Last winter, passions were high over the Kremlin’s ban on American families adopting Russian children. In the streets, demonstrators said they were ashamed that their government was hurting orphans to score a political point.
On the other side, President Vladimir Putin was angry at the United States over American human rights legislation. He said on national television: “There are plenty of countries with higher living standards than Russia. So what? Should we send our kids there?”
Summer has come to Moscow and the adoption ban is still in place. But human warmth is easing the chill.
In mid-July, 15 American families traveled to Russia along with their adopted children -- to connect with their birthplaces. The Americans blended in with tourists and wedding parties on Red Square.
Lauren Thompson came with her adopted son, Andrei. She said: “If people understand we are Americans, not Russians - I have not found any hostility at all.”
“We have been thinking about this for a number of years,” she said about the ‘roots’ trip. “Andrei has always been interested in his Russian heritage.”
The American parents recalled that Russian adoption officials asked them to teach their children about their Russian origins.
But four Russian children adopted by Americans were denied Russian visas. Sarah Goth ran the tour for The Ties Program
, an American company based in Wisconsin.
“We don’t understand why,” Goth said in Moscow. “And we could not appeal that decision in any way. It seemed to be random.”
People in Russia have been welcoming. She said: “We have confirmed visits to all the hospitals, baby homes that the families want to visit.”
Some families met with birth mothers. Ally, aged 12, said she did not push for that.
“Well, I’ve been curious about my birth mom, I mean, any kid would, but I don’t really think about her that much,” she said.
For John, Ally's adoptive father, the trip back to Russia was about answering questions.
“We would like for her to see, to be able to ask questions, and to satisfy any curiosity and get closure on any issues that she may have now and going forward,” he said.
While the trips have been intensely personal, the Kremlin ban has loomed in the background.
Katherine, Ally's adoptive mother, said: “To think that anyone would stand in the way of a child having a family is incomprehensible to me.”
Stung by domestic and international criticism, the Kremlin has launched a program to encourage Russian parents to adopt Russian orphans.