Ukraine's orphans are top of mind for adoptive dad and his nonprofit

Ukrainian orphans stranded in war zone as Russia invades

Justin Hayslett, founder of Legacy Refuge, discusses his organization’s efforts to rescue stranded Ukrainian orphans and explains the ‘dire’ situation.

Justin Hayslett, co-founder of the nonprofit group Legacy Refuge, told Fox New Digital by email on Friday about his ministry that is working to help suffering orphans in Ukraine — but also about his personal stake in this story as the Russia-Ukraine war rages on.

“Every night before bed, our four boys pray that their sister will come home,” said the Minnesota-based Hayslett about his family.

Together with his wife, Alaya, Justin Hayslett first met young Sasha Hope on one of the family’s trips to Ukraine. Since then, the Haysletts have hosted her seven times in their Minnesota home for visits that have lasted as long as a month. 

Nearly two years ago, they began the process of adopting the girl. Now, given the war, so many of their plans are up in the air. 

Even so, “we always promise Sasha that we will never quit fighting for her to be part of our family,” said Hayslett. “That’s why we gave her the middle name Hope.”

He talks daily, he said, with the young Ukrainian orphan who — to the Hayslett family’s great relief — made it safely to Poland earlier this week, along with others from her orphanage.

Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee crossing the Irpin River on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) 

As of this writing, Hayslett, too, is in Poland. 

Together with a small team, he and others are coordinating in Krakow with a local church to secure a facility that can house up to 250 orphans as the children pour across the border from Ukraine. 

They are evaluating the up-to-the-moment needs there and are helping to coordinate more help from American families. 

Huge hurdles remain

The family, however, is still facing enormous hurdles in its personal efforts to bring their future daughter home to America for good.

People, mostly women and children, try to get onto a train for Lviv, at the Kyiv railway station in Ukraine, on Friday, March 4, 2022. Russia’s war on Ukraine is now in its ninth day; Russian forces shelled Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, sparking a fire that was extinguished. (AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak)

“We are desperate to bring Sasha home with us,” said Hayslett. 

“She already lost her biological family. It’s not fair to make her lose another family, too.” He added, “No matter how good an orphanage [is], it’s still not a family.”

Young Sasha’s most recent visit to the Hayslett home was earlier this year. On January 30 — not realizing what was ahead, of course — they sent her back to Ukraine.

“No matter how good an orphanage [is], it’s still not a family.” — Justin Hayslett

Less than a month later, on Feb. 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded the Eastern European country, shelling civilian areas and creating terror among its inhabitants. 

Hayslett has been imploring government officials to eliminate the red tape that is preventing adoptive American families like his from bringing home the Ukrainian children they love.

“We are hearing from policymakers in the government that it’s looking like there is nothing they can do to get these kids to America,” said Hayslett.

“My desperate desire is that policymakers in America will do whatever it takes to bring kids from Ukraine who have been hosted or who are mid-adoption into the families that already love them,” he said.

‘Something horrific’

Hayslett also told Fox News Digital, “These kids [from Ukraine] just went through something horrific. They deserve to be with a family that already knows them and loves them and not get sucked into another country’s foster system.”

Children have sheltered underground in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion. (Oleksandra Ustinova MP)

Hayslett emphasized that his family’s situation is not unique. Many other families who are in the middle of the adoption process are facing similar circumstances.

The Haysletts’ ministry, Legacy Refuge, is working both at home and in Europe to help these families.

“Hundreds of families like mine have hosted children from Ukraine and built a healthy connection,” said Hayslett. 

A Ukrainian serviceman holds a baby while crossing the Irpin River on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, while assisting people fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 5, 2022. What looked like a breakthrough ceasefire to evacuate residents from two cities in Ukraine fell apart Saturday as Ukrainian officials said shelling halted the work to remove civilians hours after Russia announced the deal. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) 

Legacy Refuge is a 501(c)(3) charity. Money raised through its crisis fund goes to three key needs: transportation and evacuation; food and lodging; and legal and immigration aid once Ukrainian orphans arrive in new countries.

Helping hands

“So many churches and ministries in Poland, Germany, Romania and Hungary … are putting up their hands to help,” Alaya Hayslett wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. 

“Ukrainians are risking their own lives to bring kids out. It is beautiful to watch the collective people come together to care for the orphans,” she added. 

“[We] just need governments to cooperate.” 

Anyone wishing to help the nonprofit group can visit its website at

For more information, watch the video at the top of this article, or click here to access it.

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