A mother who admitted taking her daughter to Ukraine against a court order has been spared jail so she can travel to Ukraine to rescue her from the conflict.
A judge said “simple humanity” lead him to the decision not to send Olga Khomenko to immediate custody so she could retrieve her daughter from the war-torn Kyiv region.
The court heard how the 37-year-old took the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to Ukraine in 2017 following the breakdown of her marriage to a man who she alleges was violent and abusive.
At St Albans Crown Court on Friday, Khomenko entered a plea of guilty to abducting a child, and faced as many as five years behind bars. She was given a two-year suspended sentence.
The judge was told the pair tried to escape the city by train but their attempt was thwarted when the railway station was bombed and they were turned back by Ukrainian soldiers.
Khomenko was last week granted 72 hours bail by the court to travel to Ukraine but only made it as far as the Polish border before having to turn back to adhere to the time limit and was desperate to be sentenced quickly in the hope of getting back her passport to make another attempt.
On Friday, Judge Michael Kay said “I wish her every success” after handing down the sentence.
He said: “This court is in an impossible situation. I cannot begin to understand what the situation is on the ground in the Kyiv region. I imagine the system has broken down in terms of authority and the enforcement of the rule of law. It is a desperate situation, only truly desperate measures can be taken.”
“I have never known a sentencing exercise in which the issue of saving a child in a foreign country has been a factor. It’s a decision that I would be amazed if any crown court has made before. These are extraordinary times,” he added.
“The criminal justice system has to have humanity.”
He said he was aware of the arguments put forward by the prosecution, adding “but simple humanity informs me that the only appropriate sentence is one of two years imprisonment which will be suspended for two years”.
Judge Kay ordered the immediate release of her passport, which is currently being held by authorities at Gatwick Airport, so she can travel overseas.
Khomenko left the court with a suitcase and the intention of going straight to the Polish border to attempt to retrieve her daughter.
The court heard how she divorced her husband in 2015 after an allegedly abusive marriage which led her to stay in women’s shelters on a number of occasions.
After settling in Ukraine with her daughter, she was eventually extradited to the UK in 2020 after being arrested the previous year in Paris under a European arrest warrant and has been awaiting trial since, the court heard
Ahead of the sentencing, Stephen Vello QC, defending, pleaded with the judge to pass the suspended sentence.
He said: “In short, this defendant is [the daughter’s] best chance of escaping the warzone and if she fails to escape the warzone, I hope it isn’t in any way over exaggerating that, [the daughter’s] life may or may not continue to exist for the months hence. It really is that important.”