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Crisis leaves Kansas group helping Ukraine kids in uncertain position

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, March 3, 2014, at 9:04 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 2:39 a.m.


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To learn more about Project TLC, go to http://project-tlc.blogspot.com.

Stephanie Nance worries most about the children in Ukraine, specifically the orphans.

It is what moved her to adopt three children from that country and what compelled her to help found Project TLC, an organization that identifies and tries to aid disadvantaged children in communities and orphanages in Ukraine.

Last month she spent 12 days in Ukraine, the fifth trip she has taken there in recent years to help disadvantaged children. She was in Kiev when protesters battled government security forces. She returned to Maize on Friday, a day before Russian troops began taking over parts of the Crimean region of Ukraine.

“We are still trying to figure out what this will mean for us,” Nance said of Project TLC. “Things are changing really fast over there.

“I haven’t had a chance to write about the trip just because things are changing so fast. By the time I get something written, everything is different.”

Nance, a mother to 12 children, said she began her travels to Ukraine shortly after her son Ralph was born in 2007 with Down syndrome.

“I did a lot of research trying to learn about Down syndrome,” Nance said. “While doing that, I came across the Ukraine and the numbers of orphanages there.”

What she discovered in her research is that children born mentally or physically disabled were often more likely to end up living in institutions, such as orphanages. It prompted her to travel to Ukraine.

“Their society is often focused on outward perfection,” Nance said. “To have a disabled child is considered shameful or an indication of sin. It would reflect badly on the parents.

“That’s why the orphanages are full of Down syndrome children – or even children born with crossed eyes or flat feet.”

One of the boys she adopted was Theodore. At age 4, she said, he weighed 13 pounds.

“We were so heartbroken by the kids we had to leave behind,” Nance said. “We began to look at some easy and inexpensive ways to improve the lives of kids.

“Adoption is great, but not all kids can be adopted. … So, if they couldn’t be adopted, we looked at ways we could give them some extra attention.”

One way was to hire paid caregivers to give children more attention.

While conditions for the children have begun to improve, the current political tensions concern Nance.

She said she was in Kiev on Feb. 18 when snipers were killing protesters. She had accompanied other American families who were adopting to Ukraine.

“We were kicked out of the consulates and told they expected bad people to be in the neighborhood,” she said. “We raced to get out of the city, because we were told all entrances would be sealed and nobody would be able to come in or out.

“We don’t know if those things actually happened, but it was a really tense time.”

Since her return, Nance said, she has frantically tried to stay in contact with caregivers at the orphanages.

“Word is from the orphanage is that they have everything they need for the children,” she said.

“Some of the orphanages are running low on food. That wouldn’t surprise me as there is limited movement around the country with checkpoints.”

At times, she said, she worries about what will happen next.

“We don’t know what the future will look like,” Nance said. “Russia has instituted a ban against Americans adopting children. I try to keep up with the news, but it keeps getting worse.”

No matter what happens, Nance said, she is hopeful the need to help children will still exist.

“We are going to walk in faith that we can still help kids,” she said.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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