Montgomery County man jailed in Russia after ex-wife flees the US with their young boys

The sister says this stems from a child custody battle

HOUSTON – A Montgomery County man who went to Moscow in December has been jailed for eight months now after attempting to reunite with his two young boys after his ex-wife fled the country with them in 2019.

David Barnes, 65, is charged with the same crime a jury found him innocent of in the United States.

His family has only been able to communicate with him through his attorney in writing since he was arrested in January.

“He is a man that loves his children more than anything,” his sister Carol Barnes said in an interview with KPRC 2. “I don’t even have any joy in life, because just knowing what he’s living in and the conditions and what might come down the pike after the trial scares the hell out of me.”

David’s young boys are why he went to Moscow, chasing after his ex-wife, Svetlana, who fled the country with them after a lengthy custody battle in Montgomery County.

In divorce proceedings, she accused him of sexually abusing their children. The allegations were deemed completely unfounded by a jury, Kelly Blackburn of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office said.

“He knew that if she didn’t get what she wanted out of this trial, which she didn’t, she would flee the country,” Carol said.

A December 2018 court order shows Svetlana Barnes’ attorney was to keep the boys’ passports until further order by the court. It’s not clear if that order was ever rescinded.

In March of 2019, after the jury found David innocent of the sex abuse allegations and joint custody of the boys was set to resume, Svetlana fled the U.S. with the boys.

“She had all this planned before the verdict came down on that Tuesday, she was already prepared to skip the country,” Carol said.

Svetlana is now charged with interfering with child custody and wanted in the U.S., where David has full custody.

“No one found any credible evidence that David had ever done anything wrong with his children,” David’s defense attorney, Andrea Kolski, said. “It’s really tragic that a law-abiding citizen can get caught up in global politics and end up in the situation that he’s in based on the words of a vindictive ex-wife.”

David went to Moscow in December. He found an apartment unit in the same building where Svetlana and the boys were staying but was going through the legal process to regain access to them, his family and Kolski said.

Svetlana saw him near the building and called the police, Carol said. He later learned that she, through the Russian courts, was able to strip his parental rights there.

“Not only did she continue to accuse him of sexually abusing his children, which was never substantiated by any other person besides her, she then moved to another country and was able to accuse him of the same allegations in that other country,” Kolski said.

In a statement, U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) acknowledged the ongoing situation.

“David Barnes traveled to Russia in an honest attempt to reunite with his children, who had been kidnapped by their mother and taken to Russia illegally. This is a child custody dispute, not a criminal matter. Mr. Barnes has been arrested and detained for political purposes, and my office is working with the State Department to bring him back to Texas as soon as possible. We continue to urge the Biden Administration to do all it can to resolve this situation and free Mr. Barnes.”

Family members said they have not received any direct communication from The White House or the U.S. State Department, which they said is making the matter more challenging for them.

KPRC 2 reached out to the U.S. State Department about David’s situation but has not received a response.

“It’s just something that you think about every day, and you’re devastated for him. It’s just, it’s heartbreaking,” David’s other sister, Margaret Aaron said. “We worry about his health. His mental state, his emotional state. It’s just heartbreaking.”

The family said David is expected to face trial in a Russian courtroom, which will be closed to the public, next week.

“We feel like we’re kind of in limbo right now, you know, it’s a 24/7 thought in your mind, you can’t get it out of your mind just knowing what he’s going through over there,” Carol said.

The family has set up a fundraiser to help raise funds for David’s legal costs and to make sure he receives meal supplements.

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