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Rescuing Ukrainian Babies as War Breaks Out

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022. As the world braces for a Russian invasion into Ukraine, Tony and Sarah Witbrod board a flight headed to the port city of Odessa. Sarah said, “The government knew that we had plans to be in Ukraine and had sent us an email that said, 'do not travel.' That we are evacuating all Americans out of Ukraine. 'If you choose to go to Ukraine, you're flying on your own. No one will come and get you.'" 

The couple had a compelling reason for ignoring the dire warnings. Lives were at stake. Two Ukrainian children, both with special needs, were waiting for Tony and Sarah to adopt them. Three of the couple’s 6 children at home in Douglas, Wyoming, had also been adopted.  

“From the second we pursued them, they were my children and they were my responsibility the same as any of my other, my other children,” said Sarah. “And so to choose not to get them would be like losing your children. And it wasn't an option.”

Tony said, “The moment you say yes during that process and you see a child and you see that face and you're like, no matter what, like we're, we're bringing that kid home and that kid's going to live here forever.”

The couple made it to Odessa, and the next day took custody of the children; one year old, Caius, a boy who needed surgery for a condition affecting his joints, and two year old, Junie, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and desperately needed a bone marrow transplant. They were scheduled to fly to Poland the next day, Tuesday, the 24th. That morning at 3 am, those plans would change. Sarah said, “Like the loudest boom. I can't even describe it unless you've, it's just the loudest boom. And then everything just kind of, the air, the walls, everything just shakes and you just, like, it takes your breath." 

“Russia had invaded,” said Tony. “It was real. We get an email on our phone that says, 'your flights have been canceled, find other means of transportation.' And then right with that, the state department saying, 'where are you? We need to know your location. If you move like what's going on? Tell us your plan.'”

By then, all Ukrainian airports had been shut down, and the Wibrod’s needed a new plan to save themselves and the children. “I thought, next step, what do we do now?” said Sarah. “We knew what their future held. We know we knew that if they didn't get out, that was it. There was nothing for them there.”

The couple prayed, contacting friends stateside to pray as well. The closest, and safest, airport was in Bucharest, Romania, 400 miles and two countries away. So with the help of their interpreters, they crossed into the country of Moldova on Ukraine’s western border. From there, they drove all day and night, racing along dirt roads. 

Finally, they reached Bucharest, but by now their funds were depleted, and airline tickets had quadrupled in price. Tony said, “Just the exhaustion has really kicked in and that...that nervousness of like, man, if anything goes wrong, like we're not leaving these kids, but we got to get home to our other six kids. And just going forward like blindly through that faith in that like, next step, next step, whatever we can do, whatever we're allowed to do, we're going to do the next step and we'll get going.”

Within a day, supporters from the US had come through and Tony and Sarah had enough money to purchase the last two seats on a plane to Warsaw. Tony said, “Like you literally felt the power of prayer from across an ocean in the middle of a war when everything was just chaos and unknown.”
“There's this, a picture that I have of, of Sarah, she's holding Caius when we landed in, in Poland after like a flight that we shouldn't have been on. Like how, how it all worked out like that at the last minute and with everything being so chaotic. But the hardest part for me is a picture of my wife looking more tired than I’ve ever seen her in her life, clutching a baby in his blanket, and that was the hardest part.”

A week later, they were back home where Caius and Junie were welcomed with loving arms. Sarah said, “I had a faith that if, if I’m supposed to go there, then the way will be made for me to get there. And so that's kind of the faith that I was traveling on.”

Ever since then, Caius and Junie have lived a life surrounded by a family who loves them. Even though both continue to have medical needs, and they’re still looking for a bone marrow donor for Junie. Sarah and Tony have never questioned their decision. “When you are called to something you really want to show up because really amazing stuff happens,” said Sarah. 

Tony said, “So, I would say to someone who, to someone who was considering adoption, but thought it might cost too much or it might be too hard or too difficult, it, it'll change your life. Our lives are so much richer and so much grander and amazing because we said yes.”  

“When God invites you to live something that's bigger than you could ever imagine, you show up because it's going to be awesome. And it is, it has been every time,” said Sarah. 

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