American mom in Ukraine races to get adoptive daughter out of Russian war zone
An adoptive mom from Kentucky has made the perilous journey from the U.S. to Poland and now Ukraine, near Lviv, to try to get her daughter-to-be (age 18) out of Ukraine and to safety amid the war that's been raging since Feb. 24, 2022.
Colleen Thompson of Kentucky began the process of adopting a teenager from Ukraine three years ago — a story Fox News Digital originally told earlier this month.
The girl, who just turned 18, can legally leave the orphanage structure in Ukraine — she signed a letter of intent to that effect — but the Russian attacks on Ukraine have not only thrown the entire process into chaos and uncertainty, they've endangered (and are still endangering) the lives of many orphans.
Thompson told Fox News Digital in a phone interview on Monday, "Our daughter was in the war zone the night Russia invaded." She was referring to the Donetsk area, where the girl's earlier home, the Emerald City orphanage, was located.
This teen girl, identified only as "M," has been stuck in Ukraine. Colleen Thompson of Kentucky is trying with all her might to get her out of there. (Colleen Thompson)
Once the invasion began, the children were rushed westward across Ukraine. As of Monday, they were positioned on the outskirts of Lviv, hiding out and trying to dodge the Russian attacks.
For the past 10 days, Thompson herself has been in war-torn Ukraine — and given the chaos and confusion of the situation, she's ready to show up at her daughter's orphanage with a lawyer and the police in tow, if she has to, to take her daughter out of there.
"They’re literally holding my daughter hostage," said Thompson on Monday.
The mother of eight — who's been hoping for a ninth child for about three years and already considers the girl her own — also said, "She has waited 18 years to have somebody say ‘you’re my daughter.' I don’t care if there are bombs flying, I’m not leaving her. She’s not alone anymore. I just need to find a way to get her out."
The girl, identified only as "M," wants to go home to Kentucky with her new American parents. The war in Ukraine has complicated everything. (Colleen Thompson)
Eighteen-year-old "M" (her full name is withheld for safety and privacy) was evacuated along with the other children via police escort the morning after the shelling began. They spent two days crossing Ukraine, including in active war zones, from its eastern edge to the western portion of the country.
"It’s inexcusable," said Thompson of the current conditions. "These kids are being terrorized again."
The children were not permitted to bring any personal belongings with them during the journey.
"M," for example, had a beloved stuffed toy Rottweiler called "Archie," named for the Thompson family’s actual Rottweiler, Archie, whom "M" fell in love with during her two visits to the Thompson home.
The girl known as "M" is shown with the Thompson family dog, Archie, during an earlier trip to the U.S. To this day, "M" asks to see Archie whenever she talks via Facetime with her family-to-be, Colleen Thompson said. (Colleen Thompson)
Rescuing a child
Colleen Thompson flew into Krakow, Poland, on March 3, but from that point on, transportation became difficult. Because of the war, trains no longer had predictable schedules, so ultimately, Thompson went to the border by taxi — which dropped her off in a parking lot.
As soon as she realized the walking path over the border was closed, Thompson began knocking on car windows until she found a man who spoke some English who was also willing to give her a lift.
However, during the car ride, the man started "getting a little too handsy," she said — so when she reached the checkpoint, she solicited the help of an English-speaking border agent.
The border agent shepherded Thompson away from the "frisky grandpa" onto a Lviv-bound bus packed with supplies. Thompson was the only human passenger.
Most of the Thompson family of Kentucky are shown on the left; on the right, "M," whom they already love and want to have at home with them forever. (Colleen Thompson)
After a brief intermission, during which men in military uniforms transferred the bus's contents to a semi, the bus dropped her off at a deserted intersection in Lviv around 5 a.m. one morning.
Thompson walked until she found a bus depot with a light on. Eventually, she got a taxi ride to her friend’s apartment — and from there, she's been planning the rescue of "M" amid the war.
‘Are you OK, Mom?’
Thompson said her friend's apartment is about 35 minutes away from where her daughter's temporary orphanage is located, on the outskirts of Lviv.
"She called me from a bomb shelter at 6 a.m.," said Thompson. A frantic "M" said she was calling to ask if Thompson had heard the bombs — and urged her to get to a shelter.
Thompson had a precarious journey from Poland to Ukraine this month as she's been preparing to find and bring home her adoptive daughter. She took these images of travel shown here. (Colleen Thompson)
"Are you OK, Mom?" she asked, as Thompson told Fox News Digital.
Said Thompson about this conversation, "I have never been that scared in my life. I’m helpless. My child is in a bomb shelter with bombs going off, and I can’t do anything [about it]. I cannot do anything to help her," Thompson went on. "I cannot keep her safe. I can’t get people to help me keep her safe."
Though the original plan for the children from the Emerald City orphanage was to cross the border to Poland, those plans changed when the orphanage’s director reportedly abandoned them. "M" and the 42 other children who are ages 7 to 17 cannot leave for Poland without the permission of the now-absent director of their original Donetsk region facility.
"Kids who wind up in an orphanage have been through enough trauma in their lives," said Thompson. "They've lived through things many of us cannot imagine."
Another image from Thompson's journey to find her future daughter in western Ukraine. (Colleen Thompson)
Thompson described the current orphanage set-up outside Lviv: "There are two guards at this guard booth. There is an 8-to-10-foot wall around this orphanage. The front gate is locked."
A gate near the facility that was meant to allow in cars has been chained shut, said Thompson.
"By Ukrainian law, ‘M’ is allowed to leave with me [for] the safety of Poland and then, I hope, on to the U.S.," said Thompson, struggling to keep her emotions under wraps.
"M" is technically an adult at age 18, and she's applied for release from the orphanage; but the adults who are running the temporary orphanage will not let her go. That's why Thompson has been making plans to bring an attorney plus police, if she has to, to secure the girl's release.
"My daughter’s been dropped here. She’s basically abandoned," Thompson said. "There’s no caretaker from her original orphanage. There is no one who has guardianship anywhere in this whole region [of Lviv]. She’s in limbo."
While the temporary facility in Lviv is physically holding the young woman, the people there are also saying they have no decision-making power when it comes to her release, said Thompson. The facility is apparently demanding a signoff from the girl's orphanage in Donetsk — although that facility is no longer operating because of the war.
Human trafficking concerns
Thompson has a larger worry that she shared with Fox News Digital. "There are [orphans] being taken out of Ukraine who are not accounted for," said Thompson. She is determined the girl known as "M" will not become one of them.
Thompson said some orphans and orphan groups have already been transferred to Austria, Spain, Greece, Germany and Switzerland, though Ukrainian orphans were supposed to all be registered and travel only to Poland.
Yet another scene from Colleen Thompson's journey from Poland to Ukraine, which she shared with Fox News Digital. (Colleen Thompson)
"I have at least 300 families on my spreadsheet" who are in the process of adopting children from Ukraine, said Thompson; she's part of a network of adoptive parents in the U.S.
She's concerned that adoptive families whose children are moved to countries that disallow international adoption may lose those little ones forever.
"It’s like they’ve just erased all the Americans," said Thompson. She said many of the mid-adoption-process American families have hosted Ukrainian children before and had home studies completed; some were also in the final stages of their adoptions and were awaiting paperwork.
"A group [of orphaned children] were taken by bus from Lviv [on Monday] straight to Austria," said Thompson. She said Americans in the process of adopting children from that group are following that bus to Austria "so they can make sure their kids don’t just disappear."
Added Thompson, "Kids are falling through giant cracks in the system."
This is one of the hallways of the current orphanage in Ukraine where Colleen Thompson's future daughter has been staying during the war. (Colleen Thompson)
Most American adoptive families of Ukrainian orphans are in Poland right now, said Thompson. She's among the few who are actually in Ukraine.
"You can get across the border with literally no documents," said Thompson. The group her daughter-to-be is with, said Thompson, have no documents with them — nor do they have a chaperone. Four adults at the temporary orphanage are helping to care for the children.
"This is the scariest stuff I’ve witnessed in a group setting, with children just disappearing," said Thompson, referencing the way groups of orphans have been bused to other countries amid the war. "I’m also scared they’ll come with a bus and try to take ‘M,’" she said.
Thompson believes no one is maintaining a central database to keep track of the whereabouts of Ukrainian orphans.
These people are trying to escape harm in Ukraine; here, a man is shown carrying a young child to safety. (Francesco Malavolta)
She bases this opinion, in part, on interactions she's had with a woman who identified herself as "Tatiana" from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
"Tatiana" had asked Thompson for details about children in an orphanage from Mariupol, who — amid the war — were to be transferred to Greece.
Though Thompson said the OSCE rep told her they planned to bring a group of children to Greece, the woman known as "Tatiana" apparently did not know the names or ages of the children. Further, Thompson said, Greece does not allow for international adoptions.
While some Ukrainian orphans are in the midst of being adopted by American parents, Thompson said "Tatiana" could not tell her what would happen to those mid-adoption-process children if Ukraine falls to the Russian while the children are in Greece.
The girl known as "M" is shown here; her adoptive mother has been trying to get to her for weeks amid the war. Said Thompson to Fox News Digital, "This is our child. She has never had anybody say to her, ‘You matter.’" She added, "I am standing here
"This is our child," Thompson emphasized. "She has never had anybody say to her, ‘You matter.’ I am standing here saying, ‘You matter. And I am not leaving without you.'
Added Thompson, "I may not be doing it gracefully right now, but I am standing up for her."
'Praying for peace very meaningful for me'
Thompson said she attended Mass this past Sunday — the second Sunday of Lent this year — at a cathedral in Lviv.
Colleen Thompson spent some time in prayer in this church in Lviv, Ukraine, this past week. She is hoping to see her future daughter this week — and praying she can get her back to the U.S. with her. (Colleen Thompson)
"It was an emotional service for me, and I needed that time in prayer," she told Fox News Digital.
"After Mass, I was able to spend some time appreciating the beauty of the church," she added.
"Even with the statues above the altar covered and some of the windows boarded [in preparation for a possible Russian invasion] — it was inspiring," said Thompson.
"Being there with so many Ukrainians praying for peace was very meaningful for me. I am on my knees praying God will save Ukraine," said this American mother on a mission.
Michele Blood is a contributing lifestyle reporter for Fox News Digital.