By Sergei L. Loiko and Kim Murphy
Andy and Bethany Nagel left photos of themselves at the orphanage for the little boy with Down syndrome who was going to be their son. We’ll be back, they told 4-year-old Timofey, blowing kisses from the doorway and retreating anxiously into the chilly street.
Their whole life was in the album they left that day in October: pictures of the room they’d fixed up for Timofey at their home in suburban Maryland; grinning images of their two American sons, ages 6 and 13, who would be his brothers. The book sat beside Timofey’s bed in Baby Home No. 13, and staffers would help him thumb through the pages.
“Where is your papa?” they’d ask, and he’d point to Andy’s picture. “Where is your mama?” And he’d find Bethany.
In January, Natalia Nikiforova, chief doctor at Baby Home No. 13, crept into Timofey’s room, quietly picked up the album and hid it in her office. There would be no American family.
The new Russian law banning adoptions by U.S. families that took effect Jan. 1 erased the Nagels’ plans to bring Timofey to America in March. In all, it stranded more than 330 families who had already begun stitching hoped-for Russian adoptees into the webs of their lives.
“We have all these sorts of feelings of grief that we could process — if we didn’t know he’s still out there,” said Andy Nagel, 31, an assistant pastor at a Presbyterian church in Germantown, Md.
The estimated 1,000 Russian adoptions annually by American families has been a tender subject in the Kremlin for years. Though an estimated 300,000 orphans languish in about 3,000 facilities across Russia, handing them over to a former Cold War enemy can strike a painful note.