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Kitsap couple rebuilding after ‘impossible’ adoption
Stephanie and Doug Kirk spent two months in Ukraine this year on a journey that would chew up most and spit them out with little left to give.
Their savings exhausted, they leaned on the kindness of friends and family to return to Seabeck last month. But their return was a celebration, because beside them was the daughter they’d been fighting to adopt for the better part of three years.
“I never heard the word impossible so much,” said Stephanie Kirk, 32. “We were going to let people shut a thousand doors in our faces if that’s what it took.”
Vika, 13, was a girl forgotten by the system in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. Her improper documentation made it difficult for her to be adopted by the Kirks, who were often encouraged to choose another child.
“It was never an option, we weren’t going to quit,” said Doug Kirk, 33.
Now a family of three, the Kirks are rebuilding their finances, working for paychecks they’ve gone months without.
But they’d do it again — and plan to in the future — because not once, they said, did they doubt Vika was meant to be theirs.
In 2007 Doug and Stephanie Kirk became involved with House of Hope Community Centers in Poulsbo, an organization that, at the time, was supporting the Awakening Orphanage in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine.
Looking through letters from the orphans there, the couple came across a photo of a young girl, her brown eyes framed by messy tendrils of hair.
“Adoption was never a second choice for us. Biological child or no biological child, adoption would be a part of our family plan,” Stephanie Kirk said. “It was God telling us ‘this is your kid.’”
The Kirks met 10-year-old Vika on a trip to Ukraine in spring of 2008. They learned she wasn’t a resident of the orphanage, but played there often while her guardian “babushka,” or foster grandmother, worked in the kitchen. Vika’s photo was mixed in with those of the orphans by mistake.
Vika’s guardian family housed her since she was 3-years-old, when she was found uncared for in her great grandmother’s home, having been abondoned by her biological mother. At the time the Kirks arrived, her guardian parents had been searching for a new home for Vika because they could no longer care for her.
Vika, whose first language is Russian, said she wanted the Kirks to be her parents, and the couple believed they could complete the adoption process in four months.
“She said, ‘I have to wait four months?’ And that was three years ago,” recalled Doug Kirk.
Setting off a firestorm
The Kirks’ adoption application “set off a firestorm” in the town of Krasnoarmiysk, where Vika lived, said Stephanie Kirk. They believe their application uncovered a mess of shortfalls in Vika’s documentation that government employees didn’t want exposed. They were told their adoption was illegal and were accused of trying to buy children, Stephanie Kirk said. At times they would be met with reassurances their case was moving along, only to discover the next day they had been stymied again.
“It was emotional torture,” she said.
Vika was not correctly registered, making her ineligible for adoption. The registration, done by the local Krasnoarmiysk government, became a long-delayed paper shuffle that took more than two years.
Doug and Stephanie made four trips to Ukraine in that time. In July they traveled to Ukraine for a mandatory adoption appointment, and flew to Ukraine again in late August, spending more than $10,000 on last-minute international airfare in a single month. They remained in the country for two months.
Vika was moved into a series of government-run orphanages as part of the adoption process. One of them, with a sign out front reading “Skazka”, meaning Fairytale Land, had bars over its windows.
“As far as other adoptive parents in Ukraine, they would get a child and leave and Stephanie and Doug would still be there, and still be there, and still be there,” said Karen Williamson, a House of Hope member. “You will walk through fire for your kid. They practically walked through fire.”
The Kirks met with Vika in small, sparse rooms at the orphanages, playing cards and dancing to music, bonding as a new family in an untraditional way. While the Kirks bled their finances dry, Vika was running short on time.
Finally, the Kirks were able to have Vika transferred to a different region, where they hoped new officials would be less resistant to their adoption.
On Oct. 11, they had their day in court. Vika was declared a part of the Kirk family.
“Before, zero family. Today, much,” Vika said after the announcement.
The waiting ends
Vika was issued a passport more quickly than expected, and the three arrived home Oct. 28.
“We’ve basically dived into the deep end of the parenting pool,” said Stephanie Kirk.
Vika is learning to use the English language more confidently and to live as part of a family. Vika let loose a wide grin as her parents asked her, both in English and Russian, what her favorite American foods are.
“Pizza,” she said.
The Kirks’ Bordie Collie Queensland mix, Trinny, stretched at Vika’s feet. She is Vika’s first pet, and now sleeps in her room.
The Kirks expect Vika will enter school at the start of next year.
Had Vika remained in Ukraine, she would have aged out of the guardian system by the age of 15 or 16. Because there are so few jobs, many orphans end up on the street, becoming involved in prostitution or crime, according to World Orphan Project.
Doug and Stephanie Kirk estimate the adoption cost them a total of about $35,000.
“Short of mortgaging or selling our house, we’ve basically spent every penny,” Stephanie Kirk said.
But they don’t want their experience to discourage others considering adoption. They plan to adopt again, probably from Ukraine.
“It was basically a big leap of faith for us. We knew that God set our feet to this path and that’s what we were supposed to be doing,” said Stephanie Kirk. “We knew it would have a happy ending.”
Learn more about the adoption at adtoptingvika.com.