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Liberty Lake family stuck in Ukraine

From left, Lorraine, Benjamin, Zach and Isaac Colwell before a trip to Ukraine.
From left, Lorraine, Benjamin, Zach and Isaac Colwell before a trip to Ukraine.

A three-day wait for a passport has turned into a weekslong nightmare for a Liberty Lake mother, her two sons and newly adopted Ukrainian daughter.

Lorraine Colwell, 26, arrived overseas May 27 with her brother-in-law, Jackson, 18, and two sons Benjamin, 3, and Isaac, who’s almost 2. She and her husband, Zach, had raised money online to adopt orphaned Nika, an 8-year-old girl with a toothy grin and long, brown bangs. Zach Colwell’s Air Force service kept him at Goodfellow Air Base in central Texas. The family picked up Nika at her orphanage, Lorraine received the OK from the courts in mid-June and Nika’s passport was set to be processed by the time the family arrived back in Kiev by train.

That’s when the delays started.

Ukraine couldn’t print passports.

“We were told before we left that they had switched companies and there was a little bit of a problem with when they were going to start printing, but that more than likely it would be all figured out by the time we got here,” Lorraine Colwell said Friday via Skype from an apartment provided for the family by adoption facilitators.

She described the ensuing explanations from both the U.S. and Ukrainian governments as “a game of telephone.” The family was told when they arrived in Kiev that the new company’s passport printing machines weren’t working. When they did fire up, a majority of the passports were misprinted and had to be discarded, she said.

The Colwells are joined by several families throughout the country facing similar problems in the former Soviet satellite nation. A Boston woman pressed her congressman to make her case to the State Department for a speedy return. A Chattanooga, Tenn., couple adopting their third Ukrainian child has also been stuck for more than a month waiting for the government to clear their exit. Mistakes have snarled plans for more than 100,000 Ukrainians planning to leave the country, according to state media.

Making matters worse for the adopted children in limbo is the fact that many have significant health problems, Lorraine Colwell said. Nika ran out of the medicine she’s taking and a refill had to be ordered from her orphanage, but others have it worse.

“There’s kids here who are on heart failure medication, and the families don’t know how bad their heart is and don’t have answers,” she said. “There’s a child here who can’t take Tylenol. His teeth are rotting out of his mouth.”

The Ukrainian agency in charge of printing and authorizing passports said last week the first batch of acceptable papers have begun streaming out to regions of the country via train. A total of 7,000 were issued for urgent cases, which include most of the children adopted by American parents. Families are beginning to leave the country, but the Colwells are still waiting – and running out of money, Lorraine Colwell said.

“Something needs to be done,” she said. “Something has to change.”

Though exhausted and frustrated, Lorraine Colwell said she doesn’t hold a grudge against Ukraine, its people or its government. They gave her Nika, a daughter she won’t leave behind, and answered her and Zach’s prayers.

“My husband and I have just always known that we wanted to adopt,” she said. “And we felt called that it was the right time.”

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