Russian Orphans Stuck In Superpower Showdown

The futures of some of Russia's most vulnerable children are being threatened because of a diplomatic spat between Moscow and Washington.

Later this month, the United States will publish its list of Russian officials to be banned from the country in the latest phase of the row.

The link between a whistle-blowing lawyer's death and Russia's disabled orphans might not be immediately obvious, but the latter now find themselves political pawns in the international fallout from the former.

Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow detention centre in 2009 after being held for almost a year without trial.

But no-one has been convicted in Russia over his death, and he is now being tried posthumously for tax fraud, to the outrage of human rights organisations.

Mr Magnitsky's colleagues compiled a dossier of evidence against those they believe are responsible for allowing and subsequently covering up his death, which they have used to campaign for justice in his name outside Russia.

US President Barack Obama signed the 'Magnitsky Act' into law last year, banning all those suspected of involvement with his death from travelling to, or holding assets in the US.

And later this month he is required to publish the full list of names of those banned, unless there are national security reasons for not doing so.

Moscow has reacted furiously to the US law, banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans in retaliation.

The Russian law is named after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who died whilst in the care of his American adoptive parents in 2008, and state TV channels have recently carried repeated stories about allegations of abuse involving Russian children in the US.

A protest march was held in Moscow last month "In Protection of Children", calling for an end to adoptions abroad, although the rally was later undermined by claims that some of the participants had been paid to attend.

But until the ban, the US was an important source of foreign homes for Russian orphans, especially for disabled children who often struggle to find families in Russia.

More than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Sky News went to meet some of those still waiting for homes at an orphanage around 100 miles from Moscow.

Nadezhda Dorogoichenko runs the children's rehabilitation centre " Vdohnovenie ", which means 'inspiration' in Russian.

She explained that few of the prospective parents who come to their orphanage are prepared to consider adopting a disabled child.

She said: "Very few of them are ready to deal with children with health issues: to cure them, to raise them.

"In our experience, in 14 years, only two disabled children were adopted, out of 52. Only two families were ready to deal with the problems, the other 50 said straight away that they only want healthy children.

"Moreover, they choose eye colour, hair colour, it's very important for them that the child looks like them.

"American families are a different matter, they just want to help the child to get cured, because they know there is treatment available in their country. They know they can give these children a full life."

Ms Dorogoichenko introduced Sky News to four-year-old Misha, who has been at the orphanage since he was two-months-old and has severe developmental difficulties because of foetal alcohol syndrome, caused by his mother drinking during pregnancy, a common issue in Russia.

She told Sky that with the right care and support Misha could go on to lead a relatively independent life, but that he was unlikely to find an adoptive family in Russia, and would likely stay at the orphanage until he is 18, at which point he will be transferred to a residential care home for the elderly.

She said his best hope was to be adopted abroad: "Those people who come here to adopt a child don't even consider Misha. Ill children are not even considered.

"Although, he is an active boy and if provided with the necessary care and attention he will grow up to be independent and will be even able to work. Of course he needs attention, care and patience to do that.

"In Russia, disabled children become a heavy burden and people realise they are unable to cope with this even if they really want to. That is why disabled children are doomed to live in orphanages and get only what the government gives them.

"Most of them will never see the happiness of being in the family, of sharing a dinner table with your loved ones. It's a life-long isolation from normal society."

Alex D'Jamoos knows all about growing up as a disabled child in a Russian orphanage.

Unable to walk, he used to push himself around on a skateboard.

But at 15 Alex was given the opportunity to travel to the United States for treatment. He had surgery, learned to walk on prosthetic legs, and was adopted by his host family. 

Last year he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for charity and awareness of the potential of children with disabilities. He is now a student at the University of Texas with huge ambitions for the future.

But Alex told Sky News he was still in touch with many of his friends from the orphanage in Russia and was acutely aware of how different his life might have been if it had not been for the chance to travel abroad.

He said: "Most of my friends ended up in a nursing home. They can't really do anything and there is no opportunity given to them, whether it's educational, career-related or professional opportunities.

"So as young people, as 18-year-olds, they go to a nursing home and they know they're going to spend the rest of their lives in that nursing home - it's absolutely dreadful to think about.

"It's a moral issue - if a child has the opportunity to find a family and you deprive them of that, that is the greatest crime to that child that anybody can do.

"This ban is preposterous to the degree that it is difficult to discuss in logical terms."