Finalized in December 2021, the Braun family formally adopted three children from Ukraine. But their family journey was about to become very complicated.
Trish Braun, a Manitoba mother, said this was the second time the family adopted from the eastern European country.
“We heard about the needs of the children in Ukraine … We know there are over 100,000 kids in orphanages in that country that need families,” Braun said.
With the adoption finalized, Braun traveled to Ukraine on Jan. 22, 2022, to pick up her children.
“We took them out of the orphanage and found a home to live in. We thought we would be there for six to eight weeks,” she said, but the trip was abruptly cut short in mid-February.
“We thought we had about three weeks left in our process; we did not have passports at the time and we did not have visas at the time. It’s a long process… We got a phone call saying ‘you have an hour to pack your house and kids. There is a driver that will be outside your door,’ and I said ‘why?’”
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Braun said she was aware of the ongoing situation between Russia and Ukraine, but didn’t realize it would soon affect her trip.
“On the ground, things felt very normal and our friends there kept saying ‘no, it’s just political, it’s not going to escalate.’ Everyone is feeling normal and we are not changing anything we are doing,” she said. The situation took a turn on Feb. 14.
Braun said she and her three children needed to get their passports and visas to be able to leave the country and the Canadian embassy in Kyiv had already been closed.
“We did not know where we were going to get the kids’ visas from and that was very difficult. We knew we could not leave Ukraine without having the kids’ visas,” she said.
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“We found out there was a temporary set-up in a different city for the visa and consular service so we spent eight hours in a car with the children driving to Lviv to apply for their visas.”
Braun said the process was expedited for the family and they received the children’s visas the same day.
“Three hours later we had the kids’ visas in our hands and I said ‘does this mean we can go home?’ And (the woman) said ‘yes, book a flight and go home,’” Braun said.
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“We know that we were incredibly fortunate to get out when we did.”
Alysha Buck, chairperson for UAS Eastern European Adoption Inc. board of directors, said the war in Ukraine has brought adoptions processes to a stop.
“We have no choice but to put our program on hold. There is some administrative work we can do but anything that requires the Ukrainian government or Canadian embassy, it’s not happening right now… There are children who are legally adopted who are in Ukraine who can’t get out, who can’t join their families because they don’t have those documents they need,” she said.
“Our hands are tied.”
Buck said since 2004, UAS has facilitated more than 100 adoptions for close to 70 families in Manitoba and throughout Canada.
The organization has three active files that are on hold for its Ukrainian program, and all other families who were in the starting stages have decided not to pursue adopting through Ukraine because of the war. Buck said most of those families have chosen to pursue adoption through other programs.
“It’s an impossible situation,” she said.
Buck said obtaining visas has been a challenge and she said she would like to see the Canadian government help make the process easier for parents and adopted children.
“Now is not the time for bureaucracy and for worrying about documents, especially related to children who are legally adopted. There needs to be a way to expedite these applications — whether it’s expediting visa applications for unaccompanied minors … or whether we look at waiving the (visa) requirements that need to happen to travel from Ukraine to Canada,” she said.
One BC family who was in the process of adopting a teenage girl from Ukraine has issued a public letter asking the Canadian government to waive the visa requirement for Ukrainian citizens and prioritize the entry of unaccompanied minors into Canada who are either displaced by war, or are in danger.
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“As a general proposition, of course, Canada can waive visa requirements for Ukrainians entering Canada but whether it can or will do that in respect to adoptions (remains unknown),” said Audrey Macklin, professor with the University of Toronto and Rebecca Cook chair in human rights law.
On Thursday, Canada’s federal immigration minister announced Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel visa for people fleeing the war-torn country.
“For those who need a safe haven while the war ravages their homeland, we are creating the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel,” said Minister of Immigration, Sean Fraser.
“There will be no limit on the number of applications accepted under this stream. The primary motivation under this new program is that it offers the fast way to start welcoming as many Ukrainians as possible and will allow them to stay for a period of up to two years.”
Buck said while the new programs will help some, it wont necessarily help children and families who are in the process of adoption.
Global News has reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and asked about adoption-specific options, but has not yet received a response.
Braun said she has been in contact with families who were in the adoption process and offered support.
“We are constantly trying to find ways to help,” she said. “This certainly doesn’t end until the war ends.”
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