Family's Adoption Hopes Stalled by President's Remarks

Preparing at Home

In the year before they went to Minsk the Zakkours took international adoption courses, submitted to criminal background checks, provided full health reports, opened their financial records, and were interviewed by social workers.

"We filleted our lives open and spent thousands and thousands of dollars to adopt these children," Anne Zakkour said.

She left her job as a nurse after 14 years in the career so she could spend more time with her new children. They prepared a room for the two toddlers, bought car seats to take them home from the airport, and even bought clothes and shoes for the two children they expected to be new members of their family.

"I bought so many shoes," Zakkour said tearfully. "I was trying to guess what size their feet would be."

The Zakkours still do not understand what went wrong, in part because in the beginning things went better than they could have hoped.

Though both Anne and her husband have traveled extensively throughout Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and both of them studied in Europe, they had never been to any of the countries of the former Soviet Union. They were not sure what to expect.

Swept Off Their Feet

Any apprehensions were dispelled almost as soon as they saw Minsk, a city of broad tree-lined boulevards, classical architecture and dozens of parks.

"Belarus was our first experience with Eastern Europe, but we loved it there," she said. "The Belarusian people are lovely, we loved Minsk. The orphanage is a modest place, but it's clean, the children get healthy food, lots of fresh vegetables, they probably eat better than a lot of kids in the United States."

When they met the two children at the orphanage, the little girl seemed to take to them right away, she said. The little boy, who was just 2 years old, was a little more shy, but as they returned day after day -- on the urging of the orphanage staff -- he slowly opened up to them.

All that only made the shock of what happened next more devastating.

At the court hearing last October, the Zakkours expected the adoption to be approved quickly, since they had been invited by the Belarusian government to come to Minsk to finalize it. Instead, they were told it had been suspended and were given a new court date.

"The people at the adoption center said, 'Keep coming back because we want this to work,'" she said. "I never believed that it wouldn't work out. So we just kept going back and spending hours with them and we just loved them more."

But when they returned to court, the answer was the same. The adoptions were in limbo.

The Zakkours sought help from the U.S. Ambassador to Belarus, George Krol, but ended up leaving the country with nothing more than a vague statement from the government.

"They got our hopes up, they gave us a statement saying that the adoptions could be processed in 2005, and nothing happened, so we don't know. We just don't know," Anne Zakkour said.

International Intrigue

Kozhan said that all foreign adoptions of Belarusian children are in limbo because foreign governments have not yet agreed to implement protections required by the new regulations.

"The procedure has been suspended since the end of last year," Kozhan said. "The procedure could be renewed, but it is really difficult to give an exact date when this could be done."

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