Ukraine’s problems are now ours

Vanya: Crimea banned all adoptions since Russia assumed control of the Ukrainian region

Ukrainian boy Vanya: Crimea banned all adoptions since Russia assumed control of the Ukrainian region

By Maya Rowencak

The world’s problems flow through newsfeeds of digital propaganda. Instagram, Twitter, headlines and photos are filtered by our brains, and it is easy to become engaged, desensitized or to ignore them all entirely.

Recently, Crimea, a region of Ukraine, has been all over the news. Despite months of Ukrainian protests in Kiev and reports by, among others, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Crimea became occupied by Russian troops and was annexed by the Russian Federation in less than one month. While the events continue to unfold, there is a boy in Ukraine whose story is worth sharing.

In 2001, a baby named Ivan was born in Ukraine. Lovingly referred as Vanya, he was given to a state institution because he was born with Down Syndrome. His genetic defect condemned him to the status of a “social orphan.”

Vanya spent his childhood in neglected mental asylums that often had poorly trained and abusive staff. His only escape from institution life is adoption. Ukrainian law allows children like Vanya to be adopted by Ukrainians and foreigners up until the age of 16.

In December 2012, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin banned all adoptions of Russian orphans by Americans. In March 2014, Crimea canceled all adoptions by Americans as it is now under Russian law.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

While time will only tell the impact of Russia’s influence on Ukraine, time is a luxury that social orphans do not have. Some die in institutions because of preventable health problems and neglect. If Vanya loses his right to be adopted before he turns 16, he and other orphans with special needs will be committed to a mental asylum forever.

The many reasons to defend the independence of Ukraine can be overwhelming, but Vanya’s story may inspire the world to care about social orphans who are waiting for families to rescue them.

Every life has value and every child has the possibility to change the world. Vanya not only inspires me to become a better human being, he also inspired me to help him and other orphans with special needs in Ukraine. Vanya is a world hero. Despite his bleak and unfortunate surroundings, he manages to smile, laugh, and be fearless. And now, children from his orphanage are being adopted like never before.

The world has become intertwined, and Ukraine’s problems are now ours. As a globalized society, we have the responsibility to protect the freedoms and rights of Vanya and others like him who don’t have anyone else to fight for them.

The author is the president and founder of Maya’s Hope, which sends aid to orphanages in the Philippines and Ukraine. For more information on how you can help, go to

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