Cesar Quintana held his two-year-old son Alexander at an airport in Kyiv, Ukraine. Alexander was born in Orange County, but on that day in December, authorities told Quintana that he would not be allowed to leave the country with his son and would have to hand the boy over to his grandmother in Ukraine.
A year earlier, Quintana’s estranged wife, Antonina Aslanova, had kidnapped their son from his Aliso Viejo home during their divorce and fled to their home country, Orange County prosecutors say. She took Alexander to Mariupol, the port city now bombarded by Russian artillery.
Now 35-year-old Quintana plans to travel to the war zone to find his son. He’s not sure what to expect – or if his estranged wife and Alexander are among the millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine.
The last time he saw Alexander was during a short video call on March 2, six days after Russia launched its invasion.
“As they say in the army, never leave a man behind. But that’s my son,” Quintana told the Times. “I know it’s a matter of life and death. But this is my son. I can’t just leave him. I can not.”
He plans to travel to Poland and then to Ukraine as a volunteer with a humanitarian aid group. There are no other options for him.
This week, Quintana went to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, DC to register to enter Ukraine on a humanitarian mission.
Joining him on his journey was Noelle Hunter, co-founder of iStand Parent Network, a non-profit organization that supports parents in cases of parental child abduction.
Hunter said Quintana’s situation was difficult because of the war, but not entirely unusual. Her own ex-husband had joint custody of their daughter when he fled to Mali in 2011, less than a year before war broke out there and the president was ousted in a coup. After a campaign similar to Quintana’s, Hunter was reunited with her daughter when the courts in Mali ruled in her favour.
“Like all parents, Cesar will go to the ends of the earth for his son,” Hunter told the Times.
Quintana said he was recovering from gallbladder surgery the day Aslanova welcomed their son in December 2020. When he woke up, his apartment was empty, and he told Aslanova that if she didn’t return right away, he would call the police, according to a letter from Orange County Deputy Dist. atty Tamara Jacobs to the US Department of State.
While Quintana and Aslanova were going through their divorce, she was allowed to visit Alexander by court order. As of December 2020, Quintana had full custody of Alexander, according to the Orange County Attorney’s Office.
According to court documents and the prosecutor’s letter, Aslanova lost custody after multiple convictions for drunk driving.
Quintana said he believes Aslanova’s mother was the driving force behind Alexander’s kidnapping. He told Aslanova he was reluctant to leave Alexander alone with her mother, he said, adding that his mother-in-law had demanded money so he could see the boy after his son was taken to Ukraine.
“My mother-in-law has the baby under control,” Quintana said. “She was the one who kept blackmailing me for money for my son.”
An Orange County Superior Court judge issued an arrest warrant for Aslanova after she fled the country, and both parents have appeared at a family court remotely. Aslanova was charged by the district prosecutor’s office with child abduction.
Quintana’s Orange County attorney has sought to bring Alexander back to the United States under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a treaty that allows for the repatriation of children abducted by one parent for over a year from a member country to a other allows international border. Ukraine signed the contract.
Although Quintana is Alexander’s legal guardian and has obtained an arrest warrant from a US judge, he has been stopped twice in the last year trying to leave Ukraine with his son.
According to a Feb. 15 letter from the State Department to Rep. Lou Correa’s (D-Santa Ana) office, Quintana had neither Aslanova’s consent to bring Alexander back to the United States, nor the consent of the Ukrainian authorities, and would have to start a court case to get his bring son home.
“Attempts to bring the child to the United States may endanger the child and others, interfere with future judicial efforts, and result in arrest and detention,” wrote April Conway, an official with the State Department’s Office of Children’s Affairs.
2020, handled by the State Department more than 660 international child abduction cases, with 246 new cases opened, 129 cases resolved, and 185 children returned to the United States this year. Hunter of the iStand Parent Network said she believes many more kidnapping cases will go unreported.
Hunter said she warned Quintana of the danger in his plan to search for his son in Ukraine.
“I have explained to Cesar the task he has set himself, but he is a smart man and a determined father,” Hunter said.
Civilian casualties in Ukraine have mounted as Russian forces target hospitals, theaters and other places where civilians are sheltering.
Quintana understands that he is stepping into a war zone.
“Our government is so concerned about Ukraine’s defense, but I wish they would show even a little concern for one of their own citizens who is a victim of kidnapping,” he said.
As the war rages on, all Quintana can think of is re-holding his son and leaving Ukraine together.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-19/father-search-ukraine-for-son-abducted-by-mother A Californian man will go to Ukraine to find a son taken from his mother