Russian Families Win $100,000 Each Over Babies Switched at Birth

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VALERY ZVONAREV / AFP / Getty Images

A picture taken in September 2011 shows Yuliya Belyaeva (L) as she speaks with Irina (C) and her biological father Naimat (R) in Kopeisk.

In a case captivating Russia, a court has awarded two families $100,000 each in compensation after a shocking blunder by a maternity ward accidentally led them to take home the wrong children⎯12 years ago.

The families, who live in Kopeisk, an industrial town of 140,000 people in Russia’s Ural Mountains, only learned about the mistake several months ago, reports the Associated Press in Moscow.

The misfortune came to light after one of the couples involved filed for divorce. The husband in the split reportedly refused to support his daughter Irina⎯who has dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin⎯because she did not look like him or his blond wife Yuliya Belyaeva.

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A DNA test then revealed neither of them were in fact the girl’s biological parents. The stunned mother demanded an official investigation. This eventually tracked down Irina’s biological father, who had also divorced and been raising Belyaeva’s own child, Anna, in a neighboring town.

Despite the Oct. 31 ordered payout, the situation remains a tragedy for those involved. “The money just can’t ease the pain,” said Belyaeva. “All the money in the world isn’t worth a child’s look at their mother.”

A further problem is what to do now. According to Russian television reports cited by the AP, the two 12-year-olds, born 15 minutes apart in December 1998, are unwilling to leave the parents who raised them. But in a potential happy ending the families are thinking of using the compensation money to live near each other or even share a home.

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Joe Jackson is a contributor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @joejackson. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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