When Nick and Dania Mavros went to Russia in December to meet their soon-to-be son, Ari, the 1-year-old won their hearts immediately. The Little Neck couple brought toys and did their best to bond during the week spent with Ari.
“I think my husband and I saw the brightest light in the world,” Dania said.
“We knew right on the spot he was our son,” Nick added.
But now the Mavroses, without children, and little Ari are stuck in legal limbo as the United States and Russia engage in a tit-for-tat over human rights violations and adoptions.
Enter Congressman Steve Israel (D- Queens, LI), who joined the Little Neck couple on Tuesday to draw attention to their plight and demand Russian President Vladimir Putin end the block Moscow put on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children.
The kerfuffle began after Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which creates a blacklist of Russians guilty of “gross violations of human rights” and requires U.S. visa and financial sanctions.
The bill was met with a swift backlash in Russia. Putin signed legislation preventing Americans from adopting Russian children, leaving couples like Nick and Dania in the lurch.
The Mavros family was well on its way to growing by one, with all the appropriate documentation filed when Putin signed the legislation, 6 to 10 weeks before Nick and Dania were due back to Russia for a court hearing. Because that date in a Russian court never occurred, their adoption of little Ari is in limbo.
“‘Devastating’ is not the right word to describe what we are going through,” Dania said.
Israel called upon Putin to end the ban, sending a letter signed by himself and 50 of his Congressional colleagues to the Russian leader.
“Do not use these babies as pawns,” he said. “Do the right thing.”
The congressman said he’d explore the tools at his disposal to pressure Russian authorities to lift the adoption ban, including withholding U.S. economic aid sent to the country.
“I will call for a review of every single penny of U.S. assistance for Russia,” he said. “Suffice to say that I am going to use all the tools at our disposal.”
Israel fell short of promising an across-the-board ban on all aid, instead noting there are Foreign Military Support funds, Department of Commerce monies and economic support funds that could see reductions until the ban is lifted.
“We can find ways of disagreeing on the Magnitsky law” that don’t involve children, Israel said.
“Free these orphans and allow them to be adopted, then we talk about changing the Magnitsky law.”
The congressman estimated that 500 to 1,000 children have been left in a similar legal limbo as young Ari, whose propects of reuniting with the Little Neck couple that fell in love with him remain uncertain.
The couple has not heard from the orphanage Ari calls home since seeing him. The news that the adoption would at best be delayed hurt.
“We were broken,” Dania said. “We still are broken. We’ve been preparing for many years for his homecoming.”
Dania and Nick are hopeful there will be some sort of resolution and the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy will safely find his way to Little Neck.
“We love him and we want to bring him home,” Nick said.