On one side of the gate stood a group of Russian government officials with a Moscow television crew in tow, demanding entry into the ranch that one of them had called "a trash can for unwanted children."
On the other side, indoors and away from the camera, were Joyce Sterkel and the 25 adopted children under her care at the Ranch For Kids in remote northwestern Montana.
In the decade that the ranch for troubled adopted children from foreign countries has operated, it has been lauded by parents, advocates and the press as a refuge for adoptive parents to bring their children when they have nowhere else to go. But on June 28, some of the outrage and suspicion that Russians have toward U.S. adoptions of their children landed on its doorstep.
At Sterkel's gate were Russian children rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov and human rights envoy Konstantin Dolgov. Astakhov claimed in comments carried by the news agency RIA Novosti that the children at Sterkel's ranch near the Canadian border were completely isolated from the outside world and questioned whether they were getting the necessary care or treatment.
Sterkel, who bristles at Astakhov's claims and says he is wrong on every count, suspected she was being set up for a made-for TV confrontation for political gain in Russia. She decided that they wouldn't step foot on her property without State Department officials, parental permission and an independent film crew on hand to document the visit.
Russian children rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov claims the Ranch For Kids is a place for American parents to cast off their adopted children, and that the children receive substandard education and health care and lack security. As a bilateral adoption agreement between the U.S. and Russia makes its way through the ratification process, Sterkel is concerned that Astakhov will try to shut the ranch down.
Dolgov spoke of the Montana visit in July 5 comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
"We regret that we have been denied access. For all our respect for American law we think there are channels which must allow Russian officials to visit Russian citizens. All of these children are Russian citizens," he said.
Sterkel said she is concerned that they will try to make good on their promise to try again after a bilateral adoption agreement between the U.S. and Russia wends its way through the ratification process.
"This is a test case. This is to test the integrity of the bilateral agreement to see if they have the muscle to come onto American soil and push their way in," Sterkel said. "I think they want to see if they really can come in and visit children without parental consent."
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