Russian immigrant who smuggled his daughters away from their Muslim foster family in Sweden returns to Russia
On November 3, Denis Lisov returned to Russia. Lisov, who was born in the Russian city of Khabarovsk, smuggled his three daughters out of Sweden after local child protection officials paired the children with a Muslim foster family. The father and three girls traveled through Poland, where Lisov was arrested while boarding a flight to Moscow. The Swedish government demanded that the family be returned to its care, but a Polish court nonetheless ruled that Lisov had “been placed at an otherwise unresolvable impasse” and allowed him to return to his home country with his children. Russian state media sources have followed Lisov’s story closely and reported on it frequently.
Denis Lisov, Tatiana Lisova, and their daughter Sophia left Russia for Sweden in 2012. “Some friends told me the quality of life in Sweden is high and that it’s relatively easy to get a residency permit,” Lisov explained to Moskovsky Komsomolets. However, the family’s first attempt to gain legal status in Sweden failed. They planned to request permits again later on while remaining in Sweden illegally in the meantime. Denis took an illegal construction job, and Tatiana stayed home with the children: In Sweden, the couple had two more girls, Seraphima and Alisa. The family had to move from time to time to avoid threats of deportation.
After the family emigrated from Russia, Tatiana Lisova was diagnosed with a mental illness. Her husband suggested that the condition was stress-induced. “She was prescribed pills, but she never started taking them,” he told Moskovsky Komsomolets. In September of 2017, Tatiana was hospitalized for what appeared to be symptoms of schizophrenia, and social services moved her children into the foster care system. They refused to transfer the children to Denis’s custody because of his lack of a legal immigration status and his precarious financial situation. Ultimately, the girls were transferred to the care of a Muslim couple from Lebanon who had long since lived in Sweden. The pair had both undergone a training course for foster families.
Denis Lisov visited his children on weekends. He emphasized to Russian state journalists that their foster parents were not radical Islamists and that they treated his daughters quite well. Nonetheless, the new family’s lifestyle and parenting habits differed from the ones Sophia, Seraphima, and Alisa were used to, and the children repeatedly asked their father to take them home. Two of the children also developed health problems: The Lisovs’ oldest daughter began losing weight, and doctors found that the youngest was predisposed to develop bronchial asthma.
After Tatiana was released from the hospital, she was forbidden from seeing her children, and she and Denis separated. Denis’s deportation was delayed until his daughters’ foster situation could be resolved, and he was even told that the girls might be returned to him. However, Lisov asserted, that possibility came with a number of strings attached: “Social services demanded that I get divorced officially, take total custody of the children, find full-time work and housing, and then, maybe, I would get my girls back. But they warned me right away that the consideration of my case could last until my daughters are no longer minors.”
Ultimately, Lisov took his children away from their foster parents. “I couldn’t make peace with what had happened to my family. On one of my visits to my daughters, I didn’t give them back to the foster parents,” Lisov explained to Moskovsky Komsomolets. That visit took place on March 30, 2019. The Russian citizen then took his daughters, who were four, six, and 12 years old at the time, to Poland by ferry. From there, he had planned to fly to Russia, but he was arrested in Warsaw’s Chopin Airport. Sweden demanded Lisov’s extradition: He had been ordered in absentia to await trial in jail on charges of kidnapping the children. Those charges carry up to four years of potential prison time. The Swedish government also issued an international wanted notice for Lisov. His wife, meanwhile, remained in Sweden.
While the Polish government considered Lisov’s extradition case, he was permitted to move about the country freely and retain custody of his daughters. The Russian consulate provided an apartment for the family. Lisov complained that his immigration status did not enable him to work legally in Poland and earn the funds he needed for his children’s medical treatment: His eldest daughter had lost more than 30 pounds. Several months later, Lisov said his family’s problems acquiring health care had been resolved.
In July, a Polish court declined to hand the family over to Sweden. The judge in the case concluded that Lisov had “been placed at an otherwise unresolvable impasse” because “his children were taken away from him, and the conditions for their return were impossible to fulfill.” Babken Khanzadyan, Lisov’s attorney, told the state-run outlet RT that “There is no law in Poland that provides a basis for convicting a father who has not been stripped of his parental rights because he took his children from strangers.” Khanzadyan added that the Polish court’s decision will bring an end to Lisov’s international wanted status, and a warrant will only be out for his arrest within Sweden itself.
While in Poland, the Russian citizen requested political asylum and told journalists he was prepared to stay in the country long-term. On November 1, however, news broke that Lisov and his children would indeed be returning to Russia. His attorney, Bartosz Lewandowski, explained that the family had been denied asylum. “Poland helped — they protected [the family] from the Swedish government. Naturally, Denis can’t keep relying on charities forever; he has to think about his children, and his whole family is in Russia,” Lewandowski told the Polish branch of the Russian government outlet Sputnik.
Translation by Hilah Kohen