From their fourth-floor apartment window, they could see the revolution.
They had been told they were a mile away, but as Don Jenkins looked out, “I’m seeing the orange glow from the flames, and I said, ‘Lisa, that doesn’t look like a mile. It looks like it’s just a couple buildings over.’
Don and Lisa Jenkins, stuck in Kiev awaiting the passports for Tatiana, 17, Angela, 16, Natalie, 15, and Roman, 8, the four newest members of their Topeka family, found themselves uncomfortably close to the violence at Independence Square. What wasn’t visible from their window was splashed across the television. People shot. People set on fire.
By the time the Topeka couple had received three of the passports, things had mostly quieted down. The Ukrainian capital’s once beautiful square was a wreck, but at least food shops were reopening.
The remaining passport, however, was still missing.
“So we’re playing this waiting game, and then (Russian President Vladimir) Putin decides to bring the Russian army into Crimea,” Don Jenkins said, “and we’re starting to wonder, is Kiev going to be next?”
The things a man will go through for a father-daughter dance.
It was last March when the Jenkinses first began to consider the idea of adoption.
Already they had raised two sons of their own, Tyler and Taylor, both now in the their mid-20s. But Don Jenkins had always wanted a daughter. There was something unique, he believed, about the father-daughter bond, and he yearned for a chance to enjoy those moments unique to fathers and their little girls — talking through breakups, dancing together on her wedding day.
So when the pastor at their church, Northland Christian Church in Topeka, told them one day last April about Angela, a teenage girl from Ukraine on the verge of aging out of her orphanage, the Jenkinses were intrigued.
Even before the 16-year-old girl came to Topeka last summer for a 10-week visit, the couple had decided to begin the adoption process.
“I had this idea that she was going to be a real daddy’s girl,” said Don Jenkins, who along with his wife is employed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. “We’re going to go on walks together. I’m going to teach her how to speak English. She and I are going to be connected at the hip.”
At the airport to drop Angela off for her return to Ukraine, Lisa Jenkins happened to cross paths with another Ukrainian girl — Angela’s friend Natalie, who was also finishing up a summer visit with a host family in the United States. Natalie and her sister, Tatiana, lived in the same orphanage as Angela, Lisa Jenkins would discover, and all three were close friends.
She got Natalie’s personal information, and when she returned home and told her husband about the two new girls, a thought occurred to them: Wouldn’t it be nice if Angela had a pair of close friends with her as she made her transition into American life?
Within a week, it was settled: The Jenkinses would be taking all three girls.
The process of adopting internationally can be daunting and complex, a seemingly endless stream of background checks, interviews, evaluations and travel to the children’s home country.
It was on one of these trips last November, in fact, that the Jenkinses received some unexpected news: As it turned out, there was yet another child in need of adoption — an 8-year-old brother to Natalie and Tatiana, named Roman.
Now living in an orphanage, the boy had been found three years earlier, the Jenkinses were told, living in a doghouse, subsisting on vegetables he’d dug up. He wore a too-big suit and sandals. He spoke no English, and when the Jenkinses stopped by the orphanage to meet him, he barely looked at his two visitors.
But on a second visit that week, the boy was much more animated.
“He ran and jumped and threw his hands around my neck and wouldn’t let go,” Don Jenkins said. “I had to literally pull his arms apart. From that point, we knew it was now moving to four.”
On Feb. 2, the Jenkinses returned to Ukraine for what was supposed to be a relatively quick two-week affair, just long enough to attend a court proceeding making the adoptions official and obtain the passports required to bring the children back to the United States.
By Feb. 13, however, everything had changed.
When the violence broke out in Kiev, the Jenkinses immediately found themselves in the thick of it, isolated, six deep, inside their apartment.
Those were long, tense days. Once, during a bit of calm, Lisa Jenkins and the girls thought to venture out to find an open shop but found a mass of demonstrators somberly forming in front of the building for a march to the barricades. The women retreated back upstairs.
“We were lying in Kiev in bed, thinking, ‘How did we get here?’
” said Lisa Jenkins. “Last year at this time, we were on a cruise.”
Added Don Jenkins, “As a father, you’re worried you can’t adequately protect your kids, your family.”
Supposedly, it took three to five days for the passports to be sent, but every day it seemed a new piece of bad news arrived. Once it was a computer glitch, then one of the girls’ ID numbers didn’t match up. The deadline came and went.
At one point, residents of Kiev starting leaving the city, potentially the very bureaucrats the family was counting on for the passports. They were advised to contact the offices of Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Lynn Jenkins. The American Embassy got in touch with the Ukrainian passport office.
More days passed.
“We’re like, ‘We’re never going to get out of here,’
” Don Jenkins said. “It was getting very intense.”
Finally, after more than a month in Ukraine, the call came: The final passport had been printed.
The following day, the group camped out at the embassy. The children were sworn in as U.S. citizens, and flight arrangements were made for early the next morning.
On March 8, after a 25-hour stretch of travel, they landed in Kansas City, exhausted and relieved.
On a recent weekday afternoon, inside their spacious Kansas home, the Jenkins family quietly went about their day.
Cartoons played on a TV in the kitchen, where a teenage girl sliced vegetables. Another pecked away on her cellphone in the dining room, and Roman happily examined his new pair of Spider-Man shoes, which featured red blinking lights.
It was a calm and rather unremarkable scene, which represented a welcome change.
In a sense, they’ve started from scratch — the four kids arrived with only one suitcase among them.
The family has been inundated with donations, including from their church. The local McDonald’s, where they typically eat on Sundays, has even promised them free meals for the next two months.
All four kids were recently enrolled in school.
The girls, despite their age difference, will all be entering 10th grade at Seaman High School.
Roman will be a third-grader at Logan Elementary School.
Already arrangements have been made to help them with the inevitable language barriers, and the Jenkinses are slowly picking up the Ukrainian language.
So far, they know the important words.
No. Yes. Stop.
“They’ve never had rules,” Don Jenkins said. “We have expectations. They can’t go to bed with their phones because they’ll be up using them all night. So we take their phones away and they get mad.”
Adam Pertman, president of the Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of “Adoption Nation,” says it’s imperative that adoptive parents are aware of the resources available to assist them along the way.
While noting the various positives of adoption, he also points out that institutionalization — particularly when it’s long term — can have lasting effects on children.
“To do the best possible job of parenting, they have to have their eyes open,” said Pertman. “Just because things are just fine at the moment doesn’t mean they’re just fine.
“There are school issues, language issues — overlays on overlays. If you don’t understand them and you don’t get the services and support that you need, then you can’t deal with them, even if your intentions are the greatest.”
So far, though, things have gone smoothly, although the grocery bill has skyrocketed — “This is the eatingest bunch of kids I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Don Jenkins — and the spike in laundry meant the addition of a second washer and dryer.
The kids already have begun helping around the house, cleaning up and occasionally making dinner for their new parents. And just the other night Don Jenkins had the opportunity to console Angela after she and her boyfriend from Ukraine broke up.
It’s a transition that will probably take some time. But considering their start together — maybe even because of that start together — there is a sense the family is in a good position to handle just about anything that comes its way.
“One thing you can credit the revolution for is keeping us cooped up where we were forced to be around each other for a long time,” Don Jenkins said. “We were able to bond. We were having pillow fights and all kinds of things — we almost got kicked out of the apartment for being too loud.
“It forced us to spend time together and grow as a family.”