Lora, 11, and Zulya, 15, snuggled in close to Catherine as she read to a swarm of younger children before leaving the orphanage for the evening with her new son Anton, 14. “Are there any friends you know of who would adopt us so we could live close to you?” Zulya implored. The question took the new adoptive mom aback; the girl craved affection, but she’d only met Catherine 45 minutes earlier. In the five subsequent days the family visited, both girls trailed them, barraging with requests to play with their group. Zulya, especially, is unhappy at the orphanage; Catherine witnessed kids tormenting her about her full name, Zhuleikha, because it isn’t Russian.
Gentle Zulya longs for a family, but circumstances make it most unlikely she’ll get one. Orphans are generally prohibited from entering the US at sixteen, unless adopted concurrently with a younger sibling. Zulya and Lora, though having spent much of their lives in the same household, are niece and aunt. Arriving at the orphanage together three months ago, the girls were reticent to reveal what drove them there, deeming it too sad a story to share. Whatever their history, difficult as it must have been, they have each other, for now. And while their biological relationship is not sufficiently close to qualify Zulya to immigrate to the States with Lora after her birthday, they’re close enough to want to stay together. Pressed to name her best friend, Zulya smiled toward her younger aunt, saying, “My Lora,” adding, “We really are sisters. We wish we could always be together!”
At this, the interviewer invited Lora to join Zulya; the older girl pulled up a chair for the younger without a hint of begrudging the shared spotlight. Both girls enjoy crafting, and Zulya beamed as she helped Lora display a flower she’d created from rolled paper. Another student produced a swan he’d made, which Zulya showed on camera, thoughtfully turning it side to side so it could be better appreciated, though it was the work of another.
Lora is a reader, preferring scary stories and those with mother characters. She reminisced of summers past, helping her mother, Zulya’s grandmother, garden, and gather strawberries, mushrooms, and nuts. Since arriving in the orphanage, Zulya attends a new school; she likes her instructors, whom she says explain concepts well. Her English study is difficult, though she believes if she tries hard, everything “will be alright.”
But effort may not make all things right. There is little Zulya can do to secure her future with Lora, except to profess her desire to remain together, and with pleading words shadow families who come to claim other kids. To stay “sisters”, the girls must be adopted by early September, or Lora can decline her chance at a family later, if she’s willing, to remain with Zulya in Russia. By then, the gentle girl with the Turkish name will likely be working the streets to support herself, and maybe her Lora, not because she wants to, but because she arrived at the orphanage too late in childhood for anyone to help.
Zulya desperately wants a family to share with the one person who understands what she’s been through. Perhaps no family will choose them, act with the requisite speed, and tolerate the uncertainty of Russian adoption. But I’ve seen too deeply into their souls to look away, so I must assess the merit of the mission not by its likelihood of success, but by its rightness.
To be adopted together, Zulya and Lora must have certain documents filed by the first week of September. This would require a home study-ready family to step forward almost immediately, and the adoptive families would need to act very expeditiously in all remaining paperwork. Having USCIS approval already would be a major plus. There are many uncertainties in this adoption, which will be discussed with potential adoptive families. If you are interested in adopting Zulya and Lora together, please contact Becky at (616) 245-3216 until 11:00 p.m. EST any day.