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Russian orphan's US dad still hopeful for adoption

The would-be adoptive father of a 14-year-old Russian orphan remained hopeful that Moscow will let the lad start a new life in America despite a diplomatic row with Washington.

Maxim Kargapotscev Wallen, as he calls himself on Facebook, put a human face on the bilateral flap over adoption and rights when he appealed to President Vladimir Putin to let him join his new family in the US state of Virginia.

Mil Wallen, 51, told AFP on Thursday that he and his wife Dianna, 48, are in daily touch with Maxim via Facebook and Skype and spoke with him five times on Thursday alone.

"He's excited, and probably a little overwhelmed" by the attention that has suddenly fallen upon him, said Wallen, who owns a construction company in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley about two hours from Washington.

Wallen confirmed that Maxim had been asked, when an official delegation visited his orphanage in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk this week with TV cameras in tow, if he had a message for the Russian leader.

"He said, 'I would like Putin to allow me to go to America'," Wallen said, adding that -- contrary to some Russian media reports -- "there never was a letter that was written" by the teenager to the president.

The Wallens -- who applied in November 2011 to adopt Maxim, whom they already knew for many years through a long relationship with his orphanage, are also unaware of any debilitating genetic disease that he reportedly suffers.

"He is small for his age," Wallen said. "He has something that has caused him not to grow like the others -- but other than that, he appears to be a very healthy boy."

Maxim's plea from Children's Home No. 13 in hardscrabble Chelyabinsk came two weeks after Putin signed into law a bill banning all US adoptions.

The measure was given fast-track approval -- and almost no parliamentary debate -- in reprisal for new US legislation that targets alleged Russian human rights abusers.

But the law has stirred controversy among many Russians. On Sunday, up to 20,000 people are expected to come out on the streets of central Moscow to protest the measure.

"We're hoping that, number one, the people who were in line for getting their kids home (for adoption in the United States) are allowed to continue," Wallen told AFP in a telephone interview.

"And we are hoping they (the Russian authorities) will allow us to continue independently with the adoption of Max -- and we are hoping this opens the eyes of the Russians to see that these kids need families."

The Wallens have been involved with Children's Home No. 13 for many years, traveling often to Russia to visit and raising "thousands upon thousands of dollars" for repairs through a United Methodist Church mission program.

They have known Maxim ever since he arrived at the orphanage when he was around seven years old, and they converse with him in English, Wallen said.

They applied to adopt him at a time when it was still possible to do so without going through a registered adoption agency, Wallen added.

When the law was changed soon afterwards to make the use of an agency mandatory, they were told they would be exempt, and then told they would not be. Then came the prohibition on US adoptions that took effect January 1.

"We don't know if they are going to allow us to continue," said Wallen, who heard unconfirmed talk Thursday that enforcement of the adoption ban might be rolled back to January 2014.

"That's what we are trying to find out. We hope they will."

The Wallens, who married in 1983, have two adult children of their own -- "both have been to Russia and both love Max" -- as well as a grandchild.

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