They found Daria through a U.S. organization called Reece’s Rainbow, which collects information about orphans with Down syndrome from around the world, posts their photos to acquaint prospective parents with them and offers encouragement and fundraising for the adoption process. Last fall, when the group wrote on its Web site that the family had committed to Dayna — Daria’s Americanized name — Burrows burst into tears of happiness, as if the child were already hers. “I will love her forever,” she told herself.
Then, on Jan. 1, even as Burrows was assembling the paperwork, Russia banned U.S. adoptions, accusing Americans of neglect and mistreatment. The Russians named their law after Dima Yakovlev, a 21-month-old boy adopted by a Virginia family who renamed him Chase Harrison. Chase died in 2008 when his father accidentally left him in a hot car. Russian children, officials said, were safer in Russia.
So Heidi Burrows was unprepared when news reached her that Daria, who would have turned 3 in May, had died in April in her orphanage in Nizhny Novgorod, a city about 250 miles east of Moscow. The child, according to orphanage volunteers, had a heart ailment that went undiagnosed. “I have not been able to look at that video since,” Burrows said last week.
In death, Daria has become emblematic of the difficult relations between the United States and Russia, and the bitter fight over adoptions. No doubt, given the time-consuming process, she might well have died before finding a home in Texas. But there are many, many other children just like Daria, said Boris Altshuler, an advocate here for children and families. Those children, he said, would live longer and better lives if Americans could take them home.
“One child has already died,” Altshuler said. “Others have been left with no hope of any future. This is totally barbaric.”
About 300 American families were trying to adopt orphans when the ban took effect. The prospective parents have been fighting for exceptions to it — not one has been granted — and Daria’s death has given their campaign new urgency.
Victoria Ivleva-Yorke, a Moscow journalist and activist who is helping U.S. families challenge the law in Russia and in the European Court of Human Rights, thought of a 4-year-old Moscow orphan, also with Down syndrome and a heart problem, who had been sought by Americans. They could offer better treatment than available here, she said.
“We told the Russian court that he could die at any moment,” she said. “There was no sympathy.”
In Nizhny Novgorod, Tatyana Bezdenezhnykh, head of child protection for the region, dismissed reports in the Russian media that Daria would be alive if the ban had not been imposed. Yes, she said, children with Down syndrome had died recently, but no one had wanted to adopt them. The Burrows family — still undergoing the approval process for adoption in the United States — did not exist for Russian officialdom despite the Reece’s Rainbow informal Web site matchup.