Escape from Ukraine Children taken in by Manitoba family just before country invaded, adoptions halted

When Trish Braun sees horrific images of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Manitoba mother is thankful she had enough time to flee from the country with her three adopted children.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/03/2022 (188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Trish Braun sees horrific images of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Manitoba mother is thankful she had enough time to flee from the country with her three adopted children.

Other Canadian families weren’t as fortunate, as Ukraine halted intercountry adoptions due to the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion and war.

“I’m so thankful we were able to get out, but lots (of Ukrainians) don’t have the option of getting to leave,” said Braun, who lives in Grunthal, about 50 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg. “It’s hard to adjust to life here while our hearts are over there.”

SUPPLIED Trish Braun was able to leave Ukraine with Paige, Daniel and Lewis before Russia launched its invasion.

Just days before Russia began its assault, Braun was staying in the Odesa region with the three Ukrainian children — siblings Daniel, 16, Lewis, 10, and Paige, 6 — that she and her husband, Mike, 43, had adopted from an orphanage.

It is the second trio of Ukrainian siblings to join the Braun family. The couple adopted Quinn, 13, Niko, 10, and Piper, 8, from the same orphanage in July 2019.

The Brauns now have eight children, including their biological kids, Nash, 16, and Pierce, 14.

The latest adoption occurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Trish Braun, 42, made a solo trip to southern Ukraine on Jan. 22 to pick up Daniel, Lewis and Paige, and stay together as they waited for Canada to approve the children’s visas and passports.

SUPPLIED Trish Braun with Daniel (from left), Paige and Lewis on their way home. Braun made a solo trip to southern Ukraine in January to pick up Daniel, Lewis and Paige, and stay together as they waited for Canada to approve the children’s visas and passports.

The process was expected to take about two months, but escalating tensions in eastern Europe and a Feb. 14 phone call from a Ukrainian adoption worker set off a whirlwind of a week.

Braun, who works in health planning for Manitoba’s Southern Health region, was told to take the children and leave the Black Sea region immediately because “something is going to happen.”

She had half an hour to pack their belongings before embarking on a two-day, 1,000-kilometre drive to Lviv via Kyiv. Canada’s diplomatic staff had moved to the western city, after closing the embassy in the capital.

Within hours of their arrival at the temporary office in Lviv, the children had all the documents they needed to move to Canada.

Braun and the kids left Lviv the next day, Feb. 16, on an exhausting 48-hour journey to Grunthal via Frankfurt, Toronto and Winnipeg, where they had an emotional reunion with her husband, who owns Hanover Doors in Steinbach.

SUPPLIED Trish and Mike Braun with six of their eight children, Nash, Quinn, Paige, Daniel, Pierce and Lewis, after she and the family’s three newest members arrived at Winnipeg’s airport earlier in February.

“They could not get over how much snow was over here,” Trish Braun said of the family’s three newest members.

As they get to know their Manitoba family and adjust to their new lives, Daniel, Lewis and Paige are going to school and picking up English “fast,” while Braun tries to learn Russian, their native language.

The adventurous kids have been playing sports and games with their siblings, going for quad and snowmobile rides, and trying new food.

“Kraft Dinner is a hit,” said Braun, who’s trying to find eastern European food and items the children are familiar with. Their grandfather in Ukraine sent a borscht recipe.

SUPPLIED Mike and Trish Braun at their kitchen table with their eight children (from left, clockwise) Piper, Quinn, Nash, Pierce, Niko, Lewis, Daniel and Paige.

Braun has been following the conflict and staying in touch with friends in Ukraine and the orphanage, which has moved its children out of the country to protect them.

Images of bodies in the streets and buildings reduced to rubble by Russian attacks are shocking to Braun.

“It’s horrifying and senseless,” she said. “It’s just evil. I can’t understand it.”

After having two children, the Brauns felt compelled to help kids in hardship, and decided to pursue adoption, which is a time-consuming, costly and emotional process.

They settled on Ukraine after finding out it has more than 100,000 children in orphanages, with many facing bleak futures.

“It was just heartbreaking,” said Braun. “These are kids who did nothing to deserve that path.”

“It was just heartbreaking. These are kids who did nothing to deserve that path.” – Trish Braun

During the first adoption process, the couple spent a lot of time speaking to and playing with children at the orphanage in the Odesa area.

This spurred their desire to adopt a second set of siblings.

“The faces and those stories stayed with me, and I knew we had to go back,” said Braun.

The Brauns began the necessary Canadian and Ukrainian paperwork in the summer of 2020, and travelled to Kyiv in October 2021 to meet government officials.

SUPPLIED Mike and Trish Braun from Grunthal have adopted six children from Ukraine in the last four years.

In an office, they were shown photos of children and told they had 30 minutes to decide which orphaned siblings they wanted to meet. The Brauns and Daniel, Lewis and Paige spent weeks getting to know each other at the orphanage to see if the adoption would be a good fit for all involved.

A Ukrainian civil court approved the adoption last December and the Brauns began preparing their family and house for three new members. They had to buy a vehicle that could seat 10 people, and build a new bedroom in their home.

“We have been incredibly fortunate with lots of people offering clothing and shoes, and my mom runs a second-hand store, so we have been thankful to acquire some great items that way,” said Trish Braun. “We have had huge support from our church family, our local and neighbouring community and the adoption community. That has made all the difference.”

“We have had huge support from our church family, our local and neighbouring community and the adoption community. That has made all the difference.” – Trish Braun

Canadian families who were in the process of adopting Ukrainian children are in limbo due to the war.

“It’s very challenging for the families in process, especially those who have met the children,” said Alysha Buck, chair of Winnipeg-based UAS Eastern European Adoption Inc.’s board of directors. “There’s a lot of fear, frustration and uncertainty.”

When Russia began its attack, the private, not-for-profit agency was helping three families with adoptions in Ukraine, but all are now on hold, said Buck.

The agency helped about 10 Canadian families adopt Ukrainian children last year.

Fees, travel expenses and other costs can push the price of an adoption to between $30,000 and $50,000, said Buck.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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Updated on Wednesday, March 30, 2022 10:33 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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