With the help of a no-nonsense Russian police officer and the attention brought by an investigative Russian journalist, the father was finally able to meet with the older three children earlier this month. The meetings were brief, and raise serious concerns about what the children are living through. That the meetings even took place, however, brought a sigh of relief to family and friends.
As to how this happened, the father asks that we convey his expression of gratitude:
“If a foreign parent ever finds themselves in my same situation in America or Italy, I can only hope that they will be treated with the same dignity, common sense, and intelligence of the Russian police lieutenant called to assist the situation at the children’s school. In five minutes, this single Russian police officer accomplished more for our children than any other high-level authority, institution, or religious official in any of the three countries involved these past several months.”
Developments leading up to the meeting
As reported by Le Iene (A version with English subtitles is available here. Марианны Гринь – интервью итальянским журналистам русские субтитры), the father learned at the end of April that the children’s mother, Marianne Grin (Марианны Гринь), had removed them from the Chabad-Lubavitch institutions in which they had been living.
The office of the Children’s Ombuds authority for the St Petersburg region confirmed that three of them had been placed by their mother in a public school on the outskirts of the city (their third school change this past year in Russia), and the youngest apparently in a kindergarten in the same area.
Joy but concerns about the children’s future
The father went to the school to try to see the three older children. A journalist following the case for a St. Petersburg newspaper provided some of the details of the events:
- Help from Russian police. It was a cold morning the day the father went to visit the children at the school, but the guards/administrators initially refused let him enter. With the aid of a Russian journalist following the case, the police were called, and a police lieutenant appeared within 30 minutes to ask what the problem was. “This father wants to see his children,” it was explained. “Why are you not letting him?” Asked the lieutenant. “Have his parental rights been suspended? Is he breaking any windows or kicking down doors? He is the father! Why are you treating him this way?” The school administrators changed their approach and immediately said the father would be able to see the children as soon as the director arrived.
- School accepts to arrange meetings. The school director was initially cautious, especially since Grin had put a letter in the children’s file stating that “as the parent with Russian citizenship only the mother can make decisions about who they are able to visit, and that is only the mother and her colleagues.” (The letter does not say who there “colleagues” are.) After being assured of the father’s good intentions, however, the director agreed to organize meetings in the presence of the school psychologist.
- Children being subjected to severe alienation and paranoia about family and friends. The meetings with the children, which were brief, confirmed that the mother has used these past several months to frighten them and create resentment even against their grandparents and their little 2-year old cousin. The mother’s anger and paranoid fears, expressed through the children, was palpable. Two of the children refused to speak in English, merely repeating the mother’s accusations against the father in Russian, blaming him for forcing them to live in Russia. The children claimed the mother had to flee Italy because the father wanted to put the oldest “into an insane asylum” (manicomio), one of the bizarre lies that Grin had told different media in Russia. (None of which ever bothered to read either the court decree about the children or check the fact that institutions (“manicomi”) have not existed in Italy for over 30 years.)
- Commitments to follow up. The school director was complimentary of the father’s calm approach and offered to continue to organize contact with the children.
- But still no site of Ezra, the youngest.
Monitoring of situation by Russian authorities
After Grin’s alarming statements over the internet about the Russian court’s rejection of her request to domicile the children with her in Russia, the Ombuds office for the St. Petersburg region confirmed that they are watching the situation closely. They indicated having received letters of concern from the children’s family as well as from the members of the Mellersh family in England. They also mentioned receiving international press inquiries.
The Ombuds office noted that Grin has been uncooperative with their efforts to arrange visits with the children and their father, and was found to have lied about their place of residence. That Grin now appears to be using the children’s isolation to alienate them from their family and friends is another important area of concern regarding the children’s well-being. The fact that her behavior in this regard had been well-documented in Italy provides further evidence of the damage the children suffer in her care.
Still, it was good
Despite the above, the father reports being elated at the contact. Progress was made, and the difficulties he found were not insurmountable. Rather, they are same as those encountered when Grin was documented as engaging in alienating behavior in Italy. Experience shows the children will rebound as long as they know they are loved, and that they have not been abandoned by the father, their friends, or the rest of their family.
And the first steps are always the hardest.