San Antonio woman remembers Ukrainian man who helped facilitate hundreds of adoptions

Serge Zevlever has worked for 30 years to help children with special needs find loving homes.

SAN ANTONIO – On the city’s Northeast Side, there’s never a quiet moment in the Barnett household. However, with eight children, that’s to be expected.

“Copeland was our first adoption, and we adopted him at birth in 2002,” Stephanie Barnett, mom to all of the children said. Next came Silas.

“We adopted him from Texas Foster Care, and we got him in the summer of 2008,” Barnett said.

Those were Stephanie’s U.S. adoptions.

“October of 2011, we landed on U.S. soil with Teague, Trenton and McClain. End of March 2015, landed on U.S. soil with Bowen, Chesnie, and Rawlen,” Stephanie explained.

She lovingly named her other children, all of whom were adopted from Ukraine.

“We found out about the plight of orphans with special needs in different countries around the world,” she said.

All six of her Ukrainian children have Down Syndrome, as does her son Silas.

Stephanie explains their family has one man to thank for facilitating the adoptions of her Ukrainian children, or as she affectionately calls them, her Ukies.

“His name is Serge Zevlever,” Stephanie said.

She explains Zevlever has dual citizenship between his home country of Ukraine and the U.S.

When he became a U.S. citizen, Serge joined the military and served during Desert Storm.

“His heart is in adoption, specifically children with special needs,” Stephanie said.

For decades, Zevlever has gone to orphanages and helped pair kids with loving homes. When fighting broke out in Ukraine, he knew he couldn’t leave.

“That’s what he gave his breath, his life for,” Stephanie said.

According to Serge’s family, he helped get a U.S. family across the Ukrainian border to Poland last Friday and then returned to Kyiv to fight. Serge was killed the next day.

“Our children would not be here and all of the other children would not be here because of Serge,” Stephanie said with tears in her eyes.

The man affectionately called “papa” by so many orphans was gunned down in a war to protect the country he loved.

“This man, what a hero, he gave his life. You know, he literally laid his life down,” she said.

Stephanie and her husband David are two of the many heartbroken over Serge’s death, but they have seen a silver lining.

His story has been shared on social media, over and over, which is putting a spotlight on international adoptions of children with special needs.

One organization that Serge was active in was Reece’s Rainbow; which according to their website, ”advocates and finds families for orphans internationally with Down syndrome and other special needs.”

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About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.