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Former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea turns up in Poland, says he is helping orphans

Former Washington State Rep. Matt Shea (center right, in black shirt) is pictured with children he says are Ukrainian orphans. The photo, dated March 6, was taken at the hotel where the children are staying.
Dom Dziennikarza w Kazimierzu Dolnym
Former Washington State Rep. Matt Shea (center right, in black shirt) is pictured with children he says are Ukrainian orphans. The photo, dated March 6, was taken at the hotel where the children are staying.

Former Washington state Representative Matt Shea has turned up in Poland, and his presence there is raising questions among local officials.

Shea says he is helping care for roughly sixty Ukrainian orphans, and working with an adoption agency.

On March 8, Shea wrote on Facebook that he and others had rescued the children from an orphanage in Mariupol, a city in southeastern Ukraine that has been heavily damaged from Russian bombing and is now surrounded by Russian forces.

But local authorities in the Polish town of Kazimierz Dolny, including the mayor, have said they’re not sure what Shea is doing there. And it's not clear whether Shea and his group have any legal authority to act as an adoption agent.

Speaking last week on Polish television show Idź Pod Prąd (“Go Against the Tide”), Shea said the suspicions surrounding his work were created by propaganda.

“Unfortunately, there have been some elements here in Poland that have been helping to disrupt the humanitarian relief we’re providing to the orphans with lies and rumors,” Shea said.

Later in the broadcast, he repeated the claim that rumors about the children’s well-being are hampering his work. He described the rumors as “Russian-style propaganda” mounted by unspecified Polish “elements.”

Shea says he is working on behalf of a Texas-based adoption group called Loving Families and Homes for Orphans. During the Idź Pod Prąd interview, Shea said the organization “hosts Ukrainian orphans in America with Ukrainian families with the intent that, ultimately, ends in adoption…It’s been doing this hosting program for several years.”

The children's ultimate fate is unclear. In response to a question on his March 8 Facebook post, Shea said, "We are figuring this out." In a Polish-language article dated March 14, published under the aegis of the Association of Polish Journalists, Shea was quoted as saying, “Neither we nor our partners have any intention of taking the children to the U.S."

There is no need to take the children to the United States, Shea said, because they had everything they needed at the hotel in Kazimierz Dolny that currently houses them.

Loving Families and Homes for Orphans is not registered as an adoption agency in Texas, and very little credible information appears to exist about the group. It is not listed as an accredited adoption service provider by the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, the agency entrusted by the U.S. Department of State to accredit and approve organizations and people to conduct adoption services across national boundaries.

As yet, there is no clear proof the children Shea says he is aiding are actually orphans. The National Council for Adoption says Americans should not be adopting Ukrainian children as the war unfolds, because it’s difficult to determine whether children separated from their parents or who are sent out of danger are truly orphaned.

“It is paramount that the identities of these children and their families be clearly established, and their social, legal, and familial status is fully verified by governmental authorities,” the council said in a statement. “For most of these children, we cannot do that at this time.”

In a message posted to Facebook March 10, Kazimierz Dolny’s mayor, Artur Pomianowski, said, “Due to the incoming information about the unclear formal and legal situation of children and the presence of people from the United States and their unknown role, I did my best to clarify the matter.”

He added that the situation is being investigated by “competent authorities” and that the children would not be sent out of town without proper authorization.

Pomianowski said the conditions at the hotel “are at a very high level, the employees really try to ensure that the children do not run out of anything. The residents also joined in to help.”

Shea served six terms in the Washington House, representing the Spokane Valley area. He declined to run again in 2020, after a 2018 essay he wrote about religious justifications for war sparked criticism and he was removed from his leadership position in the Republican caucus. An outside firm hired by the House determined that Shea “planned, engaged in, and promoted” three conflicts of political violence – namely, armed standoffs against the federal government and its agencies in Nevada, Oregon and Idaho.

The firm that conducted the probe analyzed 230 news articles, documents and other references and spoke to people familiar with Shea, including some who “cooperated…at great risk to themselves.” Shea declined to speak to the investigators.

The report noted that in June 2016, Shea engaged in and supported "the training of adults and children to fight a holy war and/or a civil war."

“Based on evidence obtained in this investigation, it is more probable than not that Representative Shea is likely to plan, direct and engage in additional future conflicts,” the report’s authors said.

Asked about the controversy on Idź Pod Prąd, Shea said the report’s findings were “offensive,” and said neither his activities, nor his association with anti-government causes, had produced a criminal investigation or an FBI probe.

“This is just people saying this, and as we all know, putting something on the internet does not make it true,” Shea said.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.