Russia Suspends U.S. Adoptions After 7-Year-Old Boy Returned

Russia suspended all adoptions to U.S. families on Thursday until the two countries can agree on procedures, the Foreign Ministry said, a week after an American woman sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia on a plane by himself.

The boy’s return — without supervision or explanation aside from a note that he carried from his adoptive mother saying he had psychological problems — has incensed Russia and prompted aggressive media coverage of foreign adoptions.

A U.S. delegation will arrive in Moscow “in the next few days” to discuss international adoptions and a possible bilateral agreement, ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. “Russia believes that only such an agreement that will contain effective tools for Russian and U.S. officials to monitor the living conditions of adopted Russian children will ensure that recent tragedies in the United States will not be repeated,” Nesterenko said in a televised briefing.

Some 3,000 U.S. applications for adopting Russian children are now pending, according to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, which represents many U.S. agencies engaged in international adoption.  Seven-year-old Artyom Savelyev flew unaccompanied to Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport last week with a note from his adoptive mother, a nurse from Tennessee, saying she no longer wanted to keep him because he was violent and had severe “psychopathic” problems.

“I was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues,” Torry Hansen said in her note addressed to Russian authorities. The driver hired to pick up Artyom said the boy looked cheerful, played with a Spider-Man toy and did not seem to show any of the mental problems that Hansen claims that he has.

Artur Lukyanov said on the way into town, the boy seemed like he was on a sightseeing tour, pointing at cars and boasting in English about how big the trucks were in the United States, opening his arms wide to show how large they were. “The boy was in a good mood,” he said. “He did not seem frightened.”  Lukyanov, who speaks English well, said he had no idea that the boy was Russian until his identity was confirmed by authorities. During the 90-minute ride into central Moscow, he even tried to teach the boy Russian words and sang an English alphabet song with him.

“He looked as if he was here on a sightseeing tour,” Lukyanov said. “He would occasionally get something from his backpack, like a Spider-Man toy, and say: ‘It’s from America. Do you have anything like this in Russia?”‘ Lukyanov recalled that at the airport he thought it was strange that the boy had no luggage with him except for a small colorful backpack. But aside from being a bit thin and shy, the fair-haired Artyom seemed like an ordinary child, the driver said.

“During the time that I spent with him, I didn’t notice any mental deviation,” said Lukyanov, 38, who spent more than six hours with the boy last Thursday. “But perhaps he behaves differently with strangers — I don’t want to pass judgments.”  Health and Social Development Ministry officials said tests showed that the boy has no mental issues.  Nancy Hansen, whose daughter adopted Artyom from the far eastern town of Partizansk last September, hired Lukyanov through his web site and paid him $200 to pick up the boy from the airport, but kept him in the dark about his real mission.

Lukyanov’s English-language web site advertises services as a personal driver and tour guide who can provide visitors help with Moscow’s “confusing roads.” “When I got the first e-mail, I had no doubt that she was flying herself,” Lukyanov said. “I feel deceived. Nancy’s actions were inhuman, and she treated me inhumanely, too.”  It was only in the last e-mail — the night before Artyom’s arrival — that Hansen said Lukyanov was to pick up a 7-year-old boy called “Artem Justin Hansen” and drop him off at the Education and Science Ministry in central Moscow.

Lukyanov spent the whole day with Artyom at the ministry and then at a police station before leaving in the late afternoon, when children’s omsbudsman Pavel Astakhov arrived to take the boy to a hospital.  According to the driver, Artyom told authorities that he did not go to school in the United States and that he cannot write. The boy replied in English to questions in Russian.

Abandoned by his alcoholic mother, Artyom was raised in an orphanage in Partizansk, some 100 kilometers from Vladivostok. Once a rich mining town, Partizansk is now home to a dozen closed coal mines and factories.  Artyom spent the past six months in Shelbyville, Tennessee, a small town about 80 kilometers south of Nashville, set amid rolling farmland in one of the state’s top agricultural counties.

A U.S. delegation is heading to Russia next week to discuss a possible adoption treaty. Any adoption freeze could affect hundreds of American families. More than 1,800 Russian children were adopted in the United States last year, according to the Education and Science Ministry.  At the police station, Lukyanov and social workers opened Artyom’s backpack to see it was filled with toys, crayons, paper — and one pair of underpants that everyone thought was too big for the boy. “He looked pretty skinny,” Lukyanov said.   Artyom was unwilling to speak about his U.S. home or family, Lukyanov said, only saying he lives with his mother and grandparents.

At the police station, social workers opened two big envelopes that Artyom was carrying. The boy’s passport and other identifying documents were in one of them.  The other contained two smaller sealed envelopes — one with Lukyanov’s fee and the other with the note signed by Torry Hansen saying Artyom is “mentally unstable” and “violent,” and that she “no longer wishes to parent this child.”

Artyom appeared glad to see so many people around at the station.  “He had lots of toys in his backpack, cars, crayons and paper — and he was giving them away to people around him,” Lukyanov said. “He would pull out stuff from his bag like a magician, very pleased about it. He had two badges from United Airlines and he gave one of them to me.”  After a few hours at a police station, Artyom started to doze off on the shoulder of one of the social workers, Lukyanov said.

Meanwhile, Artyom’s future remains uncertain. Officials are looking for new orphanages or foster families for him. An Education and Science Ministry official earlier said Artyom, who turns 8 on Friday, said he would like to go back to the United States.

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