Desperate plea by teen whose American mother sent her aged 15....to Siberia.
'I begged her millions of times - take me home, I need my Mom'. Picture: The Siberian Times
The Siberian Times has tracked down brave Sofia Petrova who two years ago was sent by her US mother to live with her 'drunken' father in Russia. Sofia, now 17, had not seen him since she left Siberia aged only two with her mother Natalia for a new life in America.
To her, he was a total stranger - with an worrying drink habit. She did not speak Russian, he had no English, but this did not stop her mother putting her on a plane in what seems like monstrous punishment for normal teenage transgressions.
Many mothers may feel like doing something extreme to a wild teenage daughter: but they don't actually take such inhumane action. Natalia did. Sofia was told the trip was for three weeks to meet her birth father. But as soon as she landed in Russia, her mother made clear she would be staying a lot longer.
More than two years later, she is still in Siberia - as she tells in her remarkable interview, below.
She soon found that her birth father Igor's drink habit meant she was unsafe with him. She moved out and into a children's centre where she was so depressed she tried to take her own life. Alone, confused, in a 'living nightmare', we found Sofia in a Novosibirsk hotel where she now works nightshifts as a cleaner to pay for her own survival - and her studies.
She is working 60 hour weeks. Her case has been publicised in the US thanks to the heroic action of her school friends like Michaela Bennett and Robert Buttaro at Chantilly High School in Virginia who cannot bear the cruelty she is suffering.
When The Siberian Times met Sofia down in Novosibirsk on Wednesday, she was writing a letter to her mother with whom she longs to be re-united: 'Mom - With all that is going on I really hope that our relationship could improve rather than be completely destroyed to shreds', she wrote.
'I love you so much and I miss you and Maria (her half-sister). I want to come home. To come back to you. I ask you one more time, please take me back. Please find it in your heart to forgive my mistakes that I made as a pre-teen.
'You are the only family that I have. I need you. With love, Sofia.'
'My father did not buy anything. My mom sent money, but I never saw any of it. I guess he spent it all on the alcohol or just wasted'. Picture: The Siberian Times
Sofia has said of her mother sending her to Siberia: 'I guess it was a form of punishment. But after having two year to think about it, I can't help feeling that it was pre-planned in some way, because to be on an plane by yourself internationally, you have to be 15-years-old. And she sent me here a week after my 15th birthday.'
Her step-father James is an immigration attorney who has said her behaviour as a teen was 'uncontrollable'.
'The behaviour was becoming worse and we saw no solution. Worse, it was affecting the other children in the house, especially the outbursts that would last until 2am,' he told WUSA9 in an email.
Natalia added: 'Sending Sofia to her father, grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousin was not an easy choice that we had to make, but it was the right choice.'
Yet as Michaela said - and Sofia told us this is true - 'she never did drugs. She never smoked. Nothing. She may drink a little, but all teenagers do that.'
We asked Sofia to tell her shocking story after waking in the afternoon from her night shift.
'My father's name is Igor Petrov and he lives in Berdsk.'
Q: And your mother is also from Novosibirsk or Berdsk?
'Honestly, I am not sure.'
Q: Did your parents met here in Novosibirsk?
'I don't know.'
Q: When did your mother decide to leave Siberia?
'I was 2 years old, in 1998. She divorced my father and flew to the US. She went to Washington DC first.'
Q: And does she have relatives here, perhaps a mother and father who could care for you?
'Well, I think she communicates with them but very rarely and I have never been in touch with them, because I did not know Russian. I don't know their names or where they live.'
Q: So your mother went to US and met her second husband?
'Her boyfriend. I thought he was my dad. His name was Farid. He is from Iraq. He was my best friend.'
Q: Are you in contact with him now?
'No. My mother did not allow it.'
Q: So he was kind to you, but what happened?
'My mother told me he was not really my father when I was 12 years old. After that there was a problem with the police, she accused him of trying to kill her with a knife. So after that I never saw him again.'
'Sofia's step-father James is an immigration attorney, who has said her behaviour as a teen was 'uncontrollable'. Picture: The Siberian Times
Q: Your mother and Farid broke their relationships and...
'..and she started to live with James Roberts. He is an immigration lawyer. They got married in August 2010 and I came here in March 2011.'
Q: Do you think it was his influence?
'Yes. Definitely. If he was not in the picture, my mother would never have done this.'
Q: They accused you by claiming your behaviour was not so good. Is it right?
'I was 14 years old. I made many mistakes, but when I did an interview for the news, I tried all my best not to make my parents look bad. I left many things out and I did not say a single bad thing about them. And when I saw this news programme, it was...I was shocked. My parents basically said everything bad that they could about me.
Q: I look at you and I see a nice girl and I cannot believe that you could do something that was described...
'The one big mistake I made, I did take money. It was not preplanned. I entered into the room and just saw it. I don't know why, I just took the money. And then my mother asked me, where I got this money from and I panicked and I told her that I sold drugs. It was biggest mistake of my life. I never did drugs, I never sold drugs. I told her later, that it was not true, that I stole the money. She told - do you understand, you said that you sold drugs and it is too late now. I was already here, when I told her. Because after that day, I was on the plane two days later. It was one week after my 15th birthday.'
Q: How did they manage to prepare all documents?
'I have a Russian passport. Two passports.
Q: And your mother?
'My mother is a US citizen.
Q: There are some programmess to reunite the family, or will they not work in your case?
'She doesn't want it so far.
Q: Before you travelled to Russia, how much did you know about your father?
'I learnt about him when I was 13 years old. I skyped with him three times, but he doesn't speak English. So really I did not know him, he was a stranger. He met me in Moscow and we moved to Berdsk.'
'There were many problems. When my father was drunk, he became aggressive'. Picture: The Siberian Times
Q: Did you study at school in Berdsk?
'Yes. I had a very good teacher there. An English language teacher. Olga Ivanovna. School No 6 in Berdsk.'
Q: Did she help you?
'Yes, very much. She helped me with clothes, she had a lot of clothes, and food. Because in my house there was never any food. My father did not buy anything. My mom sent money, but I never saw any of it. I guess he spent it all on the alcohol or just wasted'.
Q: Did he drink heavily?
'Well, maybe not heavily, but he drank.'
Q: When did you realise you couldn't stay with him any longer?
'There were many problems. When he was drunk, he became aggressive. I wrote a report to the director of my school, and she called the police, and the police came that day and took me away. I lived at a children centre 'Yunona' in Berdsk for a few months. It was in 2012. They wanted to send me to an orphanage, but my mom called me and said - 'if you do not return to your father, I would never take you back'.
'I believed her again. But she lied. And I returned to him. Many people began questioning my report to the school director, maybe I lied if after that I decided to get back. But I did not have any choice.'
Q: How did you get here?
'I have a good friend, Anastasiya. She wanted to find a good job for me, because my Russian is not very good. She called many people and she found this hostel. A new hostel. I talked to the director and began working here. I have lived here for 4 months.'
Q: Do you like this place? How do you feel about this?
'I like here very much! Firstly, the people here, they care. And I live here for free. A big thank you for him, to the director here'.
Q: Do you get some money for your work?
'Yes, but I pay for my school. I study via the Internet in an American high school. I want to graduate an American school. I just hope it is not a scam...'
Q: How much do you pay a month?
'I pay $180. The school is based in Florida, but online it is international. I have to study for 4 years. But I want do it quickly, to finish it within 2 years.'
Q: Is there a lawyer who represents you here?
'No. I messaged Pavel Astakhov (Russia's ombudsman for children). But there was no response'.
'I learnt about my Russian father when I was 13 years old. I skyped with him three times, but he doesn't speak English. So really I did not know him, he was a stranger'. Picture: The Siberian Times
Q: Did you try to figure out ways to get back to America?
'I tried everything! I called the US embassy in Moscow. I messaged everywhere I could find online. But - no response.
Q: What about your other relatives in Russia, grandmother and grandfather?
'They were also strangers to me, when I came to see them. I did not know any of them. I have seen them maybe five or six times.'
Q: What are their names?
'I don't remember.'
Q: And your aunt?
'Dina... maybe. I did not have any wish to communicate with them, because I feel like they took me from my home, and it was almost like a trap. I think that if anyone wanted to help, they would have done it already.'
Q: Do you have some warm feeling to this place, Novosibirsk, despite all this?
'No. I lived in Berdsk. And now I live here. My home is here in this hostel, I do not walk around.'
Q: Do you suffer from the Siberian climate?
'Oh! It is so cold here. Unbearably cold. I have no proper clothes.'
Q: Do you communicate with your mother?
'I try to do this, yes. But she doesn't respond. And when I call her, James answers, saying that she is not at home, but I hear her voice in the background.
'I think after all that happened she will be very careful in her responses.'
Q: Do you need some help?
'I am not used to be asking for help. I mean, I am open to any help... But I hope more than anything that I will return home before Christmas'.
'I have a good friend, Anastasiya. She wanted to find a good job for me, because my Russian is not very good. She called many people and she found this hostel. A new hostel. I talked to the director and began working here. I have lived here for 4 months'. Picture: The Siberian Times
Sofia has been quoted saying: 'I begged her millions of times. Take me home. I want my Mom, I need my Mom. I need my home. I don't have anything here. She said that at the children's centre, after leaving her father, she got so depressed, she tried to kill herself. Sofia told a friend in the US that her father beat her when he got into a rage.
When she realised that her visit to Russia would not be over in three weeks, she said: 'I just started crying. I couldn't even understand what was going on.'
Sofia's former classmates in Virginia are scathing about Natalia's behaviour towards her daughter. 'What kind of human would send her daughter to another country and not want her?' asked Michaela.
'It's one thing for someone to say such a thing,' said Robert Buttaro. 'It's another for someone to actually do it.'
The money Sofia stole - more than $1000 from her parents - is something she now bitterly regrets.
An ominous deadline looms for Sofia now. She will be 18 in March, and then her chances of returning to the US will diminish. Hopefully it is not beyond her family and the US authorities to make her dream come true and get her home for Christmas.
Falling in love with a city starts with finding a place where you feel at home.