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Different Countries, Lifelong Siblings

August 09, 2000|MICHAEL E. RUANE | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Sasha Turner waited pensively in the airport's arrivals terminal, watching each person who emerged from the customs area. He and his sister, Svetlana, had been separated for half their lives by a vast ocean, two cultures and a continent.

He had memories of their early years -- hungry, neglected and ill-clad, sleeping in one room with adults and two other siblings in the Russian city of Samara.

And when adoption parted them, Sasha, the eldest, worried about her. Where had she gone.? Was she safe? Could he ever find her?

Suddenly, as he waited last week with clasped hands at Dulles International Airport, there she was, her red hair gathered back. He blushed, ran to her and shook hands. Both had changed; He in his green T-shirt, was 11 now. She, with her red backpack, was 10.

The reunion of Sasha and Svetlana, and two of their siblings, crowned the hopes of four Russian youngsters. And it rewarded the efforts of two sets of adoptive parents, one Russian and one American, who were determined that their children would meet again.

"That's half of our family, the other half," said Sasha's father, Hugh Turner, of Silver Spring, Md. "This is all one family."

In May 1995, Turner, 43, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, and his wife, Patricia Haley, 45, an architect, traveled to Russia to adopt children.

They married in 1991, and had a three-bedroom, brick Cape Cod, with a garden. "We wanted to have a family," Haley said, They wanted older children. "We were a little bit older ourselves, and we really felt that older kids would fit us," Turner said as he sat at his dining room table, the family's dog, Delta, on the floor beside him. "The infants would be adopted no matter what. It was the older kids that really needed help."

Assisted by an adoption agency, they went to a clean but spartan orphanage in the large Volga River city of Samara. They were introduced to two of four siblings whom the authorities had taken from their alcoholic biological parents two months earlier.

The children were Alexander (Sasha), then 5 -- the oldest -- and Valentina, then 2, the youngest. Siblings Svetlana and Dimitri, 3, had been adopted by a local Russian couple, Yuri Ismailov, an electrician, and his wife, Victoria, a seamstress, the month before.

The adoption went smoothly. The family returned to Silver Spring, and the children thrived.

Sasha, a budding soccer star and honor-roll student who has photos of Britney Spears on his wall, is going into sixth grade. Valentina, who has studied ballet and is learning to swim, is entering second grade. Both have computers.

But Sasha began to voice concerns about his other sister and brother. "He would start to say, 'I don't know where my brother and sister are. I don't know what happened to them,' " Turner said.

"I explained to him that we knew they were adopted by another Russian family and we knew they were OK and they were living in Russia, That was all we knew." But Sasha wanted proof.

Finally, Turner said, "I made him a promise that we would do all we could to try to locate them."

He began doing research and writing letters, at first in vain. About a year ago the family at tended a Washington meeting of Russian dignitaries, arranged by the family's Russian adoption agency. One visitor was an official from Samara, who took a set of Turner's letters and vowed to help.

Two weeks later, an airmail letter arrived at Turner's home. When he opened it, out fell snap shots of two young children and their parents.

"As soon as I saw the pictures," Turner said, "I knew that we had succeeded."

The letter, in Russian, turned out to be from Svetlana and Dimitri, probably written by one of their parents. They wrote that they, too, had dogs and cats, that their mother made dresses and had a garden, that they were loved and happy. And they, too -- especially Svetlana -- had longed to know their siblings' whereabouts.

"It was like a parallel life," Haley said. Turner had the pictures framed and gift-wrapped. A few days later, he gave them to his children, Do you know what that is?" he asked Sasha. Yes, the boy replied. "It's my brother and sister."

Letters, e-mails and invitation flew back and forth. It was finally agreed that Turner and Hale) would pay $2,400 for the Ismailovs to come to Silver Spring. The visit of 10 days was arranged, and Turner's promise to his son was fulfilled.

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