By JACQUI KLUTH
January 17, 2003
Whitefish City Manager Gary Marks said the decision for him and his
wife, Laurie, to adopt two children from Kharkiv, Ukraine, was simply "a
calling from God."
"It was a step of faith," Gary said. "God had called us to it and we
acted on it in a leap of faith."
Laurie and Gary traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, to adopt Anton, 9, and
Anastasia, 7, who lived in an orphanage in Kharkiv. The brother and sister
were abandon by their parents and had been in an orphanage in Kharkiv,
Ukraine, for two years.
Adam, 11, said his parents involved him and his siblings in the whole
"At first we were thinking about only a girl," Adam said. But he had
one request: "If we get a girl, then we have to get a boy."
Gary dipped into his retirement funds for the adoption once the family
decided. And it's a decision he's pleased about. While the three Marks
children, Benson, Adam and Aimee, stayed with grandparents, Gary and Laurie
traveled to Kiev on Nov. 30 to retrieve two new members of the family.
After 20 hours of flying and airport layovers, Gary and Laurie landed
"I knew I was in a different place," Gary said. "As we flew over the
area we could see shacks were people must have lived. The grounds around the
airport were not as kept as they are here. I was stunned."
Laurie said the Ukraine government is working to draw on Western
tourist dollars and were very welcoming, but the pair were still surprised
to see so many troops and an abundance of concrete and dim lighting.
"It was a depressing atmosphere and certainly a shocking arrival," Gary
said. "To think it's been 12 years after they gained their independence and
there is still this environment."
Waiting at the airport were their translators, who for the next few
weeks would help them adopt their children and to get around the Ukraine
cities. Gary and Laurie stayed in a series of three apartments, set up to
host Western visitors, and a hotel Gary described as "substandard" to
American tastes. But their focus was more on their task.
On Dec. 2, Laurie and Gary went to the national adoption agency in
Kiev, where they were given several large books filled with pages of
orphaned Ukrainian children awaiting adoption.
"There are scores of these books, these three-ring binders, and each of
them has a photo and a description, but it's very generalized," Gary said.
The selection process was long, tiresome and emotionally draining.
At one point, Laurie and Gary left a room where they reviewed adoption
records to take a breath and regroup.
"It was hard because you know you have to say no to these children for
whatever reason," Gary said. "It's heart wrenching to say no to them because
you know that for whatever reason they won't fit into your family."
But, they finally narrowed their selection down to Anton and Anastasia
the next morning and once they received the agency director's approval they
traveled to the Kharkiv orphanage to meet the children. They took a
late-model train for their overnight trip to Kharkiv, where the orphanage
"In Kharkiv, I've never seen such poverty," Gary said.
Laurie characterized the Kharkiv orphanage, which housed 60 children,
as old, worn and dark, but the children were fed and clothed well.
The weather at times dipped to 15 degrees below zero, keeping Gary and
Laurie chilled since they walked most places. Aside from learning how to get
around in a former Soviet country, the pair also learned a lot about the
The translators, who learned English from Alabama missionaries,
entertained the couple with their southern accents and their transportation
acquisition training. Gary said when cabs were not available the couple were
led into vehicles flagged down by the translators.
Gary recalled reading an article from the Kharkiv city manager who was
enacting architectural standards for the city, but assured residents not to
worry. Gary, who is currently working with the city's implementation of
architectural standards, was surprised to see the Ukraine people had similar
After they met the children and before the adoption was approved,
Laurie and Gary were allowed to take Anton and Anastasia to the circus and
to McDonald's for dinner. It was the first time the children had done any of
the simple events most Americans take for granted, such as using a soap
dispenser to wash hands.
Gary, Laurie and their two new children flew back to the state Dec. 19.
The flight was yet another new experience for the children, who had never
been on an airplane before. Once they touched down in Seattle, the exhausted
pair had to not only reacquaint themselves with time differences but also
with waiting in immigration and customs lines. After they cleared through
all of that, they had to try to secure a ticket back to Kalispell, which
they could not. So, they rented a van and began another leg of their
Christmas decorations lighted the night and drew the curious children's
attention as the family drove through rural areas of Washington before they
stopped at a hotel in Ellensburg to sleep. On Dec. 20 they drove home to
introduce their new children to their new siblings.
"That was a strange day -- introducing brothers and sisters to each
other," Gary said.
But after the excitement comes reality and the fact that the dynamics
of the family has changed.
"I have five kids and two of them I can't talk to. That's when the
realization hit that our small family is always going to be gone," Gary
said. "I mourned our small family."
But that mourning doesn't mean he's at all upset to have the two new
Whitefish Pilot, Whitefish, Montana;
As for Anton and Anastasia and their new life in Montana, they are
adjusting to life in a Western culture, to a life where they actually own
things and in a world where they are learning a new language.
There is still a language barrier between the new members of the Marks
family and the original three children, but it's nothing that isn't being
taken care of with love. The five children are working together to help the
Ukraine children. They call Gary and Laurie "Mama" and "Papa" and they are
getting accustomed to their new homes.
"Everyday they seem to pick up a little more and they become more
familiar with things," Laurie said. "They're having to share. At the
orphanage everything was shared and now they own things."
"'It's mine' was one of their first phrases they learned in English,"
Laurie said the first week was hard on all of them as they adjusted to
new lives. Laurie dealt with increased loads of laundry, appetites and
Before the trip, Laurie learned enough of the Russian language to get
them around and it's assisted her and the family with Anton and Anastasia.
The children did speak some English and their knowledge of their new
country's language increases daily.
The family has a cartoon book that displays the words in phonetic
Ukraine words and English. Anton will begin 2nd grade and Anastasia began
1st grade Wednesday. Both will attend Muldown only for half days.
"She's excited, but he's nervous," Laurie said.
The children are in good health with a small vitamin deficiency, Laurie
said, but neither the family nor their doctor is worried because the
children have a healthy appetite for fresh fruit.
It was a leap of faith, but one that paid off for Anton and Anastasia
who now face a life of health and opportunity in their new American home.