Rochester-area families trying to adopt Ukrainian orphans plead with Ukrainian leaders to allow the children to come to the U.S.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Imagine loving a child, deciding to adopt that child, then the process stops for reasons completely out of your control. Now imagine that child you love is stuck in an orphanage an ocean away. That’s what it’s like for six Rochester area families who were in the process of adopting Ukrainian orphans before the war broke out.

Now, all these families want is to be able to keep their children safe in America during the war. On Thursday, I met one of those families just before they boarded a plane to visit four little girls they’re struggling to adopt.

Theo and Lisa Wheeler and their two daughters chatted with me before Theo and the girls were boarding a flight to Poland. The family first met Sophia, an 11-year old Ukrainian orphan, when she came for a visit in the summer of 2021.

“We fell in love within two hours. We met her through a hosting program. We decided to host her through Host Orphans Worldwide,” said Lisa.

During that 10 week summer program, the Ukrainian orphan bonded immediately with Lisa and Theo’s daughters, Faith and Hope, adopted more than a decade ago from Ethiopia.

“I knew it was like to be in her position, and so it clicked,” said Faith. “Our relationship we’re like so close.”

“We fell in love within two hours,” said Lisa, referring to Sophia’s instant connection with the Wheeler family.

Immediately after the visit the family began the adoption process. Then on a visit to Ukraine to see Sophia, their lives would change again.

“We got to meet three other little girls that had been in the same place as Sophia. They had been to America before and we fell in love,” said Lisa.. “We fell in love with Kira, Karolina and Kamila.”

So they decided to adopt Sophia as well as the three sisters. And then the war broke out, and their adoption plans came to a halt.

“That was very hard. That was very hard,” said Lisa. “I was scared. I was scared for her.”

“Their orphanage was bombed and shot at,” said Theo. “They don’t have anything to go back to. They’re stuck in Poland right now. Those are the people that we’re trying to help. There’s 100 children in the orphanage where Sophia and the other girls are who have families here who want to take care of them.”

So those American families are begging the Ukrainian government to let them care for the children they’re in the process of adopting while the war rages in their homeland

“As long as we can do it even during war time, it’s a better place with a family than some makeshift camp in the middle of Europe,” Theo added.

But so far, the Ukrainian government has said no. So the family is relegated to skype calls, letters. and heartbreaking text messages.

“Mom,” Sophia wrote in one text message. “How many days till you think I will come back home?”

“Some days are harder than others. But we just keep praying, and we know that God has a plan,” said Faith.

And so it’s with that hope the family is leaving for Poland to visit their little girls an ocean away, praying that one day, they’ll all fly back to the Flower City together.

Congressman Joe Morelle is leading the effort to allow the children to live with their adoptive families in a process called respite care. The families have already been vetted, and the families would essentially be acting as foster parents until the adoption process can continue.

They ask that those who support them in this effort to contact your local congressional representatives and ask them to join the effort.