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mum whose kids were taken by their dad 7 years ago says I pray they will be back where they belong

IN 2016, Nataly Anderson’s husband took their sons on holiday – and never returned.

Since then she’s fought in courts to get her boys home but faces Christmas without them.

As she climbs into bed each evening, Nataly Anderson whispers goodnight to her two little boys.

But she can only mouth the words to their photos as her nine-year-old twins have been taken, against her will, to live in Croatia by their father.

It has been six months since Nataly last saw Luke and David (both names changed), and the 50-year-old is now facing Christmas without them.

She says: “I speak to them every night on video call. I ask them about their day at school, who their best friend is, what they had for dinner.

“But it’s not the same. I long to hold them, cuddle them, ruffle their hair and kiss them goodnight.”

The boys were taken to Croatia when they were two and a half, and Nataly says: “I always tried to spend Christmas with my kids in Croatia no matter what.

“I buy them little gifts like teddies or toy cars or pens. But this is the first year I won’t see them at Christmas. I can’t cope with the stress.

“I am preparing some Christmas boxes for the boys. They used to love teddies — now they want Roblox gift vouchers.

“But I’m sending them Marcus Rashford books too as I’ve heard they are about instilling kindness and courage in children.”

Nataly, a campaigner for mothers whose children have been taken abroad by their fathers, adds: “This year I will spend a quiet Christmas alone with my parents here in the UK.

“But I’ll think about my boys tearing down the stairs to see what Santa has left them, or them nibbling at chocolate from their stockings before Christmas dinner.

“The greatest Christmas present would be having them with me again.”

Nataly, who has a Yugoslavian mother but grew up in the UK, met her ex-husband Ivan (name changed) on a dating site in 2008 after travelling to Croatia.

She says: “He was tall, dark, handsome, Mediterranean-looking and talkative. I remember popping to the loo on a date,

looking in the mirror and mouthing to myself, ‘He’s perfect’.’’

Ivan told her he had worked for the Croatian intelligence services and now had a job in the customs offices.

The pair quickly began a relationship and set up home together in a flat owned by Nataly’s parents in Croatia. They married in 2011.

“It was really lovely at first, all romance and excitement,” Nataly says. “He really wanted kids so we started trying for a baby.”

In 2013, following two miscarriages at around eight weeks, Nataly got pregnant with twins and says she’d never been happier.

But as her pregnancy progressed, she began to feel Ivan was being controlling.

She says: “It was slow and subtle but I felt he was isolating me. He’d socialise with work mates but I never felt included.

Soon I felt miserable and alone.

“Then, at 34 weeks, I went into labour and delivered two tiny healthy twin boys via caesarean.”

But when Nataly and the twins returned home, she says things began to change.

“He helped out but I felt it was only the bare minimum,” she says.

“I was working in telecoms by then and earned more than him so after a year I went back to work and he took paternal leave.

“But he said he couldn’t do it alone and suggested I pay for a nanny, and I bought him a posh hybrid car.

“He had expensive tastes and wanted the best food and fine wine. I felt under pressure. I missed my sons but felt it was down to me to provide for everyone.

“Then one day, as the twins’ second birthday approached, he suddenly blurted out from nowhere that he hated Croatia and wanted a change.

“We’d always talked of going back to the UK because I knew it well, spoke the language and Ivan too had worked there.

“We felt there would be more opportunities for the boys and more employment opportunities for us.

“But as we made plans to leave, things between us began to deteriorate due to the stress of looking after the boys, and financial pressures.”

Then in 2016, when the boys were two, Nataly was made redundant.

Ivan helped her look for work in the UK and within ten days she found a job.

“I moved back to Britain first and I started work the next day,” Nataly says.

“He packed up our lives in Croatia, I flew back a month later to get the children, then Ivan and the dog followed by car.

“But it wasn’t long before he began to complain about looking after them, saying he wanted to go back.

“Yet our boys were growing into gorgeous, happy toddlers. They were both so calm and well-behaved wherever we went.

“They weren’t clingy with me. They seemed so happy and adjusted.”

Then one day in June 2016 Nataly says Ivan had a call from a boss suggesting he might be in line for a promotion back in Croatia in his old job.

She adds: “He said he wanted to take the boys to Croatia for three weeks to see his parents, to have a holiday by the sea and relax.

“I agreed, because I trusted him. Then he asked, ‘Should I take the boys’ UK passports or their Croatian ID cards?’.

“For some reason I looked in his eyes and said, ‘I’m scared you’re not going to bring them back’, and Ivan stared right back at me and replied, ‘That would make me a child abductor’.

“So I handed him everything. On the day they set off, I took them to the airport.

“I kissed the boys goodbye and made sure they had their snacks, milk bottles and favourite teddies.

“I then watched as Ivan carried them through security. I saw their little heads bobbing until they disappeared into the crowd.”

For the next few days, Nataly concentrated on work, calling Ivan daily.

But when he rang not long before the end of the three-week holiday, Nataly says: “I picked up the phone and his voice sounded hard, different.

“I couldn’t at first compute what he was saying when he told me, ‘I’m not bringing them home’.

“For a second I didn’t believe him. He started saying I should go there, that he’d tell everyone what a bad mother I was because I worked.

“Then he started waxing lyrical about Croatia, saying he’d have a nanny, that he could work, that everything was better there. Then he hung up.”

In sheer panic, the first thing Nataly did was call the UK police.

She says: “I told them my sons had been abducted by their father expecting them to help, but they told me it was a civil matter, not criminal, and they had no power to do anything about it.

“I got a lawyer and he told me I could ask for the children to be returned under the Hague Convention.

“I couldn’t be forced to go back to Croatia. My parents were very near and a huge support — the UK was our home.

“I had a job, the twins were settled, they had a good future.

“That is what we had moved for. I didn’t want to go back to Croatia.”

Nataly went over that summer, and for a week every month from then to see the twins.

She recalls visiting her sons for the first time: “I felt terrified arriving at Ivan’s parents. I didn’t even know if they’d let me in.

“My sons were sleeping and when they woke up and saw me Luke was so shocked he burst into tears.

Ivan had their British passports so I couldn’t leave the country with them but I wanted to steal them back.”

Then in December 2016, six months after they were taken, the Croatian courts ruled the boys should be returned to the UK.

Nataly says: “I was thrilled but then I found out Ivan had launched an appeal.”

The couple divorced in January 2017 and that March, the appeal was heard. “I was devastated, the court overturned the ruling and ordered a retrial,” says Nataly.

In the meantime, and while court proceedings were ongoing, it was decided the boys should stay in Croatia.

Ever since, she has been fighting to bring them home but so far all judgments have ruled that her boys should remain in Croatia.

She says: “I used to go over every month to stay for a week. I’d hug them, smell their soft hair, read to them and then have to leave them.

“I would hold my tears in until boarding the plane, then I’d sob all the way home.

“I’ve tried everything to get my sons back.

“I last saw them six months ago. I’m struggling to face it at the moment — but I speak to them every night on video call, though it’s not the same.

“My plan now is to write a letter to 70 Croatian politicians, as well as the courts, asking for urgent intervention.

“Now I am a campaigner for mums like me.

Credit: thesun

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