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Halfway around the world, they found Hope

January 3, 2007, 0:00 3290 Author: Jennifer Portman www.tallahassee.com

Halfway around the world, they found Hope

Jefferson County's newest 5-year-old came from Crimea and loves her new home The smiling little 5-year-old with the dark-chocolate eyes leaps off the edge of Tom and Dawn Randle's front porch into the grass. Tiny bells hanging from red and green ribbons in her hair tinkle. As she runs off to look for the dog, the red lights in her sneakers blink.

Hope Randle is home.

Less than two months ago, the only home she had ever known was the Republican Children's Hospital in Crimea, Ukraine, where she was left at the front door with pneumonia when she was 2.

Hospital staff members took the pixie-faced girl in, restored her health and fell in love. They couldn't bring themselves to turn her over to an orphanage where thousand of kids wait for parents who never come. Instead, they kept her. They built her a small bed and named her Lubov, the Russian word for love.

When Tallahassee plastic surgeon Dr. Charles Moore arrived last summer to assess what U.S. equipment the struggling hospital could use, Lubya (as she was called) had been living in the run-down, four-story rectangle for almost three years watching music videos with the young nurses. She had one doll and had "Shrek 2" down pat.

But the director told Moore the hospital could no longer keep its mascot. Little Lubya would soon be sent to a group home.

Moore asked to meet her and was charmed.

He took a photograph. At a Rotary event later that summer, he showed it to Joyce Sibson Dove, with whom he was working on the hospital project.

"If she doesn't get picked by her sixth birthday, she would be off the screen," said the Tallahassee attorney, who has helped with 80 adoptions from the country.

'Can we go get her?'

After three years of trying, the Randles had almost given up hope they'd find an Eastern European-born sister for their 7-year-old son, Cannon, whom they adopted from Belarus as an infant. Tom, 49, a Florida House of Representatives staff member, and Dawn, 40, who works in university relations at Florida State, spent a frustrating February in Ukraine without seeing a single child before the country abruptly suspended all foreign adoptions to restructure the system.

That summer Dove, the couple's adoption attorney, called. She had something to show them.

"The first thing she did was slide that picture in front of me," Dawn said, "and I said, 'Can we go get her?' ''

On Oct. 17, the Randles flew to Ukraine. Thirty-four days later the little girl in Moore's picture was a U.S. citizen. She lives in a rambling yet refined red-roofed house in Jefferson County, where the white and blue Crimean flag now flies over the pecan trees.

"Look at her," said Dawn, pointing to her daughter sitting cross-legged on the rug, intently writing H-O-P-E on a drawing board. "Could you let her go?"

Adapting so quickly

For Hope, whose name came to Dawn like a shout one night about a week before getting the call from Dove, there has been no looking back.

"She said 'Lubya, hospital, bye-bye' '' when they left Crimea, Dawn said.

Hope has no interest in speaking Russian anymore, said her mom, and has embraced learning English. Neither Dawn nor Tom speaks Russian, but Hope understands everything people are saying, her mother says. She already knows her colors in her adopted tongue and comes up with phrases such as "In a minute, Mommy." She gets frustrated only when she can't be understood.

Hope is enrolled in pre-kindergarten at Betton Preparatory School and will start Aucilla Christian School near her home in the fall. By then, her mom expects, it will be hard to tell that the first time she heard English was less than a year ago. Not that it matters much.

"She's adapted so well," Dawn said. "There isn't a soul that meets her that doesn't fall in love with her."

Hope already zooms around the yard talking on the CB in her red mini-Silverado - a relic of Cannon's - and has replaced her Russian music videos with fare from Country Music Television. Her Papa and Babushka - Dawn's dad and mom - live just a few hundred yards down the lane.

Dawn wonders how long her daughter can survive on hot dogs and beef ravioli with butter and sour cream, but, as she said watching Hope tear around in the toy truck: "She's Jefferson County now."

Time for a new photo

The first thing Hope did when she arrived at her new home was look at all the photos. When she saw the old family portrait hanging on the wall, she pointed to everyone in the picture, "Mommy, Daddy, Cannon," then shrugged her shoulders, raised her hands and said, "Hope?"

The Randles have been back to the photographer. For 2007, there will be a new family portrait - the complete one, with Hope in her jeans and must-have pink cowboy boots.

"We're the lucky ones," Dawn said a few days before Christmas, when Hope got her first bicycle. "They are our children. It just took a while to find them."

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 13 percent of adopted children - or nearly 258,000 - were foreign-born; 2,764 were from Ukraine.

Visas issued to orphans from other countries for adoption in the U.S. increased from about 7,000 in 1990 to nearly 18,000 in 2000.

To find out more about adopting a child, visit the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, http://kiev.usembassy.gov and click "American Citizen Services" on the left side. On the right side of the page, at the top of the menu, is "Adoptions."

Contact senior reporter Jennifer Portman at (850) 599-2154 or jportman[at]tallahassee.com.

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