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'The most scared I've ever been.'

February 20, 2023, 23:25 353 Author: JOLENE ALMENDAREZ eu.cincinnati.com This NKY mom rescued a Ukrainian orphan from a war zone.

 Colleen, Maure and David Thompsons

(From left) Colleen, Maure and David Thompsons sit for a portrait in their home. Colleen and David Thompson adopted Maure from Ukraine last summer. Maure is one of six children from Ukraine the Thompsons have adopted.

Maure Thompson would probably eat at McDonald's every day if her parents let her. Her go-to is a hamburger, chicken nuggets, fries and a Fanta. Like so many high school juniors, she's been studying for her ACT and driver's license tests. And she has a part-time job at Midway Cafe in Fort Thomas.

The difference between Maure, 18, and other teens is that she studies for her tests with help from an interpreter, uses Google Translate to speak with people at the cafe and was adopted out of war-torn Ukraine last spring.

The orphanage she lived in was known as Emerald City and was tucked away among an evergreen forest in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. It was one of the better ones in the country and she shared a room with only one other teen, her best friend. Now, the orphanage sits eerily abandoned with its roof caved in and windows blown out.

Maure was transported out of the orphanage on a bus after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. She only had the clothes on her back and a few personal items.

As she showed The Enquirer a video of before-and-after photos of the orphanage, her adoptive mother Colleen Thompson got emotional. Maure quietly whispered to her the same thing she'd said on the plane ride home to the United States: "It's OK, mom. It's OK."

Maure Thompson answers questions about her life in Ukraine and here in America

Maure Thompson answers questions about her life in Ukraine and here in America.

It's been almost one year since Russia began missile and artillery attacks on major Ukrainian cities. Since then, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed and each country is estimated to have lost at least 100,000 soldiers to death or injury. The number of civilians killed ranges from at least 7,100, per the United Nations, to an estimated 40,000, according to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the year anniversary of the invasion approaches, Colleen, a 56-year old Fort Thomas resident, is also marking her calendar. As of March 3, it will be a year since she boarded a plane on a mission to bring Maure home. She's their ninth child – two biological and the rest also adopted from Ukraine. Four of the children still live at home full-time.

The Thompsons were in the process of adopting Maure and were weeks away from finalizing it when Russia invaded.

Maure Thompson stands in front of Highlands High School

Maure Thompson stands in front of Highlands High School, where she's a junior, in Fort Thomas.

She and her husband David Thompson, 58, described the moment as sheer panic. David was initially supposed to go get Maure from Ukraine. But with concerns about human trafficking along the Ukraine-Poland border, they both knew that wasn't an option anymore. David would stay home to take care of their children. Colleen would have to make the trip by herself.

'The most scared I've ever been in my life'

Colleen organized transportation into Ukraine through a network of people she'd met while volunteering for years on behalf of orphans in the country.

A border guard helped her hitch a ride onto a passenger bus stacked with supplies. Its only occupants were the driver and another man sitting in the jump seat.

"I remember, there was toilet paper, and bunches of other boxes of stuff," she said.

They drove about two hours before pulling up next to a semitruck with over a dozen Ukrainian soldiers who boarded the bus to unload it.

Thompson, who speaks some Ukrainian but isn't fluent, said she had no idea what was going on.

"I'm just sitting there texting David, like, 'Please, God, get me out of here [safely].' And then I'm trying to take pictures so I can show him what's going on," she said.

The soldiers unloaded the bus within about 30 minutes and the bus continued to Lviv. Around 5 a.m., the driver stopped and told her to get out. She'd been expecting to be dropped off at a bus station where she could get a taxi and instead found herself at a small bus shelter at a time when martial law dictated that people couldn't be on the street until 7 a.m.

So, she did the only thing she could do: She started walking with her Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag while talking to her husband, who was tracking her via the Find My iPhone app. The whole experience was unnerving for him.

David Thompson and his wife, Colleen, adopted Maure from Ukraine last spring

David Thompson and his wife, Colleen, adopted Maure from Ukraine last spring.

Navigating bureaucrats and missiles

Colleen said "I was pretty determined to get to her, but looking back at it, you're like, that might not have been my best choice. But I didn't have any other options."

For the next three months, Colleen fought layers of bureaucracy to get Maure's adoption finalized.

"I don't think I'll ever be able to adequately explain because it looks like you were on a movie set at Universal [Studios]. … I saw it with my own eyes. And we literally had missiles flying over us in Lviv. It was probably the most scared I've ever been in my life," she said.

Colleen did an interview with CNN's Don Lemon, hoping publicity would help the roughly 300 Ukrainian kids who were in the process of being adopted by Americans. She used donated funds to buy basic hygiene items for kids from the orphanage – toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, underwear. All the while, she was rushed into basements while air raid sirens went off.

Eventually, she landed court dates in one of the last operating courts in Ukraine. There were delays, including one because a missile struck in the judge's neighborhood. In pre-war Ukraine, families had to wait 30 days after adoptions were finalized before they could leave the country. Many judges were waiving that requirement because of the war, but not the one in charge of the Thompson adoption.

Despite having to rush to the lowest floor in the courthouse during the proceeding because of an air raid siren, she says the judge told them, "'Oh, you're fine. Just wait here.'"

For some of that time, Maure stayed at Legacy Refuge in Germany with other Ukrainian orphans. Colleen briefly came back to Fort Thomas to see two of her children graduate from high school before rejoining Maure in Germany. Then, they tried to expedite Maure's visa process in Latvia, but they had no luck. So, they waited in a hotel in Poland for about a week until her visa could be adjudicated in Warsaw, the capital.

"We were so happy to have a nice big bathtub. We went and got sushi. And we were like, 'Oh my gosh!'"

At the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, they needed medical exams and to fill out more paperwork. They finally flew back to the United States in June.

"I think once we were in the air on the way here, then I kind of felt like I could exhale and cry," Colleen said.

As she cried, Maure kept telling her, "It's OK, mom."

Maure's future in Northern Kentucky

Maure's story has been a bit of a fairy tale. She got out of Ukraine while so many kids who were in the process of being adopted couldn't get out. During a recent call to a friend, the Thompsons found out that all of the kids at the orphanage had some kind of itch-inducing worms. Colleen also said some of the orphans have been taken to other countries where they don't stand a chance at being adopted because Ukraine has suspended adoptions.

While Maure doesn't have any family in Ukraine, coming to the United States meant initially leaving behind a very important person, her best friend and roommate at the time of the invasion, Khrystyna Renner.

Renner, 18, made it to her Wisconsin-based adoptive family in September. The two were able to reunite in December when they went Christmas shopping in Chicago.

Maure Thompson reunites in Chicago with her friend Khrystyna Renner. They shared a room at a Ukrainian orphanage they were evacuated from last year

Maure Thompson reunites in Chicago with her friend Khrystyna Renner. They shared a room at a Ukrainian orphanage they were evacuated from last year.

While Maure stays in touch with her friends, she's also building her life here in Northern Kentucky.

She attends Highlands High School in Fort Thomas and likes walking along the riverfront in Newport and the Purple People Bridge with her friends.

She listens to Eminem, Imagine Dragons and Twenty One Pilots, which her mom Colleen jokingly calls garbage music.

Maure Thompson is one of seven children adopted by Colleen Thompson, right, and her husband.

Maure Thompson is one of seven children adopted by Colleen Thompson, right, and her husband.

She's also preparing for her future in Northern Kentucky.

One of the many things Maure bonded over with the Thomson family is her drive to become a graphic designer. Her adoptive dad David owns a graphic design company and she's considering going to a local university to study the craft.

Maure is still learning English, and she confidently said this about coming to the United States: "I'm so happy. So happy."

Maure Thompson made a snowdog with her family this winter. At the orphanage, she told Colleen Thompson she wanted to be adopted by a family with lots of pets. The Thompsons have three dogs

Maure Thompson made a snowdog with her family this winter. At the orphanage, she told Colleen Thompson she wanted to be adopted by a family with lots of pets. The Thompsons have three dogs.

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