'It's a very real possibility that Ruslan would either be on his deathbed or he would not have made it. For me to say that was something other than a miracle, I would just be kidding myself.'
Theron and Kelci Jagge's exit from Ukraine earlier this month has all the makings of a Hollywood action drama. With Russian troops ominously gathered at the country's borders and their newly-adopted son Ruslan's health deteriorating fast, they had to get out of the Eastern European country as soon as possible. The San Antonio couple had arrived in Ukraine about two weeks earlier to adopt the four-year-old from an orphanage in the pro-Russia separatists-controlled Donetsk. With war looming over the country, they made a mad dash to reach the U.S. Embassy to secure a visa for Ruslan before embassy personnel were pulled out of Kyiv.
The couple reached the embassy just as the doors were closing on February 11 and their driver and interpreter somehow coaxed embassy staffers to let them in. "He basically pushed us in the door and made them take us," Theron Jagge told The Washington Post. Fortunately, the embassy processed the visa in time and the couple sighed a breath of relief as they anticipated the rest to be smooth sailing since Theron, Kelci and Ruslan were due to get on a 6 a.m. flight to the United States early the next day.
However, when they got to the airport, border guards would not let them pass. The family was taken into an office where they were told that Ruslan could not leave Ukraine for the next 30 days as per adoption requirements. Meanwhile, about 130,000 Russian troops surrounded the country from all sides, forcing U.S. officials to issue warnings of an imminent invasion. Just hours before the Jagges arrived at the airport with their son, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan urged all Americans in Ukraine to leave as soon as possible. "If you stay, you are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave, and no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion," Sullivan said.
Aside from the threat of war, the Jagges were also in a race against time with respect to Ruslan's health. The boy has cerebral palsy and his health "was deteriorating" at the time, Jagge said. His son was running a fever, had pneumonia and suffering severe withdrawal symptoms from medications he'd been given at the orphanage, he added. "We had gotten to the point where it was a real concern that we would run out of medicine for him," Jagge said, adding that there was "a lot piling up against us."
They argued in vain with border guards for five hours, disputing their claim that Ruslan had to stay in Ukraine for another month since the requirement had been waived because of the boy's medical condition. Despite trying to convince border agents that they were reading the documents wrong, the guards repeatedly told the couple, "Our decision is final," Jagge said. After spending seven hours in the airport, and having missed their flight, the family went back to an apartment in the city. Even as Ukraine teetered on the verge of being invaded by Russian troops, the Jagges met with a lawyer who said she could argue their case to the guards. However, the attorney warned them that they had about a 50 percent chance of success.
Fortunately, the family was blessed with a miracle. On February 14, the lawyer was able to get Ruslan cleared to leave the country. With flights out of Ukraine getting harder to find, the Jagges managed to book one to Istanbul and from there, flew to the United States. They rushed the boy to a hospital where Ruslan remains in an intensive care unit. "He's doing a lot better now," Jagge revealed. Once he's healthy enough, the boy will join his parents and their two other children—an 11-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son—at their home just outside San Antonio.
"It's a very real possibility that we would still be in Ukraine," Jagge said. "It's a very real possibility that Ruslan would either be on his deathbed or he would not have made it. For me to say that was something other than a miracle, I would just be kidding myself. We should still be there in a lot of ways. There's no reason why we realistically should have gotten out of there—but we did."