Cesar Quinton had been worried for weeks that his 2-year-old son would not have time to get out of the battered Ukrainian coastal port of Mariupol when Russian troops surrounded the city.
But Alexander and his mother are now in Russia, where Quintana, who has full legal custody of the boy in California, is no closer to seeing him again.
Quintana was trying to get his son back in the US, because in 2020 his foreign wife took the child to Ukraine without the permission of Quintana. He was working to get the boy back through a Ukrainian court when the war broke out, and lost touch with them.
Last month he finally learned that, unlike millions of Ukrainians who fled to Poland or Moldova, the family and others from Mariupol fled across the nearest international border with Russia.
However, Russia is not a partner of the United States under an international treaty that regulates the return of children abducted abroad by one of their parents, although Ukraine is. This makes Quinton hope that the Ukrainian court will return his case and he will be able to force the Russian authorities to execute any decision in his favor. He said he was also trying to persuade his wife of Ukrainian descent, Antonina Aslanova, to return to California on her own.
“I don’t give up and my son won’t grow up in Russia,” Quintana said.
The WhatsApp message sent by Aslana with a request to comment was not returned.
International cases of parental abduction are complex, and advocates say relatively few children deported from their countries of residence are returning quickly. In 2015, more than 2,000 applications were submitted under an international agreement establishing the process for resolving these cases, and about 45% led to the return of children, according to a report by the Hague Conference on Private International Law.
Many countries have signed the agreement, but it is not in effect between the United States and Russia, making the return of the child very difficult, said Melissa Kuczynski, a Washington attorney specializing in the case.
“Since the child is now in Russia, I expect that the decision to take care of the father in California will probably mean very little,” Kuczynski said.
Quintana, 35, has been trying to get his son back for more than a year through a contract with Ukraine, after a California judge ruled to return the boy to him. Quintana went to Ukraine, hired a lawyer and said he forced Aslanov to agree to allow him to bring the boy to California. But he said her mother was against it and filed a complaint with the police, which prevented him from doing so.
The critical trial in February was then postponed to March and again postponed due to the war.
Since then, Ukraine said it will not be able to fulfill its contractual obligations during the war, according to the website of the US State Department. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is closed, but the State Department said it could help Americans with consular services as soon as they arrive in another country.
In Russia, the ability of the U.S. government to provide regular or emergency services to U.S. citizens is “severely limited,” a department spokesman said.
The war brought Quinton to despair. When the invasion began, he sent money to Aslanov, but communication was cut off as the city of Mariupol fell under siege. When he was unable to reach his son, Quintana asked Ukrainian officials for permission to travel to the war-torn country to find him. He was planning to buy a plane ticket to Europe when he said the State Department had confirmed that the boy, Aslanova and her family had fled to Russia.
Quintana said he spoke to Aslanava after she left Mariupol. He said she is considering returning to California but does not want to because she faces criminal charges for kidnapping a child as well as for driving under the influence of alcohol in a case that prompted Quinton to demand custody in 2020.
“She’s worried about the prison,” he said. “Why does my son have to suffer because of her?”
Noel Hunter, co-founder of the iStand parent network, said a voluntary agreement is usually the best option in these cases. She said Quintana had asked the district attorney’s office to drop the abduction charge when Aslanov returned, but the prosecutor’s office had not committed to doing so. State Department officials have suggested speeding up documents if Aslanov leaves Russia and takes the child to another country, she said.
“We can’t just sit back,” said Hunter, whose organization supports parents whose children have been deported. “We have to be ready.”
The Orange County Attorney’s Office declined to discuss the case.
Quintana and Aslanova were in the process of divorcing when she was arrested for investigating driving while intoxicated, according to a letter from the Orange County Prosecutor’s Office to Ukrainian officials.
Quintana received a custody order and allowed Aslanova to visit the boy at his home in December 2020. While he slept, she drove him to the airport and boarded a flight to Turkey and then to Ukraine, he said.
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