March 19, 2008 - Getting comfortable...

Does this look like the face to inspire fear? Heads up to all adopting from Eastern Europe - they believe that black cats are EVIL and/or BAD LUCK. Melissa is our friendliest cat and must meet everyone in the house. She is always concerned when a child is crying. A great cat all around. Lera took one look at her screamed and tried to walk up the lounge chair backward. And after many days of torturing my poor old crunchy cat - picking her up like a baby, calling her name over and over and sending her packing when Lera looked truly panicked - I walked into the kitchen because Lera was shrilling calling "Malissa" and trying to pet her as quickly as possible.

Well, we have had some time for everyone to get to know Lera abit and Michael still thinks she is great and "portable" He likes that he can pick her up...only Mama and Daddy can pick up Caelia. She still thinks that he is wonderful. Caelia and Lera go between loving each other and trying to put each other in a headlock. I try to stay where I can see them but sometimes I walk away to come running back because Caelia is yelling, "NO, MINE!" and Lera is yelling something equally loud in Russian. And then again, sometimes I walk in on this...

March 16, 2008 - Settling In

I am really tired from the trip so I will have to tell this story with some pictures:

It's good to be home.

March 14th and 15th - The journey home.

It is a very long way to come home, and if you know how difficult the trip to get to Ukraine is, you do not look forward to the actual journey back home. The thing that you keep saying is that I will be home in 41 hours, I will get to see my family and hold my kids. This does not erase the dread of a 20 hour wait at Charles DeGalle Airport (since the Kiev French Consulate would not issue her a one day visa) or the prospect of a very long plane ride with a child who had already voiced her dislike of the trains - very loudly.

There are people that you meet however that make your journey more enjoyable or easier. There was the family, whose little boy sat and watched a dvd with Lera while we were waiting in Kiev. Then there was this very pretty and very nice young lady...
This wonderful person should be on one of those Delta commercials. You know the ones - where the person looks all over the airport and then brings the little boys paper airplane to him before take off?

This girl - wish I had got her name - works at the Delta booth in the Kiev airport. I had gone there to get our itinerary for our trip. We couldn't go to the check in desk for a while so we watched a DVD and had breakfast and were just about to go line up for the the check in counter when this very dedicated employee came running up. It seems that customer service had issued us an itinerary but no ticket. Valeria did have a ticket but not my father and me. She had searched the whole airport (which was very crowded until she found us) and very likely saved me from a coronary when I reached check in. In ten minutes we were off and on our way home.

Lera did very well on the flight from Kiev to Paris. She looked a little uncertain on the take off and landing, but we just kept saying "opah" and smiling and she seemed to get the idea that this was all fun.

Paris. Now I believe I mentioned that the French Consulate would not issue a transit visa for Lera. As US Citizens, we are not required to have a visa to enter France. Lera, however was traveling under a Ukrainian passport and would not be a US citizen until the plane landed in Cincinnati. We had 21 hours between when our flight landed in Paris and departed to the USA. This leads to a problem, because there really isn't anyplace to rest in the airport (and in some, not much in the way of chairs).

I began asking various Skyteam members where would be the best place to get some food and settle in for the wait. 8 different people were less than helpful - although one did tell us that if my dad or I left we would not be able to return until tomorrow, so she would be happy to step out and get us food.

Finally, we were directed to this very nice man. He was at the Transfer - Correspondence desk. I explained what was one and pointed out Lera and he got the most baffled look on his face and said in heavily accented English, "but she is so little!?". He then had us follow him to the Police headquarters for the airport and after showing all Lera's paperwork and him arguing for about 10 minutes, the man in charge called someone and issued a 24hr transit visa for Lera - no charge! I really could have hugged this man.

We stayed overnight and were back the next morning, feeling much better and much happier about France in general. When we had departed the plane from Kiev the previous day, the police were waiting at the end of the tunnel from the plane and searched everyone and checked their passports. When we tried to board the plane, we were asked where did we just arrive from - Kiev- so into a special line we went. Then there were the questions, and more showing of documents.People are really hung up on the fact that I have a different last name than my husband. Security in Paris was no different. After you pass the passport test, you go stand in line to be searched. I don't know about you but the sight of someone putting on surgical gloves makes me nervous in a security check point! For the better part of 10 minutes, my carry on was searched, my coat, and my person. The hedgehog was almost disemboweled because he has a weighted bottom. Then they searched Lera just as intently. She just looked at them and smiled like we were all playing some silly game.div>
We waited on the plane for everyone to be searched so our flight was delayed by about 25 minutes. The window that we had for our layover for Cincinnati was 1 hour and 10 minutes, but we were on our way home and as long as we were in the US, I would be home. 9 and 1/2 hours is a long time for a little girl to sit quietly. She did really well though. We did have a really rough landing though. One of those that go BOOM when you touch down and you are convinced that the pilot misjudged how close the ground was by about 5 feet. Lera started screaming and did not stop until the plane doors opened. So at 4:42pm Minnesota time, Valeria Elizabeth Green became a United States citizen.

When you arrive from a foreign country, you must go through customs (special line for US passports, that you still go through when you are bringing home an adopted child) and then you wait for your luggage. You need to pick up your luggage and then return to the customs office to get fingerprints of your child for immigration. Well, our luggage enjoyed Paris so much it stayed longer - not a surprise to anyone in baggage. We returned to the customs office and attempted to get a five year old to cooperate with fingerprinting. She did great though.

Our plane from Cincinnati was tiny (18 rows of 4). Lera settled into her seat quickly (no real choice, we barely made the flight and if it hadn't been late, I would have been searching for another way home) and surprisingly, trusted us again that this whole plane thing was ok. She really liked the window seat, but once she realized that we were off the ground she closed the shade and wouldn't let me open it again.
I have never been so overwhelmed than by the sight of my son tearing up the baggage claim area at sonic speed and screeching to a halt just 2 feet shy of running over Lera. He had 2 balloons for her and she instantly took to him. She even said, Michael. He beamed. Randy and Caelia were right behind as fast as Caelia's little legs could carry her. She gave me flowers and said "mah? I mist you" Kisses and hugs after so long from your kids and your husband are the kind that you remember always.

March 13, 2008 - Embassy

My biggest concern with coming into this day was that the computers that communicate from the US Embassy in Kiev to Washington D.C. would be down. It happens some time. We had adjusted our flights home to allow an extra day for this eventuality but Ukrainian Mardi Gras had eliminated this cushion.

Still, with much optimism, we arrived at the Embassy bright and early. We went directly to the front of a very big line (perks of being a citizen) and into the Embassy. The nice woman behind the glass (there is bullet proof glass everywhere) took our papers, told us we needed to go get a picture of Lera for her visa and her medicals and said that they would try to get her visa today but that the computers were down.

The picture was done right next door and dropped off and away we went to get her medical exam. The building that exams are done is pretty much like the rest of Ukraine government style buildings. They all are dreary, utilitarian and have huge lines of people waiting. Our driver went into an office and then we were ushered into a doctor's exam room. The exam was really quick. He set 3 plastic figures in front of Lera and had her name them - Cow, Dog, Fish in Russian. The doctor and our driver were very amused when Lera called a Fish - FIIIISSHH. She really likes to imitate new words. He looked over her medical records from the orphanage, filled out some papers and gave me a copy of her immunizations. I really am thankful for the staff at Lera's orphanage. They kept really good records.

The actual exam only took about 15 minutes, then he signed a paper, put a stamp on it and we left. No blood work, no xrays.

Then it was back to the Embassy. The man that called us this time was the same one that Randy and I had met on our first trip. His name is Mike and he is really a doll. He told me that he had never seen anyone get back so quickly from medicals. It tends to be quite the zoo.

I swore an oath, signed some papers and asked how long until we would have her visa. He handed it to me and said Now. I really love the US Embassy. If it weren't for the glass, I could have hugged this man! We were on our way home!

For Michael...

I had heard that Ukraine had many hedgehogs. People leave dishes of milk out for them each night. They are good luck and they keep pests out of the garden, but becasue it is just beginning to warm, I really had no expectation to see any personally. Imagine my surprise to find this one looking for a ride to America! He is quite friendly and much bigger than our hedgehog at home, but I thought he and Michael would be great friends. He agreed to take the trip with us and is looking forward to meeting Michael and having great adventures together. I will take lots of pictures for him to show Michael our grand trip!

International Womans Day - the Reality

Irina arrived this morning and we went to pick up Lera's passport. It was there waiting and looked like the Holy Grail to me. I was so happy. Now barring a computer issue at the Embassy, we will be leaving on March 12th at 12:55pm.

We could not get tickets for the overnight train to Kyiv for tonight and I wasn't anxious to get on a bus with Lera for 5 hours, but we did get a compartment for Saturday night. Unfortunately, our room was reserved for this evening so we moved to another room. It is very nice as well, but it overlooks the front of the hotel and the road outside it kind of busy. Lera loves looking at the Macheena(cars) from the window, though.

We went for a walk with Irina after we discussed the plans for Kyiv. She is returning to her home this evening and we won't see her again, but she did say that if we needed her, that we could call her on the cellphone for help. She had asked us about the steakhouse restaurant last time she was here, so we took her for supper there.

The people at this restaurant recognize us and and are very friendly. Irina asked us what "Kansas Ribs" were and we convinced her to order these. She really liked the ribs and it was a real treat for her because she has to be very careful with her money - I believe she is hoping to buy a house someday. It is very hard to do this in Ukraine - there are no credit cards or checks even, so you must pay for everything you buy with cash that you have. Irina has 2 children. Most Ukrainians have only one - this is causing the population to shrink. The government has started some programs recently to encourage citizens to have a second child but it is still expensive to have children here. They think we are insane because we have 2 children already and we are adopting another - and all of our children have special needs! I don't think you can get anymore special than these:

Back to this phenomenon of Ukraine holiday. We noticed as the day progressed that Odessa seemed even busier than usual and the people seemed to be getting rowdier. It certainly seemed like there were many more young crowds of people. Dad went out around 7 to pick up snacks for Lera - she is always hungry - he returned and said the beggars were very aggressive this evening and seemed to be out in force. There also seemed to be more of the "thug element" out tonight than he had ever seen previously here. Not as threatening as some in the States but he decided he wouldn't be going out again this evening. Around 9pm, the noise outside seem to escalate. There were people walking the streets drinking and laughing. I could hear cheering coming from the park and the street in front of the hotel was jammed with cars honking. Every once in a while, someone staggered against a car and an alarm started to blare.

When the fireworks started it wasn't much of a surprise. The 1st night Randy and I were in Kyiv, they set off fireworks. I slept through it but Randy was awakened and thought "Great! Civil unrest has broken out!" The next day, it was explained that Ukrainians love fireworks...the have them for birthdays, weddings - sometimes just because. What did surprise me about the fireworks were that they were directly outside my window and Ukrainians do not believe in small firecrackers, so each time they set these mammoth things off, every car alarm on the street went off from the percussion. This happened on 5 different occasions before it finally started to settle down outside. Wow, came for an adoption, got to experience Ukraine Mardi Gras - and the holiday is actually tomorrow.

International Woman's Day - the Stories

There were vague mentions about this weekend being a holiday, but it was never explained the same way twice and I really wasn't all that concerned since it fell on a Saturday. I wasn't concerned that is until I received a call from our interpreter, Irina, on Thursday saying Lera's passport was not in the mail delivered to the passport office. I was reasonably calm until I heard the rest. Due to the upcoming holiday the passport office would be close early on Friday and be closed entirely on Monday! It was 4am in Minneapolis when I received this news and the last thing I wanted to do was wake Randy up with this. My dad took me to my favorite steakhouse and we discussed having to make yet another change to our trip home and who I could possibly scream my frustration at. I mean, this is Ukraine, its an adventure, but for crying out loud!

Since we had a great waiter, who spoke English and was willing to explain things to Americans, I asked what was this holiday that was coming up? He said it was a celebration of winter turning into spring and everyone ate lots and lots and then next week it was (my interpretation) LENT and they could not eat animals. As he walked away and I contemplated how I was going to explain this to Randy, Irina called to say that Lera's passport was delivered late and that we could pick it up at 10 the next morning, before the staff left for the day. I was so relieved I felt giddy. We were going to have her passport, I was going to get to go home with my little girl and be with my other children again.

I made a call to the American Embassy and found out that they too celebrate by closing to the public on Monday. The Embassy was willing to work with me but I still needed to get Lera's medicals which I can't do until Tuesday, but as it stands now, I will still be able to leave as planned. Unfortunatly, I will not be able to do anything about Lera's transit visa from the French Embassy. Ukraine citizens have to jump through lots of hoops to obtain a transit visa and there just isn't time to do this before we leave. This means that we will be spending the evening in the Delta Crown Room - which is not nearly as nice as the ones in the USA but it sure beats the rest of the Airport. Dad had even said we could stay at the Sheraton, located in the Terminal, but no - you still need a visa to do this. You would think that an adopted child would have the same privileges that her parents have - I don't need a visa, but alas, it is not my country.

Irina had a different explanation for International Womans Day. She said that it is a day honoring all women. It is the one day when men cook breakfast and women get gifts. She called it a kind of Valentines Day but not pink and red. Women are given gifts and flowers on this day. Her sister in law says people celebrate hard and are drunk for days. I guess there is a difference in small towns (where Irina lives) and big cities (where Yelena is lives). Irina also told us that it was a fairly new holiday that was suggested by a French woman politician, and while Europeons are aware of it, it is celebrated primarily by the slavic nations.

In Odessa, the streets are filled with street vendors selling stuffed animals and more flowers than I have ever seen outside of Mothers Day. It looks very spring, and the weather is warm and I see lots of children at the park. It does appear that the town is becoming busy or gearing up for something. I hope to be on a train tomorrow night heading for Kyiv, so I will miss the festivities but I will have my own celebration after we get home.

March 5th, 2008 It's Ukraine...

Our plan was to leave on March 6th but as is typical for Ukraine, that is changeable. Unfortunately for my sweet husband back home, he will be holding down the fort for another week. Lera's passport will not be ready in time for us to leave. Maybe Thursday, more likely Friday - this is how appointments are made and how time is scheduled here.

The airlines do not use this way of measuring time and we had to make a decision about our return flight with a mixture of blind optimism and perhaps a touch of cynicism. My dad surrendered his AMEX points for our adoption flights. All of our flights - a total of 4 round trip tickets and 1 very special one way ticket were courtesy of his generosity. We've only had to pay fees and changes. The only downside to using skymiles is there are only a small amount of reserved seats available. Which means it can be a logistics nightmare to change these things last minute. Blessedly for us, the customer service reps at Delta are great people who really went the distance to find us a flight home. We leave Kiev on March 12th and fly as far as Paris where we layover until morning and then fly home to Minneapolis (via Cinncinnati).

This will create a wrinkle for us. We need to go to the Ukraine Consulate in Kiev and get a document (maybe its a visa?) so that Lera can leave the airport. I cannot even imagine trying to hang our in an airport for 19 hours with a very busy 5 year old. But hey, it's Ukraine, it's an adventure. That should be the motto for anyone adopting from Ukraine.

I hope the Consulate doesn't have a problem with her name... believe it or not, the woman in the passport office, told me that Lera's name was too long for their form. WHAT!?! Sounds like a joke but that is what she said. Her name, by the way, is now Valeria Elizabeth used to be Valeriya (something) Pascichenko. Go figure - but hey, it's Ukraine.

I suppose I should write a little bit about the paperwork. Before you pick up your child after your 10 calendar day wait, you must return to the courthouse to proof the information in the court decree and make any changes. While these changes were being made, we took some papers to the orphanage to get Lera. I signed several papers in the director's office and then went to the doctor's office. This is your last opportunity to ask questions about her health, routine, fears.

I gave them clothes for Lera and they went to change her and bring her down. When a child leaves the orphanage, they do not have any possessions. You will need to supply everything - clothes, shoes, underwear - coat, if its cold. Valentina gave Lera a small teddybear that was in the office, because it matched her outfit. Lera sleeps with it now.

On the way out of town we picked up the court documents and headed for Odessa. We went straight to get her birth certificate and this is where we encountered the first snag. It seems that this particular individual didn't like where my address was. Not that he had an issue with Minnesota - he thought my address should be in the last paragraph - not the second to the last. I'm serious. The papers needed to be changed - in Izmail (2 1/2 hours away by taxi, one way) and re-signed by the judge (who wouldn't be in until the next day)and brought back to Odessa. Our driver from Izmail, Igor, picked up the rejected paperwork with corrections from the bus and took it to the courthouse the next morning, had it corrected, had it signed, and then put it back on the bus. Irina picked it up from there and we rushed to have her name changed. From there, it is registered at a building across town. This takes hours.

The next morning we had to apply for her changed birth certificate. I filled out the information and signed the papers - then off to a special bank to pay for it. You get a receipt that you take back to the office and then you take her official birth certificate to the notary to fill out her passport application. Snag number 2. Irina has a power of attorney that we submitted with our dossier and I had an apostilled, notarized POA that I brought with me - just in case. Her POA did not list a specific child by name and he wasn't willing to accept this. Fortunately, mine did have Lera listed by her name exactly as it appeared in the court decree. But it had not yet been translated into Ukrainian. Irina argued and finally convinced them to take her interpretation of my POA. I don't want to imagine what would have happened if he didn't accept that. By the way, notaries are a big deal here. You must complete 7 years at university, followed by 2 years apprenticeship. I told her that for a small fee and a couple of hours of school, anyone could be a notary in the US. Now, I understand why they want things notarized, I wonder if they know the difference between their notaries and ours?

So after all of this you pick up the papers from the notary and take them to the passport office. You try to get a little girl to sit for a picture in a cramped room with 2 desks completely covered with passport applications and 2 dozen people who are looking annoyed at you because you cut to the front of the line. All of this was accomplished in less than 3 days. And after all of this effort, we were told her passport wouldn't possibly be ready until the day we were scheduled to leave.

It makes a girl very tired...

March 1st, 2008 Odessa

We are in Odessa. I really am enjoying Odessa. It is a very lively town - the people seem more relaxed - it has definitely got that resort town feel. Odessa is very conscience of appearance. The buildings are marvelous and it has lots of parks.

Our driver is Vladimir. He has quite a sense of humour. He is kind of a tour guide as well - he knows everything about Odessa. He only speaks Russian which is probably fortunate because traffic here is crazy and he is very animated in his opinion of some other motorists driving habits. Some things just do not need to be translated to be understood.
We visited the Potemkin Stairs. Dad walked up them - Lera and I took the funicular. Its kind of a tram that runs up and down the stairs. She thought it was pretty cool.

We then stopped at the Mother-in-law Bridge. The story behind its name is that a soviet official staying at the Voronstov Palace on one side of the bridge built the bridge so that his mother in law had easier access to the palace or more specifically had no excuse not to return home, depending on what story you chose to believe. It has an interesting tradition attached to it. Newlyweds have their photo taken on this bridge and leave a padlock with their names attached to the bridge.

We have also visited the Opera house which is quite spectacular. I love looking at these buildings - each one is so ornate and different. I have taken a number of photos of miscellaneous cool looking buildings. The Opera House is something that they are very proud of, so I wanted to put that one on here. I am fascinated by the trees in front of it, I am told that they are covered with flowers in the spring but I just love the way the trunks grow. I wish I knew what kind they were.

Lera loves her food - particularly bananas! Keep your fingers clear if you are trying to feed her a banana. She stuffs it in her mouth so fast that I have to worry about her choking. When we go to eat she is pretty good. Surprisingly patient. When the food comes, however, the race is on. I have to keep a close watch on her so that she doesn't choke. She ate a whole lemon slice (peel and all) before I could stop her. Oh-and don't even think about putting your fingers in her mouth to pull something out - it just makes her swallow faster. When she starts to get full, she sits in her chair with a very happy, satisfied look on her face. For all the world, she looks like a queen surveying her kingdom. We get alot of great smiles if we take pictures after she eats.

The food is out of this world. I love a place called Top Sandwich and a place that I can't remember the name of but their website is The staff was wonderful and they even had a children's menu (which is the first that I have seen) Dinner there was 200 grivnas - about $40) but it included chicken breast medallions and mashed potatoes for Lera in the shape of a clown face, pork ribs with veggies and baked potato, filet mignon with veggies and potato as well as juice and bread. Yes, I have hit the part of the trip where I am now dreaming of my favorite foods back home. We went here because it seemed to be less exotic. However, I have never eaten at a restaurant where a very well-fed cat sauntered past us and disappeared under the table.

There is an amazing toy store here, just a couple of blocks from the Hotel. It's 4 levels and has animated charactors throughout the store. A costumed Shrek was also there for the kids to meet. Lera was a little hesitant about this but when she saw other kids go up, she was game. I only have one picture of the toystore. I wish I had more. After I took the first photo, a guard came upto me and said NYET! NO Photos! Here is the one I got: