A desperate American father is trying to get his 2-year-old son out of war-ravaged Ukraine.
Cesar Quintana, 35, said young Alexander’s mother kidnapped him from their Southern California home and fled to Ukraine in 2020 before Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country.
“I am willing to do everything and anything,” Quintana told The Associated Press. “I just want my son to be back.”
Quintana has not seen Alexander since they last FaceTimed on March 2, six days after Russia invaded.
His son had been staying with his mother in his grandmother’s house in the besieged city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, where thousands are feared dead.
Quintana had traveled to Ukraine in December to try to secure his son’s return. Now back in the US, he has lost contact with the child and relatives and the distraught dad said he plans to buy a plane ticket to Poland next week and may try to enter Ukraine through its border.
“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.
He said he sent money to his estranged wife, Antonina Aslanova, for supplies but hasn’t heard back.
Alexander was taken in December 2020 while Quintana and Aslanova were in the midst of a divorce, according to a letter from Orange County deputy district attorney Tamara Jacobs to Ukrainian officials.
Quintana was granted sole custody of the child after Aslanova was arrested for driving under the influence.
Quintana told the AP that he allowed his wife to visit Alexander at his home while he recovered from gall bladder surgery. He woke up one afternoon to find that Aslanova and Alexander were gone.
He texted Aslanova, who told him they had just run out to the store. Quintana called the police, who told him the next day that she and Alexander had boarded a flight to Turkey and then to Ukraine, according to the DA’s office, which charged her with child abduction.
In March 2021, a California family law judge ordered Alexander be returned to his father but the kid’s mom said she had no plans to return to the States.
Increasingly desperate, Quintana traveled to Ukraine and hired an attorney to have Alexander returned. He was allowed to visit the boy in Mariupol.
After much convincing, Aslanova told Quintana over the phone in November that her mother would bring Alexander to him at his Mariupol hotel and return with him to America. She also agreed to return with him and face her legal issues in California.
When Quintana and the boy left in a car and headed for Kyiv, they were stopped twice by police on their 14-hour trip, and authorities allowed them to continue but confiscated their American passports.
Back at the embassy to get new passports, Quintana said officials told him he needed more than a temporary custody order to issue the boy a passport. Quintana wrote to family court in California requesting an order for the document, writing that he was anxious of a Russian invasion.
“If this happens, I am fearful Alexander and I will not be safe and American flights to Ukraine will be canceled for an unknown period of time,” Quintana wrote. An order was made and the passport issued.
Quintana spent Christmas together with his son, and had plans to fly back to America before 2022. Aslanova, whom he’d been in contact with, asked him not to leave her behind.
Aslanova’s mother, however, did not want the boy to leave and filed a complaint against Quintana with the Mariupol police, he said. She was with the cops when he and Alexander were stopped at the Kyiv airport in December.
He agreed to hand his son under threat of arrest over after Alexander became upset, not wanting to put more stress on the boy, he said.
The police document Quintana was issued, which is in Ukrainian, alleged that Quintana took his son from his Mariupol hotel in November without permission from the child’s mother, prompting an investigation, according to an AP translation.
As he turned over his son, Quintana said he kissed him and told him: “Bye for now, son, but I won’t give up. I’ll bring you home.”
Quintana said his lawyer told him the police document was nothing more than a pretense to block Alexander from leaving. Since the war broke out, the lawyer is now in the military fighting the Russians.
An international parental child abduction hearing scheduled for February was postponed until March.
With Post wires