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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Samara Siblings Reunited in U.S.

WASHINGTON -- Sasha Turner waited pensively in the airport's arrivals terminal, watching each person who emerged from the U.S. customs area.

He and his sister, Svetlana, had been separated for half their lives by a vast ocean, two cultures and a continent.

He had memories of their early years f hungry and neglected in the Volga River city of Samara.

And when adoption parted them, Sasha, the oldest, worried about her. Where had she gone? Was she safe? Could he ever find her?

Suddenly, as he waited last week with clasped hands at Dulles International Airport, there she was, her red hair gathered back.He blushed, ran to her and shook hands. Both had changed: He was 11 now. She was 10.

The reunion of Sasha, Svetlana and two of their siblings crowned the hopes of four Russian youngsters. And it rewarded the efforts of two sets of adoptive parents, one Russian and one American, who were determined that their children would meet again.

"That's half of our family, the other half," said Sasha's father, Hugh Turner, of Silver Spring, Maryland. "This is all one family."

In May 1995, Turner, 43, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, and his wife, Patricia Haley, 45, an architect, traveled to Russia to adopt children.

They wanted older children. "We were a little bit older ourselves and we really felt that older kids would fit us," Turner said as he sat at his dining room table, the family's dog, Delta, on the floor beside him. "The infants would be adopted no matter what. It was the older kids that really needed help."

Assisted by an adoption agency, they went to an orphanage in Samara. They were introduced to two of four siblings whom the authorities had taken from their alcoholic biological parents two months earlier.

The children were Alexander (Sasha), then 5 f the oldest f and Valentina, then 2, the youngest. Siblings Svetlana and Dmitry, 3, had been adopted by a local Russian couple, Yury Ismailov, an electrician, and his wife, Viktoria, a seamstress, the month before.

Turner and Haley recall that the children looked cared for but were thin and small for their age. The orphanage was "very short on everything," Turner said.

The adoption went smoothly. The family returned to Silver Spring and the children thrived.

"They're typical American kids," Turner said. "If you saw either one of them, you would have no idea [they were Russian]. He has no trace of any accent. He looks like one of the Beach Boys."

But Sasha began to voice concerns about his other sister and brother. "He would start to say, 'I don't know where my brother and sister are. I don't know what happened to them,'" Turner said. "I made him a promise that we would do all we could to try to locate them."

About a year ago the family attended a Washington meeting of Russian dignitaries. One visitor was an official from Samara, who took a set of Turner's letters and vowed to help.

Two weeks later, an airmail letter arrived at Turner's home. When he opened it, out fell snapshots of two young children and their parents.

"As soon as I saw the pictures," Turner said, "I knew that we had succeeded."

The letter turned out to be from Svetlana and Dmitry. They wrote that they, too, had dogs and cats, that they were loved and happy. And they, too f especially Svetlana f had longed to know their siblings' whereabouts.

It was finally agreed that Turner and Haley would pay for the Ismailovs to come to Silver Spring. The 10-day visit was arranged.

"They're still brothers and sisters even if there's this huge space between them," Turner said, adding: "That's all we're really trying to do. Close up that space."