Cary News: Opinion

Ukrainian children reunite with Apex family

Shad and Noelle Roach with son Colby and adopted children Lera and Vitalik from Ukraine.
Shad and Noelle Roach with son Colby and adopted children Lera and Vitalik from Ukraine. COURTESY OF JEN HOFFMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Last fall, I wrote about Shad and Noelle Roach, an Apex couple who fell in love with two Ukrainian children after hosting them over the summer.

So began a months-long adoption journey for the Roach family, including 10-year-old son Colby, with mounds of paperwork. And then waiting. Lots of waiting.

The kids, Lera, 14, and Vitalik, 11, brother and sister, made a second visit at Christmas, but they had to go back.

“The house was too quiet,” Noelle Roach said. “You’d walk by their rooms every day, not knowing if you were going to see them again.”

The couple got the official invitation from Ukraine to visit the country on Feb. 27. Colby stayed behind with both sets of grandparents.

Making the decision to leave was scary. Political unrest among Ukraine and Russia had gotten violent.

“There were travel warnings, and the U.S. government was saying not to travel and to defer all essential travel, but, to us, we were going to get our kids; it was essential,” Noelle said.

The day they arrived in Ukraine, Russia invaded Crimea.

“Our relatives were scared out of their minds because they heard there were armed gunmen that had taken over an airport in Ukraine, but they didn’t say where,” Noelle said. “It was Crimea, but we were in Kiev; we didn’t see anything extraordinary at the airport.”

Shad, a fifth-grade teacher at Olive Chapel Elementary in Apex, said the peaceful protest was still going on, but the violence had ended by the time they arrived.

“The country was more in mourning,” he said. “There were flowers everywhere and people singing and praying.”

Thankfully, the Roaches got referred to adopt Lera and Vitalik, not always a guarantee in what the country terms “blind adoption.” From Kiev, they made the eight-hour trip to the Odessa region in southeastern Ukraine to visit the children in the orphanage, meeting with administrators, a social worker and a translator.

The kids had to give their written permission to be adopted, and a court date followed several weeks later.

They hit a few bumps along the way, including a passport delay, and also saw convoys of soldiers and tanks moving across Ukraine. But the family is now home safely with Lera and Vitalik. Both kids will begin public school in the fall.

I got to meet the family at an Apex restaurant recently. I asked Lera what she thought was the best thing about America.

“In America, I have family,” she said shyly.

Favorite American food? Pizza.

Shad and Noelle never planned to adopt internationally. In fact, they tried adopting domestically but had few referrals and no progress toward expanding their family.

They didn’t plan on adopting two older kids either. But their hosting experience last summer with nonprofit Marina’s Kids changed everything.

“Just taking the risk to see how things fit through hosting, the experience was phenomenal,” Shad said. “The language wasn’t a big deal. Laughter speaks way beyond; it’s amazing.”

Their hearts are still with the kids they left behind in Ukraine, especially the older ones, whose chances of getting adopted are slim. The region doesn’t offer many resources.

“There’s nothing for them,” Noelle said. “They’re out on the street. They get to go to technical school, but they’re not given any money for food, so on the weekend when school is over they have no money to eat all weekend long. Even if they finish school, there are no real jobs for them. It’s not because they’re bad kids, but they get into drugs and prostitution because that’s all there is; it’s survival. We met all of these wonderful 14-, 15- and 16-year olds, and all they want is a family.”

Currently, Americans can still adopt in Ukraine, but not in Crimea. The Roaches know of several families whose adoptions were terminated; Russia forbids adoption of Russian children to Americans.

It’s a much happier ending for the Roaches. It feels like everybody is finally home, Shad said.

“They’re great kids with a very good sense of humor and very good hearts. They just want to be loved and want to love somebody,” he said. “Their personalities fit with us. It’s like pieces of a puzzle fitting together.”