One of the best-kept secrets about Russia is that most of the prominent members of society, outside of the political world, are women. While the men are chiefly engaged in the armed forces or heavy industrial work, women of the country are the attorneys, accountants, translators, orphanage directors, etc.
The Hunts had heard that the judges and the orphanage director in St. Petersburg were tough as nails. Once the Hunts arrived at the orphanage on a dark, cold December morning, they had a chance to finally meet the Director. She stood no higher than five feet tall but had the demeanor of a drill sergeant. Her job was to protect the children and see that they were going to good parents.
Out of a room full of children bounced a tiny little boy with arms wide open to hug his new mama and papa. The room where the family was taken was cold, large, and empty. The Director, Translator, Minister of Education (a woman) and others filled the room to monitor the interaction of the couple with the boy, Vladdy. The Hunts were unsure how to act with so many people closely watching their every move. Should they be stern with the boy, who wanted to climb over everything? Or should they let him? What was the correct way to act? The couple decided to hold the boy for as long as he would let them. One could tell Vladdy had been held on a number of occasions as he did not react as most institutionalized children did when physical contact was initiated. The translator later admitted that every time she’d visited the orphanage with other families, she made a point to hug Vladdy. The Hunts could never repay this act of kindness, and they understood the love the woman must have had for the boy. He was easy to love.
The three days with Vladdy flew, and then came the difficult task of leaving dear little Vladdy and going back home. The Hunts were told the adoption trip was likely to take place late January or even February of 2002. The waiting would be the worst part of the whole experience. On December 5, 2001 as they said their goodbyes to the little boy who had become so much a part of them, Kari cried. Vladdy sweetly smiled and looked at her inquisitively. Natasha, the translator, told the confused child that the next time Mama and Papa came that he would go home as well. He said goodbye and quickly turned and went back to playing with the other children.
Surprisingly, the Hunt’s second trip came quickly; only two weeks after the first. It was time for the new family to leave St. Petersburg and travel to Moscow to proceed with the finalization of the adoption at the American Embassy. As the Hunts were leaving with their son, Kari felt a light tap on her shoulder. She turned around to see the orphanage director in tears, holding her arms out to hug the new mother. Kari immediately followed suit and the two women embraced as though they were life-long friends. “Thank you,” the director said in a whisper. “Thank you for taking one of the older ones. He’s quite special, you know.”
At the train station in St. Petersburg, the Hunts were waiting for the next train to Moscow with the translator. A deep voice came over the public address system, and after a moment the translator said, “Okay, that’s your train, there.” The four walked toward the car that would take them eight hours south to the capital where the embassy was located.
As the Hunts were loading their luggage and leaving the minus thirty-degree cold, the translator pulled Kari aside and the two hugged tightly. They didn’t want to let go. They had formed a friendship and were at once happy and sad. The translator told Kari that she had wanted to adopt Vladdy herself, and that it was terribly hard for her. Instantly, Kari realized the magnitude of the gift she had been given. There is a commonly known risk for all international adoptions, that if a Russian family makes it known to the orphanage director and judges that they are interested in a child, they will receive preference over a foreign family. The couple could have been in the middle of signing their names at the courthouse when the judge would have stopped the process in a moment’s notice upon hearing of the woman’s intentions. That would have been the end.
But she didn’t. She allowed the little boy to leave her forever, hoping he would be happy in a land far away. And he was.