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Couple brought home boy from Ukrainian orphanage, then his best friend

July 2, 2008, 10:00 5669 Author: Jim Niemi jniemi[at]herald-leader.com kentucky.com American adoptive family, Becky and Mike said that adopting in Ukraine was one of the most difficult things they've done in their life, but they want to adopt more orphans.

Five years ago, Ivan and Alex were best friends, living in an orphanage in Ukraine.

Alex Child, left, 14, and Ivan Child, 14, were adopted by Mike and Becky Child several years ago from Ukraine. Ivan and Alex were best friends, so the Childs decided to adopt them both. (Photo by Emily Spence)

Mike and Becky Child, bottom, adopted Alex, center, and Ivan, right, their son Nick Child, 22, left, is close to the boys despite their age difference and even though he has been in college since the two came to his home. (Photo by Emily Spence)

Today, the 14-year-olds are also brothers, having been adopted by Becky and Mike Child of Lexington.

But they were within a whisker of having to stay in the orphanage, where they would be turned out on the streets at age 16 or 17 with no skills and a dim future.

The Childs, discouraged by the arduous procedures involved in a traditional adoption, almost abandoned hopes of enlarging their family.

”We were going to give up,“ Becky said, ”but we were told to meet with Kathy Drane“ of the Hopeful Hearts Foundation in Louisville.

”When we did, it just felt right.“

Working through the foundation, the Childs prepared to bring home an infant from a ­Ukrainian orphanage near Simferopol in 2003.

”We had a nursery decorated with Winnie-the-Pooh, a crib and everything,“ Becky said. ”Then when we got there, we saw Ivan. I said, "Mike, here's a great kid who wants a family, and that's what we came here for.'

”Again, it just felt right.“

So the Childs phoned Lexington to have the room retrofitted for a 9-year-old boy.

”We thought we'd bring home a baby, and we brought home a Russian speaker,“ Becky said.

But not everyone was happy about Ivan's move to America.

”When Ivan was ready to go, there was Alex with big tears falling down his cheeks,“ Becky said.

Mike added, ”We knew we were going to go back and get Alex when we left with Ivan.“

So the paperwork began again, and two years later, the Childs returned to Lexington with Ivan's best friend.

The boys, whose birthdays are 12 days apart, enjoy playing with their Xbox and skateboarding in the park across from their Woodland Avenue home.

Ivan has been home-schooled by Becky's father, using a curriculum from a Christian academy in Washington state, and will enroll at Morton Middle School in the fall. Alex will enter eighth grade at Morton, where he said ”I get to learn stuff,“ and will play tackle on the football team.

The boys have a sibling, Nick, who is 22 and was not an adopted child. He is an intern at Centenary United Methodist Church and will transfer from the University of Kentucky to Asbury College, where he will study multimedia design.

Nick had doubts when he first learned his parents were adopting a child.

”I was hesitant at first. It had always been me and my dad,“ he said. ”But when they went to get Alex, I was really excited.“

The Childs worship at Tates Creek Christian Church, where the brothers helped with vacation Bible school two weeks ago, said Tyler Johnson, children's minister.

”Ivan assisted with the first- through third-graders,“ he said. ”The kids loved him.“

Alex, meanwhile, helped with games. Johnson said, ”Our vacation Bible school was set in early Jerusalem this year, so the children were playing Jewish games of the time,“ including dreidels, a sling that threw tennis balls and a javelin (actually a little bamboo shoot).

”The kids were joking beforehand that Alex was going to be the target,“ Johnson said.

Johnson described a coincidence involving the two brothers: Members of Tates Creek Christian each year buy items for needy children during the Christmas season, pack them in shoeboxes and ship them abroad. While at the orphanage, ”Ivan and Alex were both recipients of those boxes,“ he said.

Christmas gift bags for children in Ukraine were gathered in the Childs' home in Lexington. (Photo by Emily Spence)

A bleak past

Ivan contrasted his life here to living in the orphanage.

”There, you have to share everything,“ he said. ”You don't get snacks ... . If you got into trouble, you had to skip a meal.“

He talked of sleeping in a dormitory, where each room housed 30-plus children, both boys and girls of the same approximate age.

Becky said the orphans had almost nothing, treasuring as toys bits of colored plastic or a comic from a piece of bubble gum. ”When we brought Ivan a watch, other kids played with the box.“

Still, Ivan and Alex lived in one of the better-run orphanages, Becky said, ”where the woman ran it with integrity but on a shoestring budget of $5,000 a year. In others, the kids were not clothed. They were not sent to school.“

Both Alex and Ivan have memories of their former families. Alex, an only child who entered the orphanage at age 4, said, ”My mother was on drugs. My dad had run away.“

Ivan, who has an older brother and sister still living in the Ukraine, was 5 when he came to the orphanage. He doesn't remember his father and said, ”My mother would never be home.“

Looking forward

When Alex was younger, he dreamed of one day becoming Santa Claus. Then he wanted to be a pro wrestler. Today, his ambition is to become a lawyer.

Ivan wants to follow his father's footsteps and become an orthodontist.

Mike said each of the trips to the Ukraine cost the couple about $15,000, ”which is very reasonable compared to some places like Guatemala, which could be like $30,000.“

But the lower cost still carries a price.

It means more grueling paperwork, standing in long lines and dealing with bureaucrats who have no computers or sometimes even phones. And yet, Becky and Mike want to adopt more orphans.

”Adopting in the Ukraine is one of the most difficult things I've done in my life,“ Mike said.

But he added, ”I'd like to go back and get two more.

”You want to bring them all home.“

Reach Jim Niemi at (859) 231-3216 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3216.

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