Russia was massing troops on the border with Ukraine when an increasingly desperate Cesar Quintana went to the US embassy in Kyiv in December to ask for a passport for his young son, kidnapped by his Ukrainian mother from her home in Southern California a year earlier had been. American mother.
Quintana received a US court order showing he had sole custody of 2-year-old Alexander. He received the passport, bought plane tickets and a few days later went to the airport to fly home.
But they never got on the plane. Police, who he said were called by Alexander’s Ukrainian grandmother – the mother of Quintana’s estranged wife – ordered the boy to be handed over to her.
Now, three months later, Ukraine is devastated by war. The city of Mariupol, where Alexander lives with his mother in his grandmother’s house, is under siege. Quintana, who is back in the US, has lost contact with them and is so distraught that he considers going to the war zone to find his son.
“I’m willing to do anything and everything,” Quintana told The Associated Press. “I just want my son to come back.”
Quintana, 35, said he last FaceTimed Alexander on March 2. He said he sent money for supplies to his estranged wife, Antonina Aslanova, but never received a reply.
Communications across Mariupol have been cut because of the Russian bombing, which this week included an airstrike that destroyed a theater used as a bomb shelter by hundreds of civilians. Tens of thousands have fled the city and an unknown number have been killed.
The AP’s efforts to reach Aslanova were unsuccessful. Email and LinkedIn messages were not returned. She doesn’t currently have an attorney in the California custody case, and a US phone number she provided to the court didn’t work. A message was left on another phone listed under her name.
Andrew Klausner, who was Aslanova’s divorce attorney when she previously sought and was denied a restraining order against Quintana, said he had not been in contact with her since the fall of 2020 and was unaware that she had left the country.
Quintana has set up a website about his plight and traveled to Washington, DC this week to try to get members of Congress to help and to ask Ukrainian diplomats in the country’s capital for permission to enter their country.
The State Department declined to comment on the case, but wrote in a Feb. 15 letter to California Rep. Lou Correa’s office that Quintana tried to bring his son back to his Orange County home in December , he did not have the consent of the boy’s mother, nor the approval of the Ukrainian authorities who oversee the custody dispute there.
“Although a left-behind parent may have custody or visitation rights in the United States under a U.S. custody order, that order may not be valid and enforceable in the country where the child resides,” wrote April Conway, the department’s department Head of the Office of Children’s Affairs.
The letter also said State Department officials had asked Ukrainian officials why a critical court hearing in February in the boy’s case was postponed until late March.
International parental child abduction cases are complex, and advocates say relatively few of the children abducted from their countries of residence are returned. But the issues are even more complicated for Quintana’s son as the embassy in Kyiv is closed due to the war and the State Department has said it can help American citizens with consular services once they leave Ukraine and travel to another country.
Noelle Hunter, co-founder of the iStand Parent Network, said her group wants to draw attention to Quintana’s case so US government officials and nonprofit groups can intervene quickly once the fighting subsides. Hunter’s daughter was taken to war-torn Mali and was able to bring her home in 2014 with the help of US officials.
Many details of Alexander’s case are set out in a September letter from Orange County Assistant District Attorney Tamara Jacobs to Ukrainian officials.
According to the letter, Alexander was kidnapped in December 2020 when Quintana and Aslanova were getting a divorce. Quintana was awarded custody of Alexander after she was arrested on investigations into drunk driving.
Quintana said he allowed Aslanova to visit her son at his home while Quintana was recovering from gallbladder surgery. He said he fell asleep and when he woke up in the afternoon she and Alexander were gone.
Quintana texted Aslanova and said she was not allowed to go with the boy; She replied that they were in a shop. Quintana called police, who told him the next day Aslanova and Alexander had boarded a flight to Turkey and then Ukraine, according to prosecutors, who charged them with child abduction.
In March 2021, a California family judge ordered Alexander’s return. “The court ruled that there was no compelling circumstance for the mother to take the child and that the removal was unlawful,” Jacobs wrote in the letter.
That same month, Aslanova filed a statement with the court in her DUI case that she had no plans to return to the United States.
Meanwhile, Quintana obtained a visa and traveled to Ukraine, where he hired a lawyer to try to get his son back. Quintana said he stayed in touch with Aslanova, supported her family financially and allowed him to visit the boy once he was in Ukraine.
Quintana said he tried to convince Aslanova to let him bring her son back to California and that she should also return to face her legal troubles. He said during a phone conversation in November that she finally agreed and told him that her mother, who had been taking care of her son, would take Alexander to his hotel in Mariupol.
As soon as he had the boy, they drove to Kyiv in a car. Quintana said he was stopped twice by police during the 14-hour drive. Authorities confirmed he was the boy’s father and allowed them to proceed, but took their American passports.
In Kyiv, Quintana went to the US Embassy to get new passports. He said officials there required more than a temporary custody order to issue a passport for the boy, so he wrote to the California family court to get an order for the document. He said he was concerned about a possible Russian invasion.
“If this happens I fear that Alexander and I will not be safe and American flights to Ukraine will be canceled indefinitely,” Quintana wrote. An order was placed and the passport issued.
He and Alexander spent Christmas together and planned to return to the United States before the New Year. He said he spoke to Aslanova on the phone and she asked him not to leave her.
But Aslanova’s mother, he said, didn’t want the boy to go and filed a complaint against Quintana with the Mariupol police. He said she was with the police when they stopped him at Kyiv airport. Police showed him a document written in Ukrainian – which he doesn’t understand – and threatened to arrest him if he didn’t deliver the child, Quintana said. His son was desperate, Quintana said, so he gave him to his grandmother to avoid further stress on the boy.
Quintana provided a copy of the police document to the AP, which hired a translator to read it. The document alleges that Quintana took the boy from his hotel in Mariupol in late November without the child’s mother’s permission and called for an investigation to determine whether Quintana was legally permitted to take the boy.
As he turned his son over, Quintana said he kissed Alexander and told him, “Bye for now son, but I’m not giving up. I will take you home.”
Quintana said his Ukrainian lawyer told him the document was an excuse to prevent him from leaving. He said he stayed in Ukraine until the end of January but left when he was denied a visa extension. He said he was hoping to get his son back after an international hearing on parental child abduction, scheduled for February but postponed to March.
Then the war broke out. Quintana’s Ukrainian lawyer is now in the military fighting the Russians.
Quintana said he was willing to do anything to bring Alexander to the US. He said he told Aslanova he would help her with an attorney for her DUI case when she returned. He said he would even help sponsor her family – including her mother – so they could join her in America.
He plans to buy a ticket to Poland next week and may try to enter Ukraine from that neighboring country.
“I’m not really sure what I’m going to do, but I just want to be around if there’s an opportunity for him to leave the country,” he said.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/ap-ukraine-alexander-kyiv-police-b2039168.html US father desperate to bring 2-year-old son home from Ukraine