Blind Teen Stands Up to Putin on Adoption Ban

MOSCOW - A blind Russian teenager's withering, at times sarcastic, criticism of the country's new ban on adoptions to the United States has garnered a lot of attention in Russian media, and even from the Kremlin.

In a Jan. 6 blog post, addressed to President Vladimir Putin, Natasha Pisarenko asked what will be done for disabled Russian children now that they cannot be adopted by Americans. She slammed the dismal state of Russia's orphanages and medical care, using her own life as an example.

Pisarenko was born blind, she explains, and even though her father recognized it almost instantly it took doctors three months to identify it, and it took German doctors to make a proper diagnosis. Now she plans to have surgery in the United States that could restore her sight.

In perhaps a sign of how sensitive the Kremlin is to the outrage surrounding the adoption ban, Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, "Of course we will pay attention to such a statement. This girl is well known to us. She's known by the regional authorities and by the health ministry."

The adoption ban was a late amendment to a bill retaliating for America passing the so-called Magnitsky Act, a set of human rights sanctions that President Obama signed into law in December. The U.S. law was named after an anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after he uncovered evidence of massive fraud. The act freezes the assets and visas of Russian officials accused of human rights abuse.

Russia is one of the most popular countries for Americans seeking to adopt overseas. Americans have adopted over 60,000 Russian children since the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the State Department, but Russian officials have pointed to the cases of 19 Russian children who died after being adopted by Americans.

When the ban went into effect on Jan. 1, it left 52 orphans in legal limbo. Their adoptions to the United States had been approved by a court, but they had not yet received papers to leave the country. Russian officials have said some of them will still be allowed to leave, but have not said which ones or how many.

A majority of Russians supported the ban in a December poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, but thousands took to the streets of Moscow on Sunday to protest the measure. They chanted "Hands off our children" and hoisted signs with the photos of lawmakers who voted for the ban with "Shame" written across their faces.

Russia's state-owned news channels, however, dismissed the large protest, accusing participants of promoting the sale of children abroad. One presenter said children were many times more likely to be killed in the United States than in Russia.

On Monday a petition with over 100,000 signatures asking lawmakers to overturn the ban was dismissed by a committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to RIA Novosti.

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodents said on Monday that approximately 128,000 of Russia's estimated 650,000 orphans were waiting for adoption, yet only 18,000 Russian families had applied to adopt children.

Last week, Maxim Kargopoltsev, a 14 year-old orphan due to be adopted by an American couple he had known for years, made headlines when he was reported to have penned a letter to Putin and to lawmakers asking for the ban to be overturned. Later reports, quoting his orphanage director, said there was no letter.

The next day, however, the regional governor visited Maxim and vowed to look after him. He also took him to buy the cell phone of his choice. The boy was quoted later saying he still hoped to be adopted by the Americans.