Two years after Artem Saveliev’s American adoptive mother put him alone on a plane back to his homeland, the towheaded 9-year-old shivers and barks “No!” when asked if he ever would go back to the United States.
The boy who instantly became a potent symbol of failed adoption policies now lives in a cheery home in a village of foster families near Moscow. As he tries to move forward in his life, the legacies of his case reverberate deeply through U.S.-Russian relations.
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Officials have generally refused journalists’ attempts to visit Artem, saying the attention would likely distress him and hinder his adjustment to his new life in Russia. But on Thursday, Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman, arranged a rare visit by journalists to Artem’s village, partly to draw attention to two looming court cases involving Torry Hansen, the American woman who adopted and then ditched the boy.
Artem was shy and taciturn, revealing little more of his life than that he finds “Russian spelling” to be the hardest part of school.
His Russian foster mother, meanwhile, says Artem needed months of counseling and speech therapy after his return.
His new caregiver, Vera Yegorova, says any memories of Artem’s life in Tennessee remain a “taboo” for him. She said it took months of sessions with a psychologist and a speech therapist for the boy to start communicating again.
“He is no different now from other children,” said Yegorova, a plump, vivacious 53-year-old who has raised 17 foster children at the village run by the international charity SOS.
The village consists of about a dozen houses on the edge of a forest. Five other children live in the same house with Artem and all go to a nearby school.
But for all the superficial normalcy of his new life, Artem also appears troubled. He can say “thank you” in strongly accented English, but otherwise resists speaking in English. He gets poor grades in school, has trouble communicating and speaks in short sentences.
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