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Winston Peters confirms concern raised with Ukraine over girl being kept there despite Hague Convention ruling

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Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says a New Zealand embassy has raised concern with Ukraine’s government over a Ukrainian woman’s refusal to return her child to Aotearoa despite a Hague Convention order to do so.

The girl was taken from her home in New Zealand to the war-torn country before Russia’s invasion to visit an ailing grandparent. However, the mother then refused to return the child, with a court order later citing her reluctance to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and frustrations with the Government’s pandemic restrictions.

A letter from Peters addressed to the father said NZ officials were aware of the difficulties the man was facing in bringing his daughter home.

“The New Zealand embassy in Warsaw has sent a formal letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine expressing concern about the process, and they have acknowledged that letter.

“We are unable to intervene in the judicial processes of any other country,” the letter said.

The Hague Convention is an international agreement which assumes the courts in the country where a child usually lives are able to make the best decisions about that child’s welfare.

A copy of the ruling provided to the Herald says the couple had resided in New Zealand since 2016 with their young daughter.

It said in late 2021, the mother informed the man her father was sick with Covid-19 and she needed to temporarily go to Ukraine to be near him. The mother then delayed her return, and the father became increasingly worried due to rising military aggression in the region.

The mother and child remained in Ukraine even after Russia launched a full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.

The decision says the mother blamed this on restrictions introduced by the New Zealand Government in connection with the pandemic, as well as her own reluctance to vaccinate.

“During correspondence [over] the WhatsApp messenger between February and May 2022, the defendant unreasonably refused to return with the child to her place of the habitual residence,” the order says.

This situation was also complicated by the mandatory quarantine rules in place in New Zealand at the time.

The order says the man was able to get the pair places in MIQ. However, after securing the spot and purchasing flights, the defendant unreasonably refused to return with the child to her place of the habitual residence, the judge wrote.

Armoured vehicles in Ukraine transfer more wounded soldiers from different parts of the front line to waiting ambulances. Photo / Tom Mutch
Armoured vehicles in Ukraine transfer more wounded soldiers from different parts of the front line to waiting ambulances. Photo / Tom Mutch

“Despite the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against the Russian occupiers and aggressors, Ukraine continues to be a dangerous place to stay and live. The defendant continues to keep the child in a country where active hostilities are still going on,” the order says.

Although the mother was notified of the time, date and location of the hearing, the ruling said she did not attend court and did not have a valid reason for not doing so.

The order also says the mother has refused to discuss the issue of her daughter’s stay in Ukraine and the possibility of her return to New Zealand, and did not allow representatives of a local council or the police into her apartment.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon reiterated New Zealand’s condemnation of Russia’s “war of aggression” during a call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Luxon posted on social media saying New Zealand’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty remained “strong and constant”.

“I’ve just spoken with Ukraine’s president and reiterated New Zealand’s support in response to Russia’s war of aggression,” Luxon wrote.

In a media stand-up, Luxon said Zelenskyy hadn’t requested any support during their phone call.

Katie Harris is an Auckland-based journalist who covers social issues including sexual assault, workplace misconduct, crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2020.



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