NEW YORK — A Minnesota woman has gone on television in Russia with an emotional appeal for an exception to be made to that nation's year-old ban on adoptions by Americans. She and her husband adopted a boy from Russia in 2008 and refuse to give up long-standing efforts to also adopt their son's biological brother from an orphanage in the city of Kursk.
Renee Thomas was featured on TV Dozhd (TV Rain), Russia's top independent station, in an 11-minute segment that aired Thursday, a day before the opening of the Olympics in Sochi. At the close of the segment, she breaks into tears as she explains her family's determination.
"When we adopted Jack, they asked us to look after his best interest," she says, referring to her son's yearning to be united with his little brother, Nikolai. Jack is 8, Nikolai 5.
Thomas spent a week in Moscow from Jan. 22 to Jan 30, meeting with a Russian lawyer, human rights officials and others before returning home to Minnetrista, Minn.
She said several of the people she met, including U.S. Embassy staffers, told her the ban was unlikely to be relaxed, regardless of her family's particular circumstances. She said some Russians were empathetic and encouraged her to keep trying; she hopes to get the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top government officials.
More than 200 U.S. families were in the process of trying to adopt children from Russia when Putin signed the ban in December 2012. Many of these children have now been placed in Russian homes, although some of the U.S. families have not abandoned hopes that their long-sought adoptions might still happen.
However, the Thomas family has a distinctive argument, given that Russia's family code calls for siblings to be kept together as they grow up if at all possible. During her visit in Moscow, Renee Thomas stressed that argument, suggesting that Russian authorities should want to make an exception in her family's case.
In the segment on TV Dozhd, titled "Minnesota Dream," Thomas explains that she and her husband, John, were unable to have biological children and decided that Russia was the best option for adoption.
The station's interview with Thomas in Moscow is interspersed with scene from the family's home in Minnesota, where Jack is shown happily opening Christmas presents and looking at the empty but well-decorated bedroom that has been set aside for Nikolai.
"He's not always perfect but he's a smart, good kid," Thomas says of Jack. "He does have his moments, though, where he talks about getting his brother home. That makes him very sad."
The adoption ban was intended in part as retaliation for a U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russians deemed to be human rights violators. However, Russian authorities used debate on the bill to complain about mistreatment and lack of post-adoption oversight affecting some Russian children adopted by Americans.
"I'm sure the ban wasn't contemplated to punish these two brothers," Thomas said Friday in a telephone interview from Minnesota.
She said she had recently told Jack that her efforts to pursue the case were exhausting, and that he urged her to press on. Among her next steps, she said, would be to write a personal appeal to Putin.
"I don't have a choice," she said. "I don't know how to teach Jack to be strong and stand up and fight for things, and yet walk away on something that's so important to him."