‘Dad, you’re my hero’: a 13-year-old Russian schoolgirl has written a letter of support to her father, who was jailed and fled the country after criticizing Russian forces’ invasion of Ukraine.

The case of Alexei Moskalyov, 54, who was separated from his daughter, Maria, is causing strong reactions in Russia and has become a symbol of the repression of those who disagree with the war. The case took an unexpected turn on Tuesday when a court in the town of Efremov, 300km south of Moscow, sentenced Moskalyov to two years in prison for “defaming” the army. However, it was revealed that the 54-year-old had disappeared, although he had been placed under house arrest.

In the letter released today by the family’s lawyer – whose authenticity was confirmed by AFP – Maria Moskaliova expresses her support for her father. “I love you very much, you are not guilty of anything, I will always be by your side,” writes the teenager, who has been taken to a juvenile shelter and has been banned from all phone contact with her father. “I am sure that everything will be fine and we will be together again (..) I know that you will not submit, you are strong, we are strong (…) I will pray for you and for us”, she added.

The family’s lawyer has not been able to meet with Maria and it is not known what her condition is.

The case began when Maria Moskaliova drew in her class a sketch in which rockets were aimed at a woman and a child, with a Ukrainian flag. The school principal immediately called the police.

Earlier today, the Kremlin said it was monitoring the case and accused the father, who is raising his daughter alone, of “fulfilling his parental duties in a bitter way”.

The lawyer criticized the inaction of the Russian special representatives for human rights and children’s rights, Tatiana Moskalkova and Maria Lvova-Belova respectively. An arrest warrant has been issued against the latter by the International Criminal Court for the displacement of children from Ukraine. “Lvova-Belova was assigned by the authorities to manage this situation. But he did not speak to either the daughter or the father. The fate of a child is being judged, but they are not interested in that,” he stressed.

Next week a court will decide whether Moskalyov will be deprived of his parental rights. In such a case, his daughter will be transferred to an orphanage.

An online petition calling for the teenager’s return to her father has so far gathered more than 140,000 signatures.