AP

US father desperate to get 2-year-old son home from Ukraine

Mar 18, 2022, 9:23 PM | Updated: 9:24 pm
This photo provided by Angel Quintana shows Cesar Quintana and Cesar's son Alexander Quintana. Quintana said he is trying to get his son out of Ukraine, where he was taken by his mother in 2020 without his permission. A legal hearing was supposed to take place in March 2022, but since the Russian incursion it's unclear now how Quintana can get the boy out of the country and returned to Southern California. (Courtesy of Angel Quintana via AP)
(Courtesy of Angel Quintana via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Russia was massing troops on the border with Ukraine when an increasingly desperate Cesar Quintana went to the U.S. embassy in Kyiv in December to plead for a passport for his toddler son, who had been abducted from their Southern California home a year earlier by his Ukrainian-American mother.

Quintana got a U.S. court order showing he had sole legal custody of 2-year-old Alexander. He was granted the passport, bought plane tickets and a few days later headed to the airport for a flight home.

But they never boarded the plane. Police who he said were summoned by Alexander’s Ukrainian grandmother — the mother of Quintana’s estranged wife — ordered the boy be turned over to her.

Now, three months later, Ukraine is ravaged by war. The city of Mariupol where Alexander has been living with his mother at his grandmother’s home is under siege. Quintana, who is back in the U.S., has lost contact with them and is so distraught he’s considering going into the war zone to find his son.

“I am willing to do everything and anything,” Quintana told The Associated Press. “I just want my son to be back.”

Quintana, 35, said he last spoke with Alexander over FaceTime on March 2. He said he sent money to his estranged wife, Antonina Aslanova, for supplies but never heard back.

Communications have been disrupted across Mariupol because of the Russian bombardment, which this week included an airstrike that blew apart a theater being used as a bomb shelter by hundreds of civilians. Tens of thousands have fled the city, and an unknown number have been killed.

Efforts by the AP to reach Aslanova were not successful. Email and LinkedIn messages were not returned. She currently doesn’t have a lawyer in the child custody case in California, and a U.S. phone number she provided the court wasn’t working. A message was left on another phone listed under her name.

Andrew Klausner, who was Aslanova’s divorce lawyer when she previously sought and was denied a restraining order against Quintana, said he hadn’t had contact with her since the fall of 2020 and didn’t know she had left the country.

Quintana has set up a website about his plight and traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to try to get members of Congress to help and to ask Ukrainian diplomats in the nation’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 U.S. Rep. Lou Correa’s office that when Quintana tried to take his son back to his Orange County home in December he didn’t have the consent of the boy’s mother, nor approval from Ukrainian authorities overseeing the custody fight there.

“Although a left-behind parent in the United States may have custody or visitation rights pursuant to a U.S. custody order, that order may not be valid and enforceable in the country in which the child is located,” wrote April Conway, the department’s branch chief for the office of children’s issues.

The letter also said State Department officials were asking Ukrainian officials why a critical February court hearing on the boy’s case was delayed until late March.

International parental child abduction cases are complex, and advocates say relatively few of the children taken from their countries of residence are returned. But the issues are even more complicated for Quintana’s son since the embassy in Kyiv is closed because of the war and the State Department has said it can assist American citizens with consular services once they leave Ukraine and get to another country.

Noelle Hunter, co-founder of the iStand Parent Network, said her group wants to draw attention to Quintana’s case so U.S. government officials and nonprofit groups can step in quickly once the fighting subsides. Hunter’s daughter was taken to war-torn Mali, and she was able to bring her home with help from U.S. officials in 2014.

Many of the details of Alexander’s case are spelled out in a September letter from Orange County deputy district attorney Tamara Jacobs to Ukrainian officials.

Alexander was abducted in December 2020 as Quintana and Aslanova were divorcing, according to the letter. Quintana was granted custody of Alexander after she was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence.

Quintana said he allowed Aslanova to visit their son at his home as Quintana recovered from gall bladder surgery. He said he fell asleep and when he woke in the afternoon she and Alexander were gone.

Quintana texted Aslanova and said she wasn’t allowed to leave with the boy; she responded they were at a store. Quintana called police, who the next day told him Aslanova and Alexander had gotten on a flight to Turkey and then to Ukraine, according to the district attorney’s office, which charged her with child abduction.

In March 2021, a California family law judge ordered that Alexander be returned. “The court ruled that there were no exigent circumstances for mother to have taken the child and the taking was wrongful,” Jacobs wrote in the letter.

The same month, Aslanova filed a declaration with the court in her DUI case saying she had no plans to return to the United States.

Meantime, Quintana obtained a visa and traveled to Ukraine, where he hired a lawyer to try to get his son returned. Quintana said he had remained in touch with Aslanova, provided financial support to her family and once in Ukraine was allowed visits with the boy.

Quintana said he tried to convince Aslanova to let him take their son back to California and that she should also return to face her legal issues. He said during a November phone call she finally consented and told him that her mother, who had been caring for their son, would bring Alexander to him at his Mariupol hotel.

As soon as he had the boy, they left in a car for Kyiv. Quintana said he was stopped by police twice on the 14-hour trip. Authorities confirmed he was the boy’s father and allowed them to continue but took their American passports.

In Kyiv, Quintana went to the U.S. embassy to get new passports. He said officials there demanded more than a temporary custody order to issue a passport for the boy, so he wrote to the family court in California seeking an order for the document. He said he was worried about a possible Russian invasion.

“If this happens, I am fearful Alexander and I will not be safe and American flights to Ukraine will be cancelled for an unknown period of time,” Quintana wrote. An order was made and the passport issued.

He and Alexander spent Christmas together and made plans to fly back to the United States before the new year. He said he spoke with Aslanova by phone and she asked him not to leave her behind.

But Aslanova’s mother, he said, didn’t want the boy to go and filed a complaint against Quintana with Mariupol police. He said she accompanied police when they stopped him at the Kyiv airport. Police showed him a document written in Ukrainian — which he doesn’t understand — and threatened to arrest him if he didn’t turn over the child, Quintana said. His son became distraught, 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 enlisted a translator to read it. The document alleged Quintana took the boy from his Mariupol hotel in late November without permission from the child’s mother and called for an investigation to determine whether Quintana was legally allowed to take the boy.

As he turned over his son, Quintana said he kissed Alexander and told him: “Bye for now, son, but I won’t give up. I’ll bring you home.”

Quintana said his Ukrainian lawyer told him the document was a pretense to block him from leaving. He said he remained in Ukraine until late January but left when he was denied a visa extension. He said he had hoped to get his son back after an international parental child abduction hearing scheduled for February but it was postponed to March.

Then war broke out. Quintana’s Ukranian lawyer now is in the military fighting the Russians.

Quintana said he’s willing to do anything to bring Alexander to the U.S. He said he told Aslanova he’d help her with a lawyer for her DUI case if she returns. He said he’d even help sponsor her mother so she 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 am not really sure what I am going to do, but I just want to be there close if an opportunity presents itself for him to leave the country,” he said.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
1 day ago
The Supreme Court is pictured. The court just limited the EPA...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
1 day ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
1 day ago
A Rite Aid logo is displayed on its store...
HALELUYA HADERO, AP Reporter

Amazon, Rite Aid cap purchase of emergency contraceptives

Retailers limiting purchases is standard practice that helps retailers prevent stockpiling and reselling at higher prices.
1 day ago
FILE - Hershel "Woody" Williams, center, the sole surviving U.S. Marine to be awarded the Medal of ...
The Associated Press

Last remaining WWII Medal of Honor recipient dies at 98

A 98-year-old man from West Virginia, who was the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II has died.
2 days ago
Mourners pay their respects at a makeshift memorial at the site where officials found dozens of peo...
The Associated Press

Toll now at 53 in San Antonio as families wait for answers

The families of the dead migrants found inside a tractor-trailer earlier this week are waiting for answers.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
US father desperate to get 2-year-old son home from Ukraine