BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As Ukraine prepares for a possible full-scale invasion from Russia, one doctor is working to bring a 9-year-old boy home to Alabama.
Dr. Christopher Jahraus, a radiation oncologist at Shelby Baptist Medical Center, had long wanted to adopt a child. Despite having children of his own, Jahraus felt he and his family could help an orphan out of a bad situation.
“How can you not want to do your part to save one kid from the misery that they would live through,” Jahraus said.
The Jahraus family was in the process of trying to adopt 9-year-old Sashko, a process that can take six to nine months. Now, plans have changed.
Last year, the Rev. Tom Benz, of Bridges of Faith, visited Jahraus’ church. Started in 1997, Bridges of Faith is an exchange program that brings orphans from Ukraine to Alabama, where they go to a camp in Billingsley. Eventually, many of the children through the ministry are adopted. Since 2010, over 200 Ukrainian children have found homes in the United States through the ministry.
“My wife was the one who said that we needed to go talk to him,” Jahraus said.
By December, several Ukrainian children had arrived in Alabama for a month-long foster program with different families. That’s when Jahraus met Sashko, who had been put into an orphanage in Ukraine because his mother was unable to care for him.
To hear it from Jahraus, the connection between the two was instant.
“When I saw him, I felt similar to the moment when I saw my child for the first time,” he said.
Within an hour, Jahraus saw firsthand who Sashko was. As he drove Sashko and other children from the airport, Jahraus stopped at a gas station when Sashko asked if he could have some gum. Jahraus gave the gum to the boy, who in turn gave a stick to each child in the car, as well as one to Jahraus himself.
“There’s just this inherent goodness for him,” he said.
Within a month, Jahraus took Sashko and the family to the Smoky Mountains. Before he left during Martin Luther King Day weekend, Sashko had begun calling Jahraus “Papa” and told him that he loved him.
“It brings tears to my eyes even now,” he said. “He’s my kid.”
Both Benz and Jahraus fear that if Russia takes over Ukraine, they could prevent American families from adopting Ukrainian children. In 2013, the Russian government passed the Dima Yakovlev Law, which banned Americans from adopting Russian children.
“This is a crisis,” Jahraus said. “We need to get these little kids over here.”
As unrest continues in Ukraine, Benz said he and his organization are working with both attorneys and Congressional leaders to get these children out of the country. Along with Sashko, there are seven or eight other children in the pipeline from Bridges of Faith who are in line to be adopted.
“Unless something happens, our only hope is some kind of miracle to get those kids over the border and get asylum,” Benz said.
Jahraus said the turmoil in Ukraine has been difficult on the family but that they are leaning on their faith to get through the uncertainty over how they can bring Sashko home.
“Ultimately, we have the faith of Jesus Christ and we pray all the time for Sashko and the kids,” he said. “The only way we can accept bad outcomes is through our faith, knowing that God has a bigger plan than what we can see.”
Jahraus said he has talked with several politicians about how to get Sashko out of the country and is reaching out to more.
“Just like any father, I’m going to do anything to get him to safety,” Jahraus said.