LEEDS, Maine — A little over two years ago, just before the start of the pandemic, Nat Bell and Tracy Blake-Bell and their two teenage sons welcomed two brothers from Ukraine into their home for a month, a visit made possible by an international hosting program.
“They bring children from another country to have a small snapshot, maybe, of the American experience,” Nat said. “We’re pretty blessed, and we wanted kids that hadn’t necessarily had a good [life] to have some semblance of normalcy, to experience different stuff.”
At the time the Ukrainian boys, Vanya and Serogzha, were 15 and 12 years old, and fate had not dealt them a good hand. For six years they had been living in an orphanage. But something special happened on that visit, and the brothers from nearly 5,000 miles away got along beautifully with the brothers from Leeds, who were about the same age.
“They are absolutely incredible kids,” Tracy said. “There’s no way if you met them for a short period of time that you wouldn’t adore them.”
In Leeds, the kids who had spent most of their lives in an orphanage had the chance to just be, well, kids.
“All four boys love being outside,” Nat says. “Skiing, hiking, playing in the woods, building forts.”
Bell family soon began the process of applying to adopt Vanya and Serogzha, a seemingly endless journey through one bureaucracy after another that was finally coming to a conclusion last month, when Nat and Tracy traveled to Ukraine to deal with the next-to-last details. Relieved to be done with the paperwork and thrilled at the prospect of welcoming the orphans into their home, the Bells made plans to bring them to Maine this month.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shattered those plans. For the past week and a half, Tracy Bell-Blake, while working through tears, has reached out to Maine’s congressional delegation and anyone else she can think of who might be able to help. In recent days the boys have been moved to Poland, where they’re in a safe place and being watched by responsible, caring adults.
Their escape to Poland has been an enormous relief for the Bells, but they now worry whether two years of intensive efforts to adopt the boys will count for nothing since they’re no longer in Ukraine.
The offices of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins are working on the case, for which the Bells are deeply grateful, but the future is murky.
What has not been shaken by the cruelty and unpredictability of war is the Bell’s love for Vanya and Serogzha or their determination to make them part of their family.
“As much as I love any human being on this earth, I love these boys,” Tracy said, voice shaking with emotion while tears ran down her cheeks. “I want them safe. And I am just one. There are thousands of us, and we want our voices heard because we want the best for these kids.”
If you're looking for a way to help those in Ukraine, the Maine Emergency Management Agency has a list of vetted ways to help on their website.