Uplifting Ukraine – A chance to host

David and Karissa Rae, of Creswell, pose with their four host children from Ukraine: Maks Muntian, Valya Muntian, Pasha Muntian and Dasha Muntian. The siblings are spending 10 weeks with the Raes over the summer. Aliya Hall/The Creswell Chronicle

Unlike most children from overseas visiting the U.S., 12-year-old Valya Muntian said that the reason she wanted to come to the country was ”to get a break from all the difficulties, to feel calm.”
She sat at the kitchen table with her three siblings: Maks, Pasha and Dasha, and her host parents Karissa and David Rae, of Creswell. A smartphone equipped with Google Translate was passed around, and the siblings spoke among themselves before one of them would volunteer an answer. The oldest, 15-year-old Maks, said that it’s been comforting to have this experience with his siblings by his side.
There are over 100,000 orphans in Ukraine, according to a publication in Kiev called the Unian. Host Ukraine, established in Kentucky, is one tool that the country is using to try and get children adopted – or at least give them 10 weeks out of the orphanage.
”It’s not a vacation and they aren’t exchange students,” Karissa explained. ”They’re screened over there for the best candidates to be hosted and possibly adopted.”
David said that kids want to impress their host families, and that he and Karissa are just trying to help the children relax.
He said it took a couple of days, but he’s now able to see their personalities. They are great kids, he said.
Karissa, a nurse, said she never thought much about fostering or adoption before – that is, until the family met Jen Mitchell at Creswell Church of Christ and learned that Mitchell’s family has adopted children through this program.
”This opportunity came along, and I’m hearing these stories and it’s breaking my heart,” Karissa said. ”For a temporary period of time, I’d love to love on some extra kids.”
Originally, the Raes were not planning on hosting four children – in fact, they weren’t planning on hosting until next year, to give them time to save more money. The financial barrier was too high at $3,000 per child.
”At first we were contemplating two, and it was just too much,” Karissa explained. ”It would wipe out our savings.”
However, she still wanted to be involved, and stayed in contact with Mitchell. Then she learned about four siblings whose hosting situation fell through, and $8,000 of the $9,500 was covered – discounts are applied for larger groups.
”So only $1,500 was left for four kids, and it was a no brainer,” she said. ”God opened this door for us and it totally worked out.”
Along with money, host parents have to watch three online videos, read two books, complete the application, have three reference letters, and complete background and home safety checks.
Karissa added that they also wouldn’t have been able to host without help from the community. They needed to borrow a second refrigerator, mattresses and a bunk bed to house the six kids comfortably. Beyond supplies, dentists and optometrists in Creswell and Eugene have donated eye exams and cleanings, as well as toothbrushes.
Karissa said that she has learned it’s okay to ask for those type of donations, because the feedback she has received has been so supportive.
”Not everyone can host, but they will help,” she said.
The Raes have had the siblings for about two weeks, and have already gone to Splash! and Get Air and played mini golf. Eight-year-old Pasha said his favorite activity so far has been Get Air, an experience that he can continue to have at the Raes’ house on their trampoline. David commented that all the kids, particularly Valya and 10-year-old Dasha and Valya have been doing lots of flips and gymnastics on the trampoline.
For the rest of the visit, the Raes have plans to visit Wildlife Safari and waterfalls, camp and visit the coast.
While the biggest challenge for the Raes has been the language barrier, for other hosts there have been different struggles, Karissa said, elaborating that some hosts in their Facebook community have said ”they can’t do it” after a week of hosting.
She quoted some examples: ”’I didn’t get the reaction at the airport I was expecting’ or ‘This 13-year-old girl wants to cuddle with me and I’m not okay with that.’”
”It’s heartbreaking,” Karissa said. ”Yes, her age is 13, but she hasn’t had the growth of an American 13-year-old. She just needs love, for heaven sakes. Give her a hug; let her snuggle with you on the couch.”
One of the things that has stood out to David is how genuine the children are. He said that as opposed to simply smiling because it’s socially expected, when he first met the siblings and they smiled at him, it was a genuine smile.
”When they give you a hug, they spread their arms out as far as they possibly can and give you this big, big embrace,” he explained, ”and you can just tell they’re pouring themselves into that hug.”
He said that Dasha, for example, is the ”sweetest kid you’ll ever meet.” While the other children also interact with Karissa and him, she is the most interactive. Throughout the afternoon, Dasha would lay her head on David’s knee or would ask Karissa to help paint her nails.
”You can tell there’s a big piece of her missing,” David said about Dasha, ”but they’re all tough as nails. I was telling someone that if I was ever in a dark alley and was afraid something might happen, the one person that I’d want to have with me is Valya.”
Although it’s too early to tell, and David and Karissa haven’t talked about adoption, Karissa said that it is still something on her mind.
”It’s hard now that I’ve met them; these are good kids,” she said. ”They’ve had this torturous history – I don’t know what it is, but the single fact that they’re in an orphanage is enough; just that they live there is enough to cause turmoil. Kids don’t choose that and my heart aches for the thought of sending them back and saying, ‘I won’t come get you.’”
The statistics involving children’s futures after they leave the orphanage is another cause for concern. Teenagers leave the orphanage at 16 to attend trade schools, but Karissa said that around 60% of those boys will end up in jail from alcohol or drug use, and girls are either trafficked or otherwise involved in sex work.
That said, adoption is still a tough, difficult and expensive process, David said. It would involve a lot of paperwork and money, as well as multiple visits to the Ukraine.
Karissa shared that the financial aspect doesn’t scare her as much because they would have a year to plan for it, but it’s still something they need to talk through, and at the end of the day, their focus is on giving these children memorable experiences in 10 weeks.
”I always said I wanted three kids,” Karissa said. ”I never thought about six.”



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos