Hayden Panettiere spoke in depth for the first time about her custody situation with ex-husband, Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko. The Nashville star was a guest on Facebook Watch's Red Table Talk where she explained how her addiction struggles led, in part, to her relinquishing custody of 7-year-old daughter Kaya. In the heartbreaking conversation, Panettiere said that the biggest misconception about her is "the idea that I'm a person who would just easily throw out" or "give away my child."
"It wasn't fully my decision," the 33-year-old told hosts Jada Pinkett Smith, Adrienne Banfield Norris and guest host Kelly Osbourne on Wednesday. "In fact, I didn't even know it was happening until she was already over [in Ukraine]."
Panettiere and Klitschko welcomed Kaya in 2014. They ultimately split in 2018 after a decade together. Privately, the actress was battling alcohol and opioid addiction which coincided with her hit show Nashville coming to an end.
"I was leaning on that bottle during that time off and it was bad. It was really, really bad," she admits. "When I finally called for help I was in a fetal position in bed, couldn't get out, in tears all the time. Even though I knew I had to stop, I couldn't. I could not stop. I was stuck in this horrifying nightmare that just wouldn't end and completely by myself. It was terrifying and I knew I was ruining my health."
Panettiere sent Kaya, nearly 3 at the time, to Ukraine with her father.
"I felt horribly guilty, but at the same time I was trying to tell myself that if 'I'm not OK, if I'm not good, then I cannot be the best mom to you,'" she recalled. "I was going through such a hard time that I knew the most unselfish thing that I could do was to make that hard decision and just try to work on myself."
"I thought this was an agreement that you came to that you felt it was best that your daughter be with her dad?" Banfield Norris asked.
"At first it was not because it wasn't a discussion," the actress replied. "If [Klitschko] had come to me and said, 'I think because of where you're at right now and your struggles that you're having it would be good for her to be over here with me for a while.' To which if I had probably had enough of a conversation I would've said OK that makes sense, I get it. I'll come there to visit and stuff like that. Because of the way that it was done, it was very upsetting."
Panettiere was under the impression that Kaya was going to visit Klitschko "like she always did." In the meantime, the actress planned to "go work on myself" and "get better." Then, she assumed Kaya would continue to split time between the U.S. and Ukraine.
"Once she was over there... it was immediately, 'I want full custody of her.' Which was a shock to me," Panettiere exclaimed. She ultimately signed over full custody, which she called "the most heartbreaking thing I've ever, ever had to do in my life."
Panettiere noted that Klitschko and his brother Vitali, who is the mayor of Kyiv, "are icons" in the "very male dominated" country. "There wasn't a heck of a lot I can do," she added.
"[Klitschko] thinks he's doing the right thing. He's a fantastic father, he really is. But I don't think he fully grasps that as [Kaya] gets older... kids need their moms," Panettiere exclaimed.
Osbourne chimed in and said she would have turned to self-destructive behavior if she was in Panettiere's situation.
"I did," the actress replied. "I had to go several times to treatment."
Related video: Hayden Panettiere on surviving opioids addiction, abusive relationship
Panettiere noted that her custody situation has "always been very terrifying to talk about."
"Upsetting [Klitschko] — as I've said he's an amazing father... but in this case we definitely don't see eye to eye," she shared, adding: "It's scary, you don't want to piss anyone off — especially the person who has control of your child."
When news of Kaya's living situation became public years ago, Panettiere said she received horrible comments from people that were "awful and heartbreaking." She explained her situation has been "so misrepresented" in the media.
"And I of course take responsibility for the role I played," she maintained. "There were certain things I couldn't control, obviously. I wish I had gotten myself more help than I did."
Panettiere said she's seen Kaya over the years — "I go over there" — but that her daughter has not been to California where the actress now calls home. (Kaya is no longer living in Ukraine due to Russia's unprovoked war.) She said she speaks with Kaya over the phone and recalled one gut-wrenching exchange.
"I also remember her dad calling me and he said, 'Kaya is going around and asking other women if she can call them mommy,'" Panettiere shared. "My heart stopped and he was laughing, he thought this was funny. It was horrifying to me. He didn't get it as opposed to me — that's a trauma reaction. That's a cry for help."
Panettiere said she has "tried to explain how much [Kaya] needs her mom" as the situation could "rear its ugly head later when she is older." However, she hasn't "gotten any hints" that the custody arrangement will change.
"I've been told I can go over and see her any time. I just have to keep the hope that one day when she's old enough for her opinion to be respected a little bit more... that there will be more pro-activity on that side," Panettiere concluded.