Israel is set to deport an orphaned 14-year-old boy back to Ukraine, despite him living with his uncle’s family for eight years, the last two of them in Israel.
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Last week, Samuel Gumeniuk received a notice ordering him to leave Israel within two weeks. Samuel’s father died when he was 18 months old. When he was 6, his mother became ill and Samuel was taken in by his aunt and uncle, Xenia and Valentin Kravchenko, who had three children of their own. Samuel’s mother died a few months later.
The Kravchenkos say that when they tried to make formal adoption arrangements, city officials in Odessa told them they had to first place him in an orphanage or boarding school and then initiate the adoption process, which would take around two years. To save Samuel further distress, the couple said, they arranged for legal custody rather than adoption.
About two years ago, the family moved to Israel, settling in Nahariya, northern Israel. While they were still in Ukraine, the Kravchenkos contacted the Israeli consulate in Odessa. They say the consul confirmed their immigration eligibility in accordance with the Law of Return, based on the fact that Xenia had a Jewish grandfather, but said Samuel was ineligible. The Kravchenkos decided to immigrate, temporarily leaving Samuel with his grandparents in Ukraine, and to arrange his immigration status from within Israel.
Soon after arriving in Israel, they met with a representative from the government liaison unit that deals with immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He told them Samuel was in fact eligible for Israeli citizenship and that they shouldn’t have left him in Ukraine.
Acting on his advice, the couple flew to Odessa and returned with the boy, taking pains to update the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority of their actions.
Three days after they returned, the Kravchenkos brought Samuel to the liaison bureau for another meeting. As they tell it, the interviewer who told them to bring the boy to Israel said he had made a mistake, and that Samuel was ineligible for citizenship. The representative then sent Samuel’s file to the population agency.
Soon afterward, in December 2014, the Kravchenkos received Israeli citizenship and their three biological children became temporary residents. Samuel, though, remained without any Israeli legal status.
Eighteen months ago, the couple applied — with the help of the legal aid centers of the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel — for Samuel to receive legal status on humanitarian grounds, noting in their application that they have raised him as their son since his mother died and that he sees them as his parents.
In the request, which was submitted on the Kravchenkos’ behalf by Naomi Kassel, a legal intern with the Legal Aid Center, Samuel’s situation was described in detail.
“The subject is a minor, an orphan whose legal custodian recently received Israeli citizenship as the granddaughter of a Jew, together with her husband and children, and she and her husband have raised [the boy] as his de facto parents for the past seven years,” the request stated. “He is their son in every respect. No other person in the world could serve as a parent to Samuel, and my clients are the only parents he knows. To separate them now, when he has nowhere to go and no place to be, would cause him further damage, in addition to all the suffering he experienced after the death of his mother when he was 6.”
The request also noted that Samuel’s grandparents are too old to take care of him.
Last week, the head of the northern district of the population agency, Hadas Drix, refused to grant the request and ordered Samuel to leave the country within two weeks. She noted that she did not even see grounds for assigning the case to the inter-ministerial committee for humanitarian affairs.
Among the reasons Drix cited for rejecting the request was the finding that on their application to the liaison unit, the Kravchenkos stated that they had three children, without mentioning Samuel.
“The minor has many relatives on both sides of his family (grandparents, uncles and cousins) in his native country with whom he is in contact, and even lived for a time with his grandparents when his uncle and aunt were in Israel. There is no obstacle to his living in his country with them,” wrote Drix.
“We’re scared, he’s our son — that’s our boy,” Xenia Kravchenko told Haaretz over the weekend.
“How can we feel? We don’t agree to that and we cannot move to Ukraine. We do not want to, and we cannot. He is without parents. He has no mother, he has no father. We took him and he was in our family all the time,” she said.
“He called me Mom, he called my husband Dad. We have three additional children and that’s a family. He is in our family almost nine years, that’s a lot. He’s more years with us than not with us. Only on documents is he not our child. He is in my heart. He is inside like the other children, there is no difference,” she added.
Kassel was swift to appeal the decision, writing that it separates Samuel from the people who have raised him from the age of 6 and sends him to relatives who are not interested in raising him or are incapable of doing so, whether for medical or other reasons.
“He lost his parents one time, and now the agency wants to take the only parents he knows from him, contrary to his interest and while infringing on the legal right of my clients to a family life in Israel,” the appeal stated. Kassel also argued that the decision not to submit the application to the interministerial committee went against a Supreme Court ruling, according to which any request with a “certain likelihood” of being accepted should be assigned to the panel.