'Contemporary heroes': Alabama couple adopts four Ukrainian children amid violent protests
In the days since adopting her daughter Nastia, Lisa Bundy has been bonding with her 16-year-old like any parent of a teenager: shopping at the mall, getting their nails painted and taking a ride on a roller coaster together.
But these lively outings have come against a harsh backdrop, as the new mother and daughter get to know each other in Kiev, Ukraine, where protests turned deadly violent last week.
Lisa, 40, has been in the country over two months, after traveling with her husband Dave, 47, to finalize their adoption of four Ukranian children. In an apartment just half a mile away from Independence Square, the family found themselves uncomfortably close to the violence when it broke out, and fell asleep to the sounds of gunfire and homemade bomb explosions.
“We could see the flashes from the explosions,” Dave told TODAY.com. “We could hear bullets zinging through the air from time to time. It was a scary situation.”
It was so scary that the new parents decided Dave should travel back home to Montgomery, Ala., with their three youngest children, Max, 11, Alla, 9, and Karina, 14, whose adoptions had already been approved by the court.
Dave arrived home on Sunday, but Lisa remains in Kiev with Nastia. She’s now living with missionaries on the outskirts of the city until her daughter’s 10-day waiting period is over and her paperwork is complete.
Despite all the recent turmoil, Lisa, an emergency room physician, likes to look on the bright side: She’s had more one-on-one time with her new daughter. “When we get home it’ll be a little bit easier, but I’m enjoying having her all to myself,” she said. “It’s kind of fun to really learn her personality.”
Lisa isn’t the only newly adoptive mom stuck in Kiev. She’s staying with two other new mothers who are waiting for their adoptions to be finalized before they can head back home.
“The camaraderie between the other two moms and myself has been worth everything,” she said.
Nastia's adoption will likely be official in the next week or two, marking the end of an often stressful process that started in June of 2013.
After 17 years of marriage without children, Dave and Lisa decided they were ready to adopt last spring. Initially, the couple wanted an infant — that is, until they fell in love with four school-aged Ukrainian children visiting the United States with a nonprofit, Bridges of Faith, last summer.
Within weeks, they were talking adoption.
“When we went to visit the camp we thought we were going to adopt a younger child, but that day we met Nastia, and there was something about her that just pulled me in,” Lisa recalled.
They returned to the camp once more that summer, mostly because they missed Nastia, and there met Karina and her two siblings, who had lived in an orphanage for nine years. “After a little time she started calling me papa," Dave says of Karina, "and that grabbed our hearts so much.”
At the end of November, they traveled to the Ukraine to make their family of six official. And that’s how the couple ended up spending more than three protest-filled months in an apartment near Kiev’s Independence Square.
"They're fabulous people," Bridges of Faith founder Tom Benz said of the couple. "They, along with other families who are in Ukraine right now, show that we have contemporary heroes."
For Dave and Lisa, the protests were more inconvenient than worrisome when they first arrived. Every day, they passed through camps and barricades to reach an underground mall and grocery store. But in January, the protests turned violent when anti-government protesters clashed with the police.
Then last week, the chanting and singing they had grown accustomed to was replaced by the sounds of bullets and grenades, as tensions erupted again on the streets outside. No one left the apartment.
“The apartment was barricaded by the protesters,” Dave said. “You have men and women walking up and down the streets with helmets, clubs and bullet proof vests.”
The siblings comforted each other as the violence continued through Thursday.
“Nastia got her first duty as a big sister when the smaller children wanted to get in bed with her,” Dave said.
By Friday — after over 70 people had lost their lives in the street clashes — another truce was in place. Dave, a veteran freelance photographer, ventured outside to snap some photos and decided it was safe enough to bring his wife and kids along. While wandering through the destruction, they inadvertently walked into a memorial for one of the fallen soldiers.
“People were crying and saluting,” Dave said. “We saw burned-out buildings and cars up close. I felt like it was educational for them. It’s a part of their history and a part of our family history.”
The children spent the rest of the evening singing patriotic songs and looking at videos of the protest on YouTube. Though not very political, the children “view these protesters as heroes,” Dave said. “They felt good about their country.”
Now back in the United States, Max, Alla and Karina are easing into life in their new home. They’ve gone shopping for new clothes, gotten haircuts, and even enjoyed a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. “They’re enjoying being in the family,” Dave said.
When Lisa and Nastia arrive, they’ll celebrate a belated Christmas together. The children have already decorated the tree — and snooped around for their presents.
“We miss Dave,” Lisa said. “I can’t wait to be home, that’s for sure.”