Real Life

Real life: My ex-husband kidnapped my kids and fled to Lebanon

'I hoped this was all a bad dream and my boys would walk through the door.'

By As told to Take 5

Irina Tarakan, 33, from Sydney, NSW, shares her true life story:

I smiled at my phone and blew a big kiss.

"See you tomorrow," I said to my eldest son, Ghattas, five, through FaceTime.

He and his younger brother, Michael, two, were staying with their father, Tony for a couple of days.

Since we'd split up a year earlier, we often shared the kids on the weekends.

Although my daughter, Maria, eight, had chosen to stay with me this time, I looked forward to having all three of them home.

But the next day when I drove to Tony's, just 10 minutes away, I was shocked to see the whole house closed up.

"Hello?" I cried, banging on the door and windows.

I called his number a few times, but got no answer.

Terrified there'd been an accident, I phoned the police.

After a couple of hours, they came to see me.

"Tony and your sons are on a plane to Lebanon," they said.

What?! I froze with fear as they said the three of them had boarded a flight the night before, not long after I'd spoken to Ghattas.

Tony is Lebanese and has lots of family over there.

It was possible he'd needed to return suddenly, but surely he'd have told me?

Tony, me and the kids before we split. **Photos exclusive to Take 5**
Tony, me and the kids before we split. Photos exclusive to Take 5

He was also out on bail for assault charges and had to report to police each week.

Why would he do something so rash?

"I need you to bring them back," I begged the officers.

But since Tony was their father, there was nothing they could do.

The Department of Immigration could only provide me with a list of lawyers in Lebanon.

Tossing and turning all night, I hoped this was all a bad dream and my boys would walk through the door.

But as days passed without contact, I went public with my plight on national TV.

"I'm a single mum… I don't know what to do!" I wept.

I was inundated with support from strangers who all understood my distress.

But nobody had any real answers.

If I hadn't had Maria, I'd have lost my mind completely.

"Where have Ghattas and Michael gone?" she asked.

I didn't know what to say. Then, after several months, Tony and I spoke on the phone.

"Let's start again," I begged him. "We can build a new family life together."

Honestly, I didn't want this at all; but I'd say anything to get my sons back.

Horsing around with Ghattas, Michael and Maria.**Photos exclusive to Take 5**
Horsing around with Ghattas, Michael and Maria.Photos exclusive to Take 5

"Come to Lebanon," he said.

I got to Skype with the boys, which only upset me more.

"Mummy, I miss you," Ghattas said.

Michael was still too young to know what was going on.

I feared he'd forget all about me.

"I promise I'll see you again," I choked.

Finally, after months of arguing, Tony and I agreed to meet in Dubai, neutral territory.

In my mind, I'd concocted a plan to bring Michael and Ghattas back with me the second Tony turned his back.

But when Maria and I landed and I spotted my ex in the crowd, I saw that only Ghattas was with him.

"Where's Michael?" I asked, my voice panic-stricken.

"He's sick, so he stayed in Lebanon with family," Tony replied. "Don't worry, you'll see him soon."

For the next four days we stayed in a hotel and Tony and I shared a bed.

I tried my hardest to act like I wanted to work things out with him but deep down, I was seething with anger.

To outsiders, we must have looked like the perfect family, but I was an emotional wreck.

I was desperate to have Michael back with me. **Photos exclusive to Take 5**
I was desperate to have Michael back with me. Photos exclusive to Take 5

On our last night in Dubai, I was desperate so I told Tony the kids and I were hungry.

He agreed to pop out and get some takeaway.

The minute he left, I sprang to my feet. "Come on kids, we're leaving," I said.

"Where to?" Ghattas asked.

"I'll tell you later," I hushed, grabbing our passports.

We rushed out of the hotel and when I noticed there was a line-up for taxis outside, I bribed a man $20 to get to the front of the queue.

At the airport, I went straight to the counter and asked for the next flight.

"There's a plane to Singapore leaving in just over an hour," the assistant said.

"Three tickets please," I said, forking out thousands.

For the next hour, I was on tenterhooks expecting Tony to show up.

I kept taking the kids into the women's cubicle and hiding until boarding started.

Returning to Australia was the biggest relief.

But my heart ached for Michael.

My kids mean everything to me. **Photos exclusive to Take 5**
My kids mean everything to me. Photos exclusive to Take 5

Months dragged by with complete silence between Tony and me.

I feared he'd come back, and that I'd lost any hope of being reunited with Michael.

The kids missed their little brother so much. I knew I had to do something.

Finally, Tony spoke with me and agreed to fly back to Australia.

"Where's Michael?" I cried when he arrived alone.

"He's in Lebanon," he shrugged.

My stomach sank. This was ridiculous!

He didn't tell me why he'd left him there, but I hadn't come this far only to fall at the final hurdle.

While Tony was distracted with personal matters in Australia, I saw it as my chance to go to Lebanon alone and bring home my son.

I dropped Maria and Ghattas at a friend's and caught a flight out.

My heart pounded as I made my way through an unfamiliar city.

Everywhere I looked, I expected to see Michael.

After days of desperate searching, I was finally given a court order for Michael's return.

Police detained one of Tony's relatives for hiding him, and my son was returned to me after three painful years.

All I could do was cry and hold him tight.

"You're coming home, baby," I said.

I was so grateful to the authorities in Lebanon who helped me. **Photos exclusive to Take 5**
I was so grateful to the authorities in Lebanon who helped me. Photos exclusive to Take 5

I had to pinch myself when I finally had all three kids under the one roof back in Australia.

I wish I didn't have to kidnap my own children, but it was the only way of getting them back.

Recently, the children visited their father, who's still in Australia.

I stayed with them the whole time.

My kids mean the world to me.

Now I have my family back I'm never letting them go.

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