AMERICANS hoping to give Russian orphans a home have been jolted by news that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to sign legislation banning such adoptions.
''It's very difficult,'' said Los Angeles resident Sharon Benamou of the likely ban. She and her husband, Yehudah, flew to Russia in October to meet the twin toddlers they're preparing to adopt. ''I don't know what their fate is,'' she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Like Mrs Benamou, hundreds of Americans with pending adoptions are wondering when a ban, if implemented, would take effect. Mr Putin told a televised meeting he ''intends to sign'' the bill, approved unanimously by the country's upper house on Wednesday and by the Parliament's lower house last week.
The ban is part of a larger bill seen as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, a law US President Barack Obama signed on December 14 that calls for sanctions on Russians who violate human rights. Mr Putin has called it an ''appropriate'' response, but several high-ranking Russians object.
''This is children becoming pawns in a diplomatic game,'' said Adam Pertman, the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. He says there's no Plan B for Russia's 700,000 orphans, adding: ''The bottom-line victims are children.''
Many Russians have been outraged by reports of Russian adoptees being hurt or killed in the US. The ban was named in honour of Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who died in 2008 after his adoptive American father left him in a car in boiling heat for hours. The father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Yet Mr Pertman says the 19 Russian children who have died at the hands of their American parents are a tiny fraction of the 60,000 Russian orphans adopted since 1992, many of whom have special needs. To provide further safeguards for Russian adoptees, the US signed a bilateral agreement with Russia that took effect last month.
''It is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations,'' said the US State Department's Patrick Ventrell. He said Russia should instead honour the bilateral accord requiring prospective parents to complete pre-adoption training and provide post-adoption updates to Russian authorities. It also requires each country to give 12 months' notice before suspending the terms.
''People don't realise how much adoptive parents go through,'' said Lisa Wong, an Oakland resident who brought home a 22-month-old Russian girl in November. She noted the extensive paperwork, FBI checks and three visits to Russia.
Ms Wong said her heart goes out to those still waiting. Several dozen US families have been matched to Russian orphans but about 1500 are in earlier stages of the adoption process.
Russia remained the third-largest source of foreign adoptions by US citizens last year, even though the number of these adoptions - 962 - has plummeted since its peak of 5862 in 2004.
Ann Suhs, who lives in Johns Creek, Georgia, said the seven-year-old boy she and her husband, Kurt, adopted from Russia six years ago is the ''love of our life''.
They've filed all the paperwork for adopting a second child but don't know what they'll do if Russia slams its doors on US parents. ''Now we wait,'' she said. USA TODAY