U.S.-Russia dispute leaves families seeking to adopt in limbo
Dania and Nick Mavros bought toys, books and made plans to turn their home office into a nursery for their soon-to-be adopted son, a 1-year-old baby living in a Russian orphanage.
But a political dispute that erupted between Russia and the United States is threatening the Mavroses' plan to become parents to the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy they call Ari.
"We're very upset," said Nick Mavros, 33, a bridge painter from Little Neck, Queens.
On Tuesday, the Mavroses joined Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to lift a ban his country imposed in December barring American citizens from adopting Russian orphans, a move that left hundreds of families in the United States in limbo.
The ban was enacted by Putin and the Russian Parliament in retaliation against the United States for a law that punishes Russian officials for human rights abuses.
"Negotiate your disagreement with the United States honorably, person to person, government to government, but do not use these babies as pawns, as hostages, in this international dispute," Israel said Tuesday during a news conference at the Mavroses' home.
The congressman and the couple also wanted to draw attention to the plight of more than 500 other U.S. families. They, like the Mavroses, began the process of adopting orphans from Russia and are hoping to welcome the children into their homes and their lives.
The Mavroses' journey toward parenthood began many months ago and culminated in December when they traveled to Russia and met the boy who they thought would soon be their son.
"This was just a dream come true for us," said Dania, 36, who works with children with special needs.
The couple spent a week getting to know the boy and said they enjoyed every minute they spent with him.
"We knew right on the spot that he was our son," Nick Mavros said. "Every day when we were there, we were having fun with him, playing with him. I even gave him a bottle of juice, some cookies. It was like the best experience. We love him. We want to bring him home."
The couple signed papers, indicating to the Russian government they wanted to adopt Ari. They flew home and waited for a Russian court to approve the adoption.
A week after the Mavroses returned home, Putin imposed the ban. Dania was in shock.
"Clearly after that, as I mentioned before, we were broken," she said. "We still are broken."
The couple plans to go to Washington to lobby other lawmakers and the White House to put pressure on the Russian government.
If Putin and his government don't repeal the ban and allow Americans to complete the adoptions of Russian orphans, Israel said he will call on Congress and President Barack Obama to consider withholding some of the $50 million in financial assistance the United States provides to Russia.
"We don't want to hold the Russian people hostage to our dispute with them," Israel said. "But we do need to think about strategically suspending some forms of aid that won't hurt the Russian people or families, but at the same time sends a message to President Putin that you can't take taxpayers' money and hurt American taxpayers."