“Her universe was shattered” – Dad of kidnapped toddler

The father of a 3-year-old girl kidnapped in France and found a month later, says his child is struggling to cope. But Jean-Michel André says he hopes the girl’s Russian mother, accused of the abduction, is shown mercy.

For this exclusive interview we traveled to southern France to interview the father of the young girl Elise Andre who is involved in the international and very public ‘tug-of-love’ case.

RT: Thank you very much for joining us. We know that Elise has now been kidnapped three times: toing and froing from Russia to France, and almost Russia again. How is she after this latest ordeal? Can you just bring us up to speed on what has been happening in recent times?

Jean-Michel Andre: We are staying in the countryside, in a very nice house, belonging to friends. She is with family. I was with her just one hour ago. She is fine. She sleeps. She eats well. She laughs. We are doing a lot of things together again.

RT: How’s Elise after this last ordeal?

J-M.A.: Her small universe has been seriously shattered during these three weeks. She had to ask several times the same question about “who loves whom?” You see, she’s at the age when it’s better when the people who love her will be able to love each other, at least enough for her to believe that they love each other. So, this question she’s been repeating since then, and she’s listening to my voice that I’m telling the truth. She’s made some serious progress with respect to that.

RT: Does she understand what’s been happening? I mean she’s just three and a half years old, but during those three and a half years she led a very extraordinary life. Does she understand this?

J-M.A.: No, I don’t think she’s able to understand that it’s not normal. But she understands that she had been taken from here to there and back. She’s not coping perfectly well with that. She’s asking very accurate questions and she won’t be satisfied with evasive answers.

RT: Judges quite often decide and, certainly, the public quite often feel that young children’s place is with their mother, in their mothers’ care. Do you believe that? Will you ever let that happen?

J-M.A.: Yes, when the child is born, certainly. You see, I believe in breast feeding, so, there’s no other condition with respect to that. But as time passes, the balance between two parents becomes more and more equal. And in my case, due to circumstances, for instance, I spent time fully in charge of Elise when she was a baby. So, my maternal instincts were early and fast trained.

RT: Where did the relationship break down? How did it get to this stage when you are at such loggerheads?

J-M.A.: If you follow the media treating the case you could check that I never badmouthed my wife. Anyway, after Elise was born, something has changed. I was not the same absolutely free man as I was before. And this changed my attitude, and besides that, she tends to believe that the grass is greener in the next garden, and even to forget it was not so green in the last garden. So, progressively she made up her mind to go back to Russia and to do that with Elise without my consent.

RT: After the last kidnapping when you were very badly beaten, you alleged that Irina was somehow involved in this. Irina is now in custody in Hungary, having tried to get Elise across the border to Ukraine. She urges that you are some kind of maniac, that you even threatened her with a pistol. Is any of that true?

J-M.A.: No, absolutely not. There was only one weapon involved in that aggravation: it’s an electric stick, I don’t know a precise word in English, with which I was beaten. You don’t have to take my words. The facts were fully established by the police, and very easily: visual, witnesses, pictures by automatic cameras. There’s absolutely no shadow of doubt in that. I was beaten in front of my baby. I don’t care about what I got, really it doesn’t count and I have absolutely no revenge in my heart because of that. But what I cannot understand is that I was very badly beaten in my home, in front of my child.

RT: The events have been truly harrowing to all parties involved, obviously, principally, your little daughter. But is there light at the end of the tunnel? Does it look like you are going to come to some kind of agreement? Certainly, Irina’s lawyer has been telling RT there could be some kind of agreement made.

J-M.A.: The first task is to avoid that Irina will spend many years in jail. So, if you want to speak about the child’s custody, I believe it’s quite a little bit premature. The first thing is to avoid her spending years in jail – for her, sure. But in my heart, it’s much more for her two daughters: Sasha in Moscow and Elisa here. They don’t deserve the future of many years going to a jail house to meet with their mother. This is the emergency, this is the first task. With respect to the rest, I told and I repeat: I’ve a full knowledge that my daughter is both Russian and French. I would even be jealous of her if I had time for that. She’ll have her Russia and her Russian mother, and she’ll have her France and her French father. You can mark my words. But for this to be possible I’m not sure exactly at the present time what kind of guarantees I need. I will remind that Irina took our child out of France at the time when we could have been through a friendly divorce and discussing and arguing the way of playing our respective roles in the life of Liz.

RT: So, you say, there have been some developments, actually back in Moscow regarding her case not just on a personal level, but also on an international level.

J-M.A.: Yes, what’s happening is that it’s not just a case, it’s a cause. There are many children involved because of this conflict between parents of French and Russian nationalities, and there would be many more children involved in the future years. So, at the state level, they began to work pretty seriously to think about the laws and search to allow communication between parents and forbid such dramatic cases to happen again. So, our personal initiative in Moscow, ones from the Ministries of France and Moscow, they are parallel and they aim in the same direction. My friend and lawyer Victor Gioia is going to Moscow with help from both the French Ministry and Russian authorities.