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Russian Mother Ordered To Stay In U.S. In Child Custody Case That Has Irked Kremlin

Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov has accused U.S. authorities of holding Russian citizen Olga Pimanova "hostage."
Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov has accused U.S. authorities of holding Russian citizen Olga Pimanova "hostage."

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. court has ordered a Russian woman arrested last month in a child-custody battle that has angered the Kremlin to remain in the United States pending a resolution of the legal dispute, according to her lawyer.

A circuit court in Chicago on June 6 released Olga Pimanova, 30, from house arrest but ordered her to surrender her Russian passport and remain in the country until a decision is made in her clash with her ex-husband over her 3-year-old daughter, lawyer Fedor Kozlov told RFE/RL.

The domestic dispute, which has gone virtually unnoticed in the American media, has become a minor cause celebre in Russia thanks to the Kremlin's official children's rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, who has accused U.S. authorities of holding Pimanova "as a hostage."

It is one of several cases in recent years in which top officials in Moscow have accused U.S. authorities of failing to protect the rights of Russian children and families, including in politically charged abuse cases that have strained bilateral relations.

Pimanova was detained by sheriffs in Cook County, Illinois -- where Chicago is located – after arriving by air and booked on May 20 on a charge of indirect civil contempt, according to police records.

Kozlov said the court had previously ruled that Pimanova's ex-husband, Jorge Castillo, is the father of the child and that she must bring the girl back to the United States.

She was arrested upon her arrival in Chicago because "the court found her in violation of the court order because she didn't come back with the daughter. She came back only by herself," Kozlov told RFE/RL.

Crossborder family disputes involving Russians and cases of alleged abuse of adopted Russian children in the United States have become flash points of Kremlin anger in recent years, with officials and state-run media often implying that kids face myriad dangers in the West.

In 2012, Russia passed a law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans. Officials said the law was prompted by the case of a boy who died in 2008 three months after being adopted from Russia when his American father left him in a sweltering hot car for nine hours.

But critics of the law say it was passed in response to sanctions imposed by the U.S. government related to a brazen tax fraud case and the death of whistle-blowing tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Astakhov said after the June 6 ruling releasing Pimanova from house arrest that he would work with the Russian Foreign Ministry and its embassy in Washington to erase any challenges to her custody of the child.

"A Russian girl cannot be handed over to the United States," Astakhov, a high-profile advocate for the law banning Americans from adopting Russian children that was widely criticized by Western governments and rights activists, wrote in all-caps in a June 6 Instagram post.

He posted a photograph of the girl's Russian birth certificate showing that she was born in the southern city of Krasnodar in January 2013.

Kozlov told RFE/RL that the girl was born in Russia 10 months before Pimanova and Castillo were married.

Julia Bikbova, another attorney for Pimanova, said Castillo had not asserted his parental rights and that her client had not been properly served in the matter.

Jennifer Huston, a lawyer listed for Castillo in the case, did not immediately return a phone message requesting comment.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on June 6.

Embassy spokesman Yury Melnik told RFE/RL last week that the embassy "had requested from U.S. authorities official documentation explaining the circumstances of her arrest and the charges she is facing" but that they had yet to receive a reply.

Will Stevens, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, referred RFE/RL "to local authorities on this legal case."

The Cook County Sheriff's Office told RFE/RL in a statement that it had been "asked by the Department of Homeland Security to assist them with this arrest" and that "we are very pleased she has been released from electronic monitoring."

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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