SIOUX CITY | Joshua Krysl flips through a scrapbook full of photos from the Volgograd, Russia orphanage that was his home for the first two years of his life.
The 10-year-old's memories are now beginning to fade. Mostly, what he remembers is eating borscht and waving at "machinas" -- the Russian word for automobiles -- as they passed by the institutional-like building located in the city formerly known as Stalingrad.
It's normal for Joshua's recollections of Russia to feel distant. After all, Sioux City has been his home since December 2004.
Joshua, now a Clark Elementary School fourth-grader, and his brother Jacob, a 9-year-old Clark third-grader, were both adopted as toddlers from Volgograd's Central District Orphanage by Sioux Cityans Mike and Debbie Krysl.
"We were fortunate adopting Jacob and Joshua when we did," noted Mike Krysl, president of Media Concepts advertising agency. "So many parents and kids waiting for adoption haven't been so fortunate."
That's because Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by American citizens at the end of Dec. 2012.
This puts the brakes on the adoption of hundreds of Russian orphans who have already been told they would soon go home with new parents. It's also stopped the possibility of American parents wanting to adopt Russian children.
The adoption ban, which was included in a broader law retaliating against the U.S. for an effort to punish Russian human rights violators, is an instance where "playing politics" can have a chilling effect on children seeking homes, said Debbie Krysl, an administrative assistant with United Real Estate Solutions.
"Adopting a Russian child isn't easy," she said. "There's a lot of hoops to jump through and prospective parents may go to Russia multiple times in order to bond with the kids."
"Now, the children are probably asking, why isn't my mom and dad going to pick me and take me home," Debbie said, shaking her head. "It's pretty devastating."
Married in 1999, Mike and Debbie Krysl began considering adopting a Russian child in 2004 after meeting with representatives with Family Resources, a Minneapolis-based agency that specialized in Russian adoptions.
"We wanted a toddler," Debbie explained. "Mike and I were both in our 40s at the time and thought a newborn would be too much for us."
Also, the Krysls requested a boy since male children were less likely to be adopted, both in Russia and abroad.
"For some reasons, Americans preferred baby girls so they can dress all frilly," Mike observed. "Boys are harder to place in America as well as in Russia. In addition, Russian men don't want to raise another person's son because there will be a cultural stigma."
As part of the application process, Mike and Debbie had to compile a large dossier, which included a detailed biography, birth and marriage certificates, medical and health histories, financial statements and background checks.
"We even has to fingerprinted," Mike remembered. "That's how strict the process was."
Regardless, the Krysls agreed it was all worthwhile and the couple immediately bonded with Joshua (born Vitaly Valerovich Kurbatob) and Jacob (born Lavrenty Vladmirovich Abbasov).
"I went through all my life without children," Debbie said. "Now, I can't picture my life without them."
It's been more than eight years since Jacob and Joshua, who are not biological brothers, became a part of the Krysl family.
"They're very much your typical kids," Mike remarked.
Jacob, who recently read "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," said he wants to become a doctor some day.
A math whiz at school, Joshua said he wants to become a police officer when he gets older.
"Police officers have nice cars and get to drive fast whenever they want to," Joshua, who seems to be a lifelong motorhead, notes.
As their sons play in the Krysl's living room, Mike shows off a Christmas tree which has traditional ornaments as well as few that are decidedly not-as-traditional.
"We've hung a few Russian doll ornaments and some that depict the Russian flag," he said. "We never want to deprive our boys of their roots."
Laughing with her sons, Debbie said Jacob and Joshua are very different today than when they were as toddlers.
"Both boys were suffering from malnutrition when we first met them," she said, "That's not uncommon in Russian orphanages."
Although they do the best they can, Debbie said Russian orphanages often lack the resources to purchase necessities such as clothing and medicine.
With the ban on American adoption, Mike fears the situation will only get worse.
"Out of the 700,000 to 800,000 Russian children in the orphanage system, only 7,000 to 8,000 will be adopted into Russian families," Mike said. "The rest will probably remain in orphanages until they are turned loose once they turn 16 or so."
"That's a lot of kids who will be forced to fend for themselves," he added.
This is why the Krysls hope the Russian adoption ban will only be temporary.
"Russian adoption certainly will help diplomatic relations but it also helps the Russian economy," Mike maintained. "This ban will very likely hurt the orphanages and the children."
Debbie beams when talking about her children. She also enjoys the reaction others have towards Jacob and Joshua.
"Some people think they're twins yet the boys aren't biologically related," she points out. "Other people don't even know they're adopted since they're both wiry and feisty like me."
After good-naturedly chasing Jacob around a couch, Debbie recounts a story told to her by one of the 9-year-old's teachers.
"Jacob told her that if Mike and I hadn't gone to Russia to adopt him, he knew he would've been very sad," Debbie said tearing up a little. "Our lives are so much brighter because Jacob and Joshua are in it."