After three years and four months, Sydney mum Iryna Tarakan is finally reunited with her two sons who were taken to Lebanon by their father.
“I fell on my knees and I hugged him and started to cry and scream. I was pretty emotional,” Tarakan, 33, told The Australian about seeing her youngest son Michael – the last to be returned to her – for the first time last month, after three years apart.
“He didn’t hug me, his eyes were wide open, he was shocked,”
The story bears remarkable similarities to that of Brisbane mum Sally Faulkner, who enlisted the help of television program 60 Minutes to kidnap her two children from Lebanon in April 2016 after her former husband took them for a “holiday” never to return.
The botched operation ended in the arrest and lucky release of Faulkner and the journalists involved, including high-profile presenter Tara Brown.
And while Tarakan’s fight to have her children returned echoes that of Faulkner’s, this time there is a different ending.
Sally Faulkner speaks to Mia Freedman about her inherent fear her children wouldn’t recognise her. Post continues below.
Tarakan told The Australian the ordeal started when her estranged husband, Tony Sukkar, called her one Monday after Christmas in 2014 asking if he could keep the boys, Ghattas and Michael (aged two and five at the time), just one more night.
The pair’s daughter, Najla, then seven, was home with Tarakan.
Tarakan said she agreed to let the boys stay, not knowing Sukkar was going to fly the kids to Lebanon – where he has family and there are no laws mandating the return of kidnapped children – that evening.
After he took the children to Beirut, Tarakan claimed Sukkar permitted her to speak to the boys over Skype and on the phone but he refused to return them to Australia.
In October 2015, the mum-of-three had a breakthrough when her former husband agreed to meet her and Najla in Dubai.
She was hoping to bring the boys home then, but Sukkar left the youngest, Michael, in Beirut.
Still Tarakan, with Najla and Ghattas, made an escape.
"My kids were sitting on the couch in their pyjamas. I said 'listen kids, come on, get up, we have to go," she told The Australian about sneaking out of the Dubai apartment while Tony was out buying food.
The three of them went to the airport, and they hid in the bathrooms until the plane was ready to take off.
After a custody battle with Sukkar in Australian courts - the father returned to the country and is now unable to leave - Tarakan travelled to Lebanon in February 2018 to bring Michael home.
But it wasn't that easy.
Tarakan claimed Michael was hidden with family and she spent weeks searching the neighbourhood in which her former husband had lived.
"I used to walk through the street in Beirut, up and down, searching, looking up in the balconies," she told The Australian.
After police intervened and held a relative of Sukkar's in custody, finally Michael was returned to Australia.
"He's fine now, he's beautiful. He's calling me mum, he's very happy with his siblings," she said. "His brother is Number One for him."
The kids were allowed to see Sukkar on Easter Sunday, with Tarakan saying she "can't refuse them".
Speaking briefly to The Australian, Sukkar said Tarakan's story was "not genuine" but refused to comment further.
Either way, there was this, from the relieved mum-of-three: "I've been through hell; I'm so glad it's over."