“Sometime and somewhere there used to be summer,” Yulia Savinovskikh posted to Facebook in November 2017 after guardianship agency officials removed two foster children from her care. 

© 2017 Yulia Savinovskikh
A Russian court ruled earlier this month that 40-year-old Yulia Savinovskikh is unfit to foster two children with disabilities, claiming that because she allegedly exudes a “style of male behavior,” she violated Russian family legislation as well as the “traditions and mentality” of Russian society.

The two 5-year-old boys had been living with Savinovskikh and her husband for three-and-a-half and two years, respectively.

Surely, Russian “traditions and mentality” recognize that the best place for a child is in a loving home, which the couple provided for the boys, one of whom has cerebral palsy and the other a serious medical condition.

The saga began when guardianship agency authorities removed the boys from Savinovskikh’s home in August 2017, groundlessly claiming that she planned to undergo sex reassignment surgery to transition to male. The authorities cited a transgender blog she wrote and a recent breast removal surgery, done for health reasons, as evidence. Savinovskikh has said she does not plan to undergo surgery to change her sex.

In the following months, Savinovskikh fought to get the children back. She announced a hunger strike outside the Social Policy Ministry’s office, she raised awareness about her case in the press and online, and she appealed the guardianship agency’s actions.

In its ruling, the court, located in the Ural region city of Yekaterinburg, said Savinovskikh’s home was safe and comfortable for the children and that neighbors spoke positively of the family. It ignored this evidence, however, and confirmed the decision to remove the children, who are now living in an orphanage for children with disabilities. Shockingly, the court’s ruling also notes that the prosecutor’s office is reviewing a potential criminal case against Savinovskikh for providing improper care to her three biological children.

A parent or guardian’s gender identity should not determine their fitness as a caregiver. The court’s decision is discriminatory and has stripped the boys of the best chance they currently have to get the nurturing only a family can give. For almost 100 years, studies have documented stunted physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development among children separated from families and placed in institutions.

The Russian authorities should act in the children’s best interests and ensure they can grow up with foster parents who love them instead of in an institution, where they risk facing neglect and abuse.