Cesar Quintana, a Los Angeles father, has not seen his 2-year-old son Alexander in months. Though he has sole custody of the young boy, Cesar’s ex-wife, Antonina Aslanova Quintana, allegedly abducted the 2-year-old a little over a year ago and brought him back to Ukraine.
The boy and his mother settled in Mariupol, Ukraine, where Cesar Quintana’s wife was born. The region has since become a hotbed in the Ukraine war and one of the most dangerous locations in Russia’s invasion of the country.
According to AP News, seemingly random Russian shelling in Mariupol has destroyed schools, hospitals, and residential buildings, resulting in mass casualties of civilians, the elderly, and children.
Visiting the Ukrainian embassy on Wednesday, Cesar Quintana applied for permission to enter the war-torn nation to seek out his son, Alexander.
Cesar has not seen his son in person since November. He claims that the boy’s mother Antonina only allows him to visit occasionally “in exchange for money” and “always with basically armed guards that she had.”
The Los Angeles father did not disclose where in Mariupol his wife and child were staying, or why she would be surrounded by some sort of group of armed soldiers.
“I’m worried he’s hurt,” said Alexander’s grandmother, Florencia Gomez. She traveled with Cesar to the Ukrainian Embassy on Wednesday, hoping to gain permission to bring her grandson back home to the United States.
Florencia clutched a stuffed moose toy that belonged to the 2-year-old as she spoke with reporters from ABC News, adding that, “I guess you can live without gas or electricity. But no water?”
She and Cesar Quintana last spoke with Alexander over FaceTime in early March, before Russian troops began their siege of Mariupol. According to the father, a maternity hospital hit by a Russian missile was just a mile or so from his ex-wife’s home.
“I love him more than my own life,” Cesar Quintana told reporters about his son. “I’m going to go to Ukraine. A lot of people have told me not to do it, it’s too dangerous. But I’m going to bring my son home.”
According to court records, Cesar’s wife sunk into a depression after Alexander’s birth, since his twin did not survive childbirth. Antonina allegedly self-medicated in a state of despair following the loss and was repeatedly arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Working with the the Orange County District Attorney in Los Angeles, the county asked the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice for permission to help “expedite Alexander’s return,” once Cesar travels to the city. The 2-year-old’s mother is in violation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but Ukraine is currently under martial law. The invaded nation has little time for a child custody hearing.
“Unfortunately, in the United States every year, between 800 to 1000 American children are removed from the US and taken to a foreign nation,” said Noelle Hunter, a member of the iStand Parent Network who prayed with Cesar and his mother outside the Ukrainian Embassy on Wednesday.
Hunter’s own daughter was taken by her father to Mali, according to ABC News, but she was able to bring her back home to the United States.
Cesar Quintana is equally desperate to get his son out of Ukraine, telling reporters that “I’m going to find him.”
The Los Angeles father plans to fly to Poland and cross the Ukrainian border by foot, as he makes his way to Mariupol by any means necessary. But when he arrives, he said, he currently does not know their location.
“My son’s alive,” Cesar Quintana stated, “and he needs me.”