Kid­napped chil­dren back home

Mother brings kid­nap sons home after land­mark two-year court bat­tle

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY SANDY RASHTY

FLANKED BY a child psy­chol­o­gist and court of­fi­cials, Rachael Neustadt stood ner­vously at the door­way of a Moscow apart­ment, pray­ing that the two sons from whom she had been sep­a­rated for al­most two years would be on the other side.

For much of that time, her only con­tact had been via Skype when the ex-hus­band who kid­napped them de­creed.

Even a hand­ful of vis­its to the Rus­sian cap­i­tal were care­fully con­trolled by the boys’ fa­ther, who went into hid­ing with them eight months ago.

“When that apart­ment door opened, I was very emo­tional,” she said.

“I was so re­lieved, I was so ex­cited. “I thought, ‘this is it’. “My ex-hus­band wasn’t there at the time — he had left the kids with his mother.”

So strong was the emo­tion that fol­lowed the re­union, she strug­gled to put it into words.

“This is a very, very per­sonal mem­ory,” she told me.

“The per­sonal ab­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence is my sons’. It’s not for the pub­lic.”

Daniel Jakob, eight, and Jonathan, six, left their home in Hen­don, north­west Lon­don, in De­cem­ber 2012.

Ilya Neustadt, 37, as­sured his exwife that they would re­turn after a Chanu­cah hol­i­day to visit his fam­ily in Moscow.

When the two-week dead­line to re­turn passed, she be­gan to worry.

What fol­lowed was an in­ter­na­tional le­gal bat­tle to bring back her two boys. Mr Neustadt, a Rus­sian aca­demic, ig­nored eight English High Court Or­ders to re­turn his sons to the UK — leav­ing Ms Neustadt with no op­tion but to see them on his terms.

He would mon­i­tor all Skype calls, turn on the TV to dis­tract the chil­dren and showed no in­ter­est in get-ting to know their youngest son Meir, who he left be­hind.

Dis­traught , Ms Neustadt launched a so­cial me­dia cam­paign and lob­bied MPs, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and even news­pa­pers to back her case.

She hardly slept, of­ten mak­ing calls and send­ing e-mails un­til the early hours.

“Sure I had dark thoughts,” she said. “But I never gave up hope.

“When you are in love with your chil­dren and com­mit­ted to them, you will over­come any chal­lenges to help them.”

In Novem­ber, her lawyers man­aged to get a court order in a land­mark case which in­voked the 1996 Hague Child Pro­tec­tion Con­ven­tion for the first time be­tween the UK and Rus­sia.

Mr Neustadt, a for­mer Lon­don Metropoli­tan Univer­sity lec­turer, had ap­pealed the de­ci­sion and lost.

He im­me­di­ately went into hid­ing with the boys — and all con­tact ceased.

“For seven-and-a-half-months I didn’t hear any­thing from them,” said Ms Neustadt.

“Po­lice were look­ing for my sons, but they hadn’t been reg­is­tered at a doc­tor or den­tist clinic, noth­ing.

“We thought that maybe he took them to Is­rael, the United States, Ger­many or Canada, but in the end it was eas­ier for him to stay in an un­reg­is­tered apart­ment in Moscow.

“They were kept in­doors for the +greater part. They were told, ‘it’s too dan­ger­ous to go out­side’.

“So they stayed in­side and watched TV all day long. There were no out­ings to the park, no play-dates. They didn’t go to school or see any­one their own age. That’s what it’s like to be a pris­oner.” In late June, au­thor­i­ties tracked down the hide­out. Ms Neustadt, who is Ortho­dox, waited for Shab­bat to end and boarded a flight to Moscow to stand be­side bailiffs as they knocked on the flat door.

There , she found her sons with their pa­ter­nal grand­mother, Irina Mag­ilevskaya, who had helped con­ceal the chil­dren.

“This was al­ways a two-per­son show,” she added.

Fi­nally, the boys re­turned home with their mother at the start of the month. On Mon­day, the me­dia were al­lowed to re­veal the turn of events, which sparked cel­e­bra­tion across the UK Jewish com­mu­nity.

“I’ve had so many per­sonal calls, texts and e-mails. Ev­ery­one has been amaz­ing,” she said.

She said the el­dest two sons have bonded well with their two-year-old brother Meir, but it has been an over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for them all.

Nei­ther Daniel Jakob nor Jonathan have spo­ken English for months, but they are slowly start­ing to pick-it-up again.

Last Fri­day, she took them to see their old class­mates at the Nancy Reuben Pri­mary School in Hen­don. The next day, they marked Shab­bat with a visit to the nearby Alei Tzion syn­a­gogue.

Ms Neustadt, 36, a for­mer teacher, said: “Ob­vi­ously, there are neg­a­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the ab­duc­tion, but I’m in touch with child work­ers and psy­chol­o­gists.

“Ev­ery­one at the school was so warm

and fan­tas­tic, they came over and said ‘hi’.

“Daniel Jakob and Yonatan were so ex­cited to go be­cause they haven’t had con­tact with any­one their age.

“They said they didn’t re­mem­ber the kids who were their best-friends, but they went back to them and played so well. They now have the free­dom to have friends and go to school.”

She added: “Peo­ple’s prayers were an­swered. The whole com­mu­nity stood with me in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.

“They were in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive in so many ways from fund­ing le­gal fees to dav­en­ing. Not just for me, but for the boys.

“They don’t know it yet, but so many peo­ple were wish­ing them well. Some­day, they’ll look back and see how many peo­ple were sup­port­ive of them.”

“Yonatan has al­ready started speak­ing English and Daniel Jakob is slowly get­ting there.”

Both boys will re­join the Ortho­dox Jewish school in Septem­ber.

Texas-born Ms Neustadt, who missed both of their birth­days while they were away, is now fo­cus­ing on en­joy­ing ev­ery­day moth­er­hood du­ties, those she some­times feared would never come.

“As a fam­ily, we are so happy to be re­united,” added Ms Neustadt. “For a child, it’s not about where you live. As long as you are sur­rounded by peo­ple who love you and treat you well.

“On the one hand, I’m very ex­cited they’re back and we’re spend­ing ev­ery­day to­gether. In some re­spects, it’s as though they never left. A lov­ing par­ent has an im­print on a child and that im­print is so strong — it’s in­cred­i­ble.

“We now need time to heal and be to­gether. It’s been chal­leng­ing and it will take time, but we will face it to­gether.”

The re­union was wel­comed by the Chief Rabbi, who said: “I am ab­so­lutely de­lighted. Rachael and her chil­dren will now, at long last, be able to en­joy a happy, healthy and sta­ble fam­ily life.”

Michelle Bauern­fre­und, chair of Alei Tzion, said: “We were thrilled to see Rachael re­united with her sons.”

PHO­TOS: LARA MINSKY, FACE­BOOK

Heartache: a pic­ture she took of her sons be­ing led away by her ex-hus­band and his mother after a brief re­union in Moscow

Hap­pi­ness: Rachael Neustadt with her three sons

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