, Salem, MA

December 29, 2012

Putin adoption ban a 'death warrant'


---- — MARBLEHEAD — Two years ago, Keri Cahill had a dream about a boy named Daniel.

It was the fall of 2010, right before she made her annual visit to Orphanage No. 5 in Siberia with her daughter, Anastasia, whom she adopted from that facility in 2005.

Cahill, a 47-year-old teacher and founder of Rebel Shakespeare, a Salem-based youth theater program, slipped into a room in the orphanage to be alone for a few moments. That’s when a little boy walked into the room and said his name was Daniel, just like in her dream.

“He’s a very, very sweet boy,” she said.

Since that day, Cahill has been raising funds and filling out forms in the hope of adopting Daniel, who is now 13. That dream was crushed yesterday when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. families.

The move was widely seen as retaliation for a law President Barack Obama signed this month imposing U.S. travel and other restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

“Putin basically signed a death warrant for thousands of children,” Cahill said. “They will die, and that’s not an exaggeration.”

It is hard for most Americans to understand the fate of homeless children in Russia, many of whom are disabled or have special needs, Cahill said. There are more than 750,000 in state care, she said, and many more on the streets.

If they are not adopted, their prospects on their own are dim.

Some of her daughter’s former roommates at the orphanage have gone on to prostitution or jail, according to Cahill. One of Daniel’s roommates hanged himself right before he was to be released.

“We live in the best country in the world,” she said. “We have our needs met. There are children in other parts of the world, including Russia, who do not have their basic needs met, and the majority of them, when they get out of (an orphanage) at 16, have a few years before they’re dead.”

After adopting Anastasia, now 20, Cahill tried unsuccessfully to adopt her older sister, Anya. When Anya turned 16, Cahill tried to get her visas, but that also failed.

“We visit (Anya) as often as possible, and we Skype with her and send her money Western Union,” she said.

Cahill sends $200 a month to help Anya survive. She also provides financial help to three other older girls who have left the orphanage.

After meeting Daniel two years ago, Cahill returned home and began planning for his adoption. She took on extra jobs to raise money and started working with a Russian attorney.

“Unfortunately, I had many, many roadblocks,” she said. “Last year, I should have been able to bring Daniel home, but the region created a law banning U.S. citizens from adopting.”

That law was overturned last fall, raising Cahill’s hopes until Putin imposed the blanket ban.

“I was really confident until just a couple of days ago when (Putin) finally announced publicly he was going to sign (the adoption ban). I knew it was over. He’s a very proud man, and if he says that publicly, he’s not going to take it back.”

Cahill will never give up hope, however, urging people to contact their congressmen and senators. She also has a Facebook page -- “I Support the 100 Children of Orphanage No. 5” -- that provides assistance to the orphanage.

Whatever happens, she said she will not let go of Daniel and not let him down. She calls him on the phone and sends care packages. She plans to visit soon.

“I love him...” she said. “We’ve been building this relationship and I consider him my son. I wrote him recently when all this was happening and I said, ‘I’m your mom forever.’”

Tom Dalton can be reached at