When Sharon Steeves and her husband Rob went to Ukraine to adopt eight more children they did not expect to be doing so in the middle of a pandemic. Now safely home in Pansy, Manitoba, their thirteen-person family has begun its prescribed self-quarantine.
The Steeves acknowledge that the concept of adopting eleven kids from the same Ukrainian orphanage is bewildering to a good many people but to them, it just felt right.
“When Rob and I were originally at the orphanage to meet our first three kids in December of 2016, we met these siblings that were best friends with our kids,” offers Sharon, by way of explanation. “Even though we were there to bond with our kids and establish a sense of family with them, when we got home, those guys never left our hearts.”
Niamh, Conor, and Declan joined the Steeves family that year, but both Rob and Sharon had a suspicion that their family was not finished growing.
“God really started to speak to my husband on this and put the other children on his mind.”
Though the Steeves desperately hoped they would be able to adopt this other group of eight siblings, their hope needed to be followed by tenacity and perseverance if it was going to become a reality.
“Eight is a crazy number,” Sharon admits. “So we approached our adoption agency and asked if it was even a possibility.”
As it turns out, getting permission to adopt eight individuals was not the challenging part, the knack lay in requesting eight specific individuals.
Nevertheless, three years later, the couple found themselves back at the same orphanage looking into the eyes of the same eight kids they had once painfully left: Saoirse, Sinead, Róisín, Meara, Fallon, Aodhán, Brendán, and Patrick would soon officially be calling them “mom” and “dad”.
“We were told, initially, that we couldn’t bring the two older ones and so we planned on going home with six and going back later to get the two older ones, but we sure weren’t very happy about leaving them,” says Sharon. That is when the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv stepped in.
“The ambassadors pulled all of the stops out and gave our two oldest girls emergency papers to travel home with no passports.”
At that time, COVID-19 was rapidly changing from a virus to a global pandemic and the local government's regulations were becoming tighter every day. “They were really starting to clamp down,” comments Sharon.
Walking around Kiev with eight kids in an unfamiliar society of growing restrictions posed certain difficulties. For example, when precautionary grocery limitations were put in place, Rob had to take multiple trips through the supermarket to get enough food for everyone to have one meal.
Even in the rising stress, the Steeves felt cared for. According to Sharon, a Canadian ambassador even followed them to the airport to ensure everyone got onto the plane safely. What followed was a whirlwind of connecting flights, physical distancing measures, and increasing familiarity with the phrase “COVID-19”.
When they eventually landed on Canadian soil, the Steeves marveled at their personal odyssey and how it somehow all turned out okay.
“Jesus went before us, he opened the doors.”
At this point, it was mid-March and “social isolation” and “self-quarantine” had become household terms. Rob and Sharon were fully aware that their reception party would consist of barely more than the three kids they left at home. They were right. Still, their streak of timely provisions was not over.
As the Steeves returned to their property they were greeted by a 15-passenger van, a large washer and dryer set, and a box full of everything a family of eleven children might need: all donations from the surrounding community.
A few days later, a friend of Sharon’s texted her and urged her to bring her whole family to the end of their driveway. Confused, Sharon obliged.
“Then suddenly we saw all of these cars coming, over 50 cars lined up, and everyone had made welcome home banners, some of them were in Russian some of them were in English, and we were just blown away," she shares. "We stood there and bawled the whole time.”
Having just begun their fourteen days of provincially required self-quarantine, Sharon says they all have a lot of time to grow acquainted.
“It wasn’t easy the first time with three and its definitely not easy this time with another eight,” she laughs.
The Steeves live on 22 acres of forest on the outskirts of Pansy with ample room to play and relax. Now that they are safely altogether, Sharon says, that is all they need.
“We’re super, super thankful to be home.”