Posted on Apr 20, 2019
October 27th 2017 began as any other, but for Alina Levchenko it was to turn into the nightmare that every parent fears: her daughter Emily, just a few weeks away from her second birthday, was kidnapped by her own father. Ms. Levchenko has not seen her daughter from that day to this, nor does she even know her current whereabouts.
Her former husband Volodymyr O. Ruzhytskyy had managed to persuade the Kyivskyi District Court of Odessa to annul their marriage by an extraordinary decision without her knowledge, during the sixth month of her pregnancy, apparently failing to notify the court of said pregnancy. He had previously forced her to sign over sole rights to properties they owned together.
On April 13, 2018, she applied to the Kyivskyi District Court of Odessa for review of the extraordinary decision on divorce. At the same time she submitted a statement to the head of the Central Police Department in the Odessa region, alleging criminal offences under Articles 190 and 375 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
The Odessa court heard her application but failed to uphold it. She then filed an appeal which was also rejected. At present her case sits with the Court of Cassation of the Supreme Court, whilst Court of Cassation of the Supreme Court of Ukraine is considering the issues of Emily’s residence and alimony.
During a recent visit to the European Parliament in Brussels in order to seek counsel from the European Parliament’s Co-ordinator on Children’s Rights, Ms. Levchenko explained the circumstances surrounding the abduction. Her former husband is a businessman who she describes as being part of the criminal fraternity. She herself is an advisor to the Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, with her own property and the means to provide comfortably for her daughter, and with the support of her family.
As a mother, I totally worry about my child, provide her with a decent standard of living, comprehensive development, follow her health and always put the child in first place in our lives. I formally work, have my own home, lead a healthy lifestyle. I have not seen my child for almost nine months, I can not take part in her upbringing, my duties to ensure her interests and take care of her safety.
After he took Emily away from her mother Ruzhytskyy began to secure his own position, obtaining legal custody, and even going so far as to claim alimony.
The judicial system in Ukraine remains largely unreformed, and Ms. Levchenko told EU Today that she believes her former husband bribed judges in order to achieve his desired outcomes. She also stated that her daughter is not residing at the address Ruzhytskyy has given to the courts, and she fears that her child may well be a pawn in a dispute between the father and an Azerbaijani criminal group to which he allegedly owes money. Ms. Levchenko has received threats to herself and to her family from this group who she says are attempting to intimidate her into paying Ruzhytskyy’s debts.
Ms. Levchenko, who in addition to her role as a government ministerial advisor, is also the President of the All-Ukrainian Association - the Protection of Mother’s Rights said that neither the police nor the courts are interested in helping her.
Child abduction is a major problem in Ukraine. The country is a signatory to the Hague Abduction Convention, a tool that parents can utilise in an attempt to bring home their abducted children.
However the level of corruption of the Ukrainian judiciary and weaknesses inherent in the Convention itself undermine such protections as may be offered. Even if the parent who files an application with the Hague Convention and is granted full custody of their child, this does not necessarily mean that the children will be returned. Hague Convention rulings are nearly always ignored by the abductor, knowing all to well that the authorities will do little or nothing to enforce the orders.
Ukraine State Execution Service, who are there to enforce court rulings do nothing… Corruption in Ukraine is a major issue, including when it comes to Parental Child Abduction. Authorities including the Police do not help to locate or search for children missing through Parental Child Abduction, abducted into or illegally retained in Ukraine.
Former Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Sergiy Tigipko, now considered to be one of the richest men in Ukraine, is currently under investigation by British police for his part in the removal of his grandchildren from the UK to Kyiv by their mother. The High Court of England and Wales has issued an order for her to return the children to their father in the UK, which has been ignored.
Under the terms of the Hague convention the Ukrainian state should be obliged to intervene, but Tigipko, appears to wield more influence than any international protocol. As Ukraine seeks to assert its European identity, and to further strengthen it’s relationship with the EU, the country needs to understand that a very dim view is taken in Brussels of the current state of the Ukrainian judiciary.
Parental abduction is on the rise globally: the FBI reported in 2013 that "Non-custodial parents are increasingly abducting and threatening to harm their own kids to retaliate against parents who were granted legal custody of the children”. Ms. Levchenko puts the number of Ukrainian children abducted by a parent at around 1,000.
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