Court victory for Russian girls switched at birth

It was more money than either family has ever seen — but it’s still not clear if it can make the pain go away.

A court awarded two Russian families $100 000 each in compensation on Monday from a maternity home that accidentally switched their daughters at birth. It said they could use the money to house the girls, now 12, next to each other.

The story has captivated Russia for ever since the families learned about the switch several months ago.

During divorce proceedings, one man refused to support his daughter Irina — who has dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin — because she didn’t look like him. A DNA test then revealed that neither he nor the mother, Yuliya Belyaeva, were Irina’s biological parents.

An official investigation then tracked down Irina’s biological father, Naimat Iskanderov, who had been raising Belyaeva’s own child, Anna, in a neighboring town.

Belyaeva said the news still makes her shiver.

“It is very unpleasant to relive those memories,” she told the Associated Press. “We still can’t fully comprehend what happened.”

In video broadcast on Russia’s NTV television, Belyaeva laughed with joy Monday after the judge delivered the verdict in a courtroom in Kopeisk, an industrial town of 140 000 in Russia’s Ural Mountains, but Iskanderov remained stone-faced.

Fair-skinned Anna strongly resembles her biological mother Belyaeva, while Irina looks like her father Iskanderov, an ethnic Tajik born in the Central Asian and mostly Muslim ex-Soviet state of Tajikistan.

The video showed Belyaeva caressing Anna, while Irina, whom she raised, sat stern-faced with her eyes downcast.

“She feels jealous,” Belyaeva said in televised remarks.

Emotional scars
Belyaeva married again after separating from her husband and gave birth to two more children. Iskanderov parted with his wife when Anna was five but later married again, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Despite the verdict, Belyaeva said the swap will leave lasting emotional scars.

“The money just can’t ease the pain,” Belyaeva said. “All the money in the world isn’t worth a child’s look at mother … there are moments when I think it would have been better if I hadn’t known anything about that.”

Russian television reports said the girls don’t want to leave the parents who raised them, so the families were thinking of using the compensation money, which is huge by Russian standards, to live near each other or even share a home.

“I would like us to share a house so that we don’t worry about her daughter coming to me and the other way round,” Iskanderov said on television.

Belyaeva said she would prefer separate houses nearby, so that “we see our children growing up and take part in their education”.

Belyaeva also identified the nurse who she claimed mixed up the babies, but the nurse denied any responsibility.

“I know it was not me who did it,” nurse Nelly Prokopyeva told Russian television.

This is not the first time a Russian court decision has resolved a hospital mix-up.

In 2009, a court in the central Russian town of Mtsenks ordered two mothers to swap their two-year-old sons following a DNA test that proved the children were mixed up at a maternity hospital. The case was complicated by the ethnic and religious background of the women — one of them was ethnic Russian and Orthodox Christian, while the other one was ethnic Chechen and Muslim. — Sapa-AP

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