Two children allowed to return to America with mother

Back from Russia with love

Aleksandra, 12, and her brother Nicolai Ivanov, 11, pause from playing a video game to pose for a photograph with their mother, Gaila Trusty, and the family’s chihuahua, Cocoa, in their Jefferson City home. The siblings were
taken by their Russian father to his home country in July. He had not planned on returning the children to the United States, but Trusty went to Russia and in mid-November was able to bring them home to Jefferson City.

Aleksandra, 12, and her brother Nicolai Ivanov, 11, pause from playing a video game to pose for a photograph with their mother, Gaila Trusty, and the family’s chihuahua, Cocoa, in their Jefferson City home. The siblings were taken by their Russian father to his home country in July. He had not planned on returning the children to the United States, but Trusty went to Russia and in mid-November was able to bring them home to Jefferson City. Photo by Julie Smith.

Last summer, when people heard Gaila Trusty’s two pre-teen children had been abducted to Russia by her ex-husband, most of them doubted if she would see them again in America any time soon.

“When I was first was contacted, I really and truly had my doubts,” said Jefferson City Police Detective Mark Edwards.

But Trusty wasn’t among the doubters.

“Actually I wasn’t that scared. I am a Christian,” she said. “I knew from the very beginning it was going to work out in my favor.”

But it took an enormous amount of effort on her part, and not an insignificant sum of money, to win them back.

Last summer wasn’t the first time the two kids —11-year-old Nicolai and 12-year-old Aleksandra — had traveled to Moscow to spend time with their father, Gennadiy Ivanov, and his family.

But it was the first time they had not come home.

The situation spun out of control in early August.

Around Aug. 3, Trusty was supposed to pick the kids up in Oklahoma so that her family could enjoy one more vacation at Six Flags before school started on Aug. 15.

While in Jefferson City, Ivanov worked as a bridge design engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. But after he was laid off, he took a new job in Houston, Texas. Oklahoma was to be the half-way point between the two households.

To confirm the travel plans, Trusty called her children in August. Her daughter told Trusty that Ivanov had decided to keep the children with him this time in Moscow and enroll them in Russian schools.

“He said both his parents were ill, and he decided to take care of them since he is an only child,” Trusty recalled. “I said, ‘OK, that is fine. But the kids need to come back and get ready for school.’”

When he said no, Trusty knew she had a real problem on her hands. Her worries were confirmed when she learned Russia is not a party to the Hague Conventions.

Jefferson City Attorney Gaylin Rich Carver serves as Trusty’s custody attorney.

“Russia doesn’t recognize our custody decrees,” Carver lamented, noting Trusty had few legal options. “She could hire a Russian attorney and file (for custody) in the Russian family courts. The problem is it would have taken a long time … a year was the estimate … and the consensus was she probably would have lost because they typically favor the Russian parent.”

Or Trusty could attempt to intercept her children and bring them home with her. Unlike in America, Russia does not recognize parental kidnapping as a crime.

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson has charged Ivanov with child abduction, a D felony. Attempts to contact Ivanov for this story were unsuccessful.

Trusty hired a Moscow attorney to help her weigh her options. Instead of persuading Trusty to file a lawsuit in Russian court — which probably would have earned him more money — he pulled together a plan to get the kids home to America.

A private investigator helped nail down the children’s daily schedule. They attended school in buildings separated by a soccer field.

The plan was to swoop in as soon as the kids were dropped off and Ivanov was out of sight. But that planned failed miserably as the Russian school personnel proved to be surprisingly feisty.

“There was a scuffle,” said Trusty, who was traveling with Clint Jeffries, an American security consultant whom she’d hired to help her and who spoke Russian. “We knew it wasn’t going to work.”

Russian police were called right away. Officials from the American Embassy were summoned. Ivanov arrived. Social workers became involved.

Everyone gathered in the principal’s office. A long meeting ensued.

Armed with a number of documents — including a custody agreement in her favor — Trusty was able to win over the Russian authorities. She also made the case Ivanov had allowed the children’s visas — both are American citizens — to expire.

“It was a general consensus … everyone in the room agreed. … to leave them with me,” Trusty said. “They wanted to do what is best for Aleksandra and Nicolai.”

Both Carver and Edwards believe it was Trusty’s calm demeanor that won the day.

Trusty believes Russian culture also worked in her favor. In that country, once children are 10 years of age, they are entitled to decide where they prefer to live.

“Both Nicolai and Aleksandra told the social worker that they love their dad and like to visit in the summer, but they missed their family and friends and wanted to live in America,” she said.

Although the process sounds simple, it wasn’t. What began with the phone call in August ended in mid-November when the children were returned to the U.S. The process took hundreds of phone calls and dozens of meeting with attorneys, congressional leaders, state department officials, embassy workers, law enforcement personnel, private investigators and many others. Even the Department of Justice, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security were consulted.

“It’s important, when we have a situation like this, that law enforcement take a front seat,” Edwards said.

Obtaining the correct replacement passports and exit visas for the children was a particularly painful challenge. There was no way the Russian government was going to grant an exit visa without the sponsoring grandparent’s approval. At one point, Trusty’s team contemplated paying off border guards in order to move the kids out through Belarus and the Ukraine.

However, once Trusty won the confidence of the Russian authorities at that critical school meeting, the American Embassy was better able to help her obtain the exit visas.

Trusty said her relationship with her husband wasn’t always so strained. In the beginning he was handsome, educated and hardworking. But he grew increasingly controlling as the years rolled on.

The couple met through friends at church and married in 2000. But when the relationship grew troubled, they divorced in 2011.

Ivanov doesn’t know why her ex-husband decided to forsake his high-paying Houston career, his vehicle and all his American belongings on a risky move to Moscow. She noted during their marriage, he’d gone to a lot of trouble to gain U.S. citizenship, specifically to be able to get Green Cards for his parents.

But she also said her ex-husband had grown increasingly nostalgic for his native country. Not only did he speak only Russian to his children, he enrolled them in Russian Saturday school in Columbia, demanded they wear Russian-style clothes and eat Russian cuisine. And he banned electronic games, videos and junk food for the kids.

“He had trouble compromising,” she said.

When Trusty was finalizing the paperwork at the American embassy, it became clear what a victory she’d won.

“It never turns out this way,” a shocked embassy employee told her.

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