everywhere I tried it - from the car, the train, even from the Andreyevo orphanage when I stayed there overnight. The only drawback was the speed was slow - 56k, and it cost about 1 grivna/minute. So I used it sparingly. I could have used that for our VPN but it would have been very slow. I did, in fact, a couple of times, but only when I was desparate for internet because I had a timesheet due and it was the only way. Lonnie also had a 3G phone available but it was expensive and he couldn't guarantee that we would have 3G service available everywhere we would be going in Ukraine.

Installing the cell phone's modem software on my laptop after we arrived in Kiev and got the phone.

Nancy using the internet in Kiev through the cell phone.

I used the cell phone in the car to post to our blog on long boring trips to Andreyevo. You can see the phone on my leg.

Some have used a Blackberry or other phone to blog and email with. I guess that works but not for a VPN kind of thing. You'd also have to make sure your plan works in eastern Europe before you leave. I say eastern because a lot of times when companies say "Europe" what they mean is western Europe.

There are many internet cafe's in Europe, including Ukraine. We weren't able to find one, though, that let us use our own laptops, which we would have preferred. Also, sometimes they won't let you plug in your own flash drive or camera so that you can upload pictures. They are not very convenient sometimes but they do work when you absolutely have to have internet.

Wherever you will be staying in Ukraine, be sure to make it clear to your facilitator that you want internet access in your apartment. Sometimes they will get you the cheapest place if they don't know that you want internet.

One other thing I noted is that no airport we were in in Europe had WiFi. We were in airports in Kiev, Odessa, Budapest, Warsaw, and Frankfurt (I think London had it but we were in a hurry to get to our plane so I wasn't able to try it). Kind of a bummer when you have a bit of time to pass. One time in Kiev, my flight to Odessa was canceled on account of fog and the airport personnel were no help at all as to whether I would get a flight that day. I would have loved to have had internet then. I had forgotten my phone in the apartment on that trip.

I suggest that you get yourself a little scanner to scan in documents as souvenirs. You won't have them in your possession for very long and once they're given to the next official, you'll never see them again.

The largest "billboard" I've ever seen for a cell phone. This is an ad for Samsung cell phones on the highway from Kiev to the Borispil airport.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Do You Have Questions For Us?

I saw this idea on another blog recently and I like it. If you are like me, when you were prepping your dossier or getting ready to go over to Ukraine, you have questions that no one is answering or you can't easily find the answers. I want to give you this opportunity to ask me and I will see if I can answer it. Go ahead and ask anything at all related to the dossier, our Ukraine trips, our adjustments, whatever. If I don't know the answer, or out of respect for our family's privacy, can't share it, I will say so. Then again, perhaps another reader may know the answer or is willing to share.

Just leave a question in the comments. I get emails when someone posts so I know that I won't miss it.

I spent 2 1/2 months in Odessa, so I may be able to be helpful. It's a shame to waste experience, so ask away!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Emmanuel Radio

You may be interested in the Emmanuel internet radio station that comes out of Kyiv with Christian programming. It is evangelical in nature.

We have a laptop computer in our kitchen and I will often put it on in the morning as I'm fixing breakfast for the kids. I wouldn't say that they're crazy about it but they do enjoy hearing programming from back in Ukraine. Plus I know that they are hearing a positive message to encourage their faith. The music seems to vary quite a bit so I think that is why it's not their first choice for music.

Anyway, check it out. It may be especially useful for your family if your kids don't speak much English yet.

You can choose to display the website in English, Russian, or Ukrainian. Click on the broadcast 128 kbps link on the left of their main page.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(Pre) Judging Susan

OK you're more interested in adoption stuff but I really wanted to post this one.

Susan Boyle is making headlines over here and around the world. Her story is a lesson in prejudging people.

Susan is a 47 y.o. Scottish woman with a dream to be a professional singer. By first appearances that would seem unlikely. BUT... see for yourself.

From this BBC article,

"Last Saturday, viewers saw Boyle, with double chin, unkempt hair, frumpy appearance and eccentric demeanour, step onto the talent show stage and proclaim her dream of being a professional singer.

The judges rolled their eyes and the audience pulled incredulous faces. Onlookers, on set and at home, were rubbing their hands at the prospect of another hopeless, deluded loser being crushed by a withering Simon Cowell insult."

All five of us were standing around the laptop tonight watching the video. The YouTube video has been viewed over 100,000,000 times, currently in 2nd place for all time views. Sergey couldn't understand what the big deal is. Nancy tried to explain to him that the whole world was surprised at how well she sang when she is not pretty like that female judge on the program.

"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Grand Total

I've been furiously working on taxes, finally got that done last night. As part of that process, I tallied up the final cost of our adoptions of Valentina and Sergey. Total adoption expenses from 2007-2009 were:



Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Our Valentina

I put together a slide show of some recent pictures of Valya. We have more pictures of Valya than of Sergey, because frankly, Sergey doesn't like to have his picture taken too much.

Valya has a distinctive little mole on her upper lip that will always be endeared to me. We had specifically petitioned for her and Sergey at our SDA appointment on Thanksgiving day, last Nov. 27. At the appointment, they showed us two data sheets of the kids that each had a little postage stamp sized picture in the corner. When the lady showed us Valya's, she asked, Is this her? Well, the picture was 7 years old, and the child in the picture had her head completely shaved. It did not look like the Valya we had seen in pictures, except... for that little mole. When I saw that I knew it was her!

The snowy pictures in the later slides were from last Saturday. Our balmy Spring weather has been replaced by snow, but it is beautiful. Now it is warming up again, and quickly disappearing. Valya loves snow and tells me about the way they used to play in it at her intyernat. How blessed we are to have a girl who loves snow, because we do get it here in the Winter. Next season, we'll go to our sledding hill, plus see if we can teach the kids to ski. You people in Colorado I hear you laughing... But we do have a little bit of skiing available in South Dakota! In those pictures she is wearing the coat that I bought her in Rozdilniya and gave to her the day that we took her from her orphanage. You'll see her wearing that coat in our pictures in Odessa and Kiev and the video along the Black Sea last February. But she doesn't wear it too much anymore because now she likes bright colors.

Her English is improving. It is good getting to know her a little more every day. She has a story to tell about her life and we are anxious to hear it. We are getting some of it in little pieces already and it is a sad one.

When you adopt kids there is a time of bonding. It is a two-way street. We often talk of how the kids are bonding with the family, but we also are bonding with them. I think, every day, our love grows stronger for these two gifts that God has given us.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Adoptions News in Ukraine

You may be interested in these interviews with Ludmila Volynets, the director of the SDAPRC, and her boss, Yuri Pavlenko, the Minister of Ukraine for Family, Youth and Sport. I found this article in English over at Sonia Paz Baron-Vine's blog.

Some highlights:


  • The number of adopted children has finally exceeded the number of bereaved ones.

  • In 2008, the number of children adopted by citizens of Ukraine climbed above 2,000; 14 of them were HIV-positive.

  • 1,500 applications have lately been filed by the Ukrainians, intending to adopt.

  • According to new laws that took effect Dec. 1, 2008, officials at all levels are now personally liable for every particular child’s destiny.

  • The Ministry is critical of facilitators (middlemen).

  • International adoption can by no means be prohibited, but they clearly give a higher priority to national adoption.

  • They have no children less than three years old available for adoption.

  • Foreign families adopt either children over 7 years old or severely disabled ones.


  • The Hague Convention would be a great benefit in the matter of a full-fledged protection for children adopted by foreign families, and counteraction to corrupt facilitators.

  • Her primary objective is to make changes in mass consciousness of Ukrainian society.

  • 14% of Ukrainians think themselves ready to adopt orphans into their families.

  • Pressure is being put on her personally by foreigners who deem the state’s adoption policy inadequate.

  • Prospective adoptive parents do not very well comprehend that the SDA is not to be subject to their whims.

  • The SDA’s primary objective is to find a family for the child, not a child for the family.

  • The SDA is subject to law, it does no good to complain to them about the laws set by the Parliament, "we are to obey the law and not to discuss it".

  • She thinks it is a mistake that Ukraine is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on adoption, but they will be soon.

  • Regarding corruption complaints, as private persons, facilitators are protected better than public officials.

  • There are more complaints against facilitators, than against public officers; most of the complaints are filed by foreign citizens.

  • The facilitators sometimes do not inform the adoptive parents of the child’s disabilities, or vice versa.

  • Ukraine needs adequate laws and time so as to establish order and eliminate the abnormal profits drawn by facilitators.

  • She is certain that no corrupt practice can ever be exercised in the SDAPRC.

Adoptions News in Ukraine
Sonia Paz (Pachi) Baron-Vine