A Wyoming couple flew to Ukraine to adopt two children with special needs. 24 hours after signing the papers, they were forced to flee the country.

Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 8:41 PM MST
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WARSAW, POLAND (KEVN) - Sarah Witbrod summed up the process of adopting her two Ukrainian children quite aptly during a Facebook live last week: “it’s been a wild ride. Literally.”

She said this while sitting next to her husband, Tony, in the back of a truck hurtling through the Ukrainian countryside at over 60 mph on a gravel road. Mr. Witbrod was holding their two-year-old daughter, Juniper, while Mrs. Witbrod was carrying Caius, their 14-month-old son.

The Witbrods are well-versed in the adoption process - their large family is comprised of kids from all over the world - and have had to maneuver many different obstacles to grow their family, but they’ve never had to circumvent a war between two neighboring countries.

“It’s been surreal,” Tony says. “It’s been all the highs and all the lows.”

While tensions between Russia and Ukraine were growing last week, the only thing the couple had on their mind was spending time with the children they’ve been trying to adopt for months.

Juniper (left) and Caius (right).
Juniper (left) and Caius (right).(Sarah Witbrod)

“[Caius] was really quiet the first two days we met him, and then ... he would hear our voice and was just looking all around, and we were like ‘oh, my gosh. This is just magical.’”

The couple flew to Odessa, Ukraine to meet their adoptive children and personally take them home. They signed documents that finalized the adoption process on Feb. 22. Soon, Caius and Juniper would be coming home to a new family in Douglas, Wyoming.

Both children have special needs, and the adoptive parents were already planning doctors visits for Caius’ arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or AMC - a condition that deforms the joints and limits their flexibility.

Tony says things are looking bright for his son: “he’s got a full life ahead of him once he gets home and starts getting the different things that doctors can do to loosen these tendons up with surgery and physical therapy.”

Within twenty-four hours of signing the papers, however, the family woke up to the sound of bombs being dropped.

“There was like one that woke you up. Then, once you opened your eyes, there was a second one, and then a long pause on the third one,” Tony says. “We were like, ‘did you hear that?’, and then it was like ‘boom, boom.’ we were like ‘oh, my god.”

Russia was invading Ukraine.

Tony and Sarah packed up their belongings, grabbed Caius and Juniper and started fleeing west.

“We’re going. Whatever we have to do, we’re getting these guys home.”

Alex and Yulia, a Ukrainian couple who facilitated the adoption, helped them escape to the country of Moldova, then Romania and eventually Poland.

The Witbrods attribute their survival to their European counterparts, who ended up returning to Kiev to protect their country.

“And these guys wouldn’t even be here if - I don’t know. It was such a close call,” Sarah says.

Sarah (middle) and Tony Witbrod escaped Ukraine with the help of Yulia (left) and Alex (right),...
Sarah (middle) and Tony Witbrod escaped Ukraine with the help of Yulia (left) and Alex (right), a Ukrainian couple who facilitated aspects of the adoption process. Their European counterparts returned to Ukraine after driving the Witbrod family out of the besieged country. Sarah says her last correspondence with the couple was a text from Alex that said he's on a train to Kiev, Ukraine to help protect his country.(Sarah Witbrod)

Their “guardian angels,” as they put it, made such an impression on the adoptive parents that they based their kids’ middle names on the people who brought them to safety - Caius Alex and Juniper Yulia Witbrod.

The Witbrod, along with their two adoptive children, are currently safe in Warsaw, Poland, where they are waiting for the local embassy to allow them to bring their kids back to the United States.

We reached out after our interview to ask how people can support them, but we have not heard back from the couple. We will update this article if they provide more information.

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