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Shipped to Siberia by her harsh US mother, neglected by her father

By Anna Liesowska and Derek Lambie
31 October 2014

An American girl - sent to Russia to learn how to behave - now flees to Casablanca: but does her mom even know?

Sofia Petrova (now Soulimani) fled to Morocco to meet her new family. Picture: Sofia Soulimani

An American girl cruelly shipped to Siberia by her mother for being unruly has finally fled the Russian state to be reunited with the father figure she calls her 'best friend'.

Sofia Petrova was a 15-year-old high school student in Virginia in 2011 when she was sent on what she was told would be a three-week trip to meet her biological dad.

But after arriving in the isolated city of Berdsk (some 38 kilometres away from Novosibirsk) to stay with a man she barely knew, her mother and stepfather told her she would be not be returning to the United States.

Despite having spent almost all her days in the US, Sofia was born in Russia and only has a Russian passport, leaving her exiled and making any return to her home almost impossible. 

But three years on now she has taken her first steps to the life she once knew, after fleeing Siberia to Morocco to the sanctuary of relatives of the man she called her father as she was growing up.

Sofia Petrova-Roberts with her sister Maria


Maria, Farid and Sofia

Sofia with her younger sister Maria. Farid Soulimani with daughters: Maria (left) and Sofia (right). Pictures: Sofia Soulimani

It was at the age of 13 that Sofia learned about her Russian birth father, and until then she believed her mother's boyfriend, Farid Soulimani, was her dad. Now 18 years old, The Siberian Times has tracked her down to Casablanca, where she has been living with Farid's mother, the woman she still calls her grandmother.

She has decided to adopt the surname Soulimani, is taking French classes in a bid to integrate into society, and is in the process of writing a book about her traumatic ordeal.

'It's not a new family,' she stresses. 'I remember my grandma from when I was a little girl and she had come to visit. It was nice to see a familiar face.

'Everyone is just so loving here. It's nice to wake up every morning to hugs and kisses. Right now I am just focusing on my French classes and finally being able to relax.'

Sofia said she is in the process of getting her official documentation completed to allow her to stay in Morocco indefinitely, meaning she never has to return to Siberia.

She was a typical all-American teenager attending Chantilly High School when she was packed off to Siberia a week after her 15th birthday by her mother, Natalia Roberts, as a punishment for her teenage transgressions.

When it emerged there was no return ticket for her, the story made global headlines.

Sofia was born in Siberia but she had not been there since she was two and did not speak Russian, while her father did not speak any English.

She suffered a traumatic ordeal, revealing she was forced to leave her father's home because he beat her and was often drunk. During one stay in a children's center, with the possibility of being consigned to a grim orphanage, she even tried to take her own life.

Sofia with her granny


Sofia with her relative


Sofia happy in Morocco

'Everyone is just so loving here. It's nice to wake up every morning to hugs and kisses.' Pictures: Sofia Soulimani

In October last year she was tracked down by The Siberian Times to a Novosibirsk hostel, where she lived and worked 60 hours a week, including nights, to earn her keep and pay for her studies.

A year on, and she is clearly much happier in Morocco.

Sofia tracked down her 'father' Farid, who she had not seen in almost six years, through one of his friends, following the global publicity of her ordeal.

And while he still stayed in the US, he arranged for her to take a month-long trip to Morocco last month to see her grandmother before returning to Siberia.

When she arrived back in Russia, she found she had lost her job and she broke up with her boyfriend, fast-tracking her decision to return to northern Africa.

'Everything was horrible,' she said. 'I didn't have my things, a place to stay, or a job. It was a disaster. I called my dad and he bought me another ticket to Morocco.

'My mum and him had gone through a very bad break up so my communications with him had been completely cut off. But his friend got in contact with me and brought the two of us together. He expressed how hurt he was that we haven't talked in so long, but I knew that he loved me so much.

'He's the only one that I call dad. It was such a relief to finally have my best friend back in my life.'

Sofia Petrova in Siberia


Sofia in suburbs of Novosibirsk

'Everyone is just so loving here. It's nice to wake up every morning to hugs and kisses.' Pictures: Sofia Soulimani

Sofia said she has not spoken to her mother 'for many months' and is not sure if she is even aware she has finally been able to leave the place that was to her - raised in US - like a Siberian prison

Mrs Roberts had sent her daughter away because she had failed at school, run away from home and stolen $1,000.

But Sofia said: 'She is no longer a part of my life, I've moved on.'

The teenager said she also had no contact with her biological father in Berdsk, and revealed she had dropped plans to take legal action against him for beating her.

She said: 'I've no idea how he is, I don't talk to him. Right now I have no relationship with him, I have a dad already. I don't need two.'

Sofia said she is still desperate to return to the United States, where she has a sister, and is working with an immigration attorney on various options.

'I haven’t given up hope,' she said. 'I would love to be able to rebuild a bond with my sister. I don't know if that would be possible but it's something that I dream of. Finishing school is very important to me. While I do already consider myself smart, there's always more to learn.

'I don't miss the weather in Siberia, but there are some people I do miss there. I made some really good friends. Many people helped me and opened their homes for me.

'In fact, my best friend Nikitta is there and is in the army now. He is coming home soon, and it's sad that I won't be able to see him.'

Sofia told The Siberian Times she is in the process of writing an emotional book about her experience, which she hopes can help other teenagers suffering problems.

She said: 'There are a couple reasons for this. One of them being that people know my story, but they know only a little part of it. There are many things that I never shared and many secrets that I kept. All of this is going to be included in my book. It goes into the details about my relationship with my mum, biological father, and men that have been in my life.

Sofia Petrova in hostel


Sofia's letter to mother

In October last year Sofia wrote a letter to her mom, begging to let her come back home. Pictures: The Siberian Times

'The second reason is because I have finally found some peace in my life and I really want to help other children do the same. I stand for children's rights and so many kids don't have a voice and are scared to speak.'

She added: 'Writing a book has always been a dream of mine. And if you have a good story to tell, you might as well use it.' 

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