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'Let me come home, Mom!'

By Anna Liesowska
23 October 2013

Desperate plea by teen whose American mother sent her aged 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.'

Sofia Petrova whose mother whose American mother sent her aged 15 to Siberia

'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 Petrova whose mother whose American mother sent her aged 15 to Siberia

'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.'

Sofia Petrova whose American mother sent her aged 15 to Siberia

'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'. 

Sofia Petrova whose American mother sent her aged 15 to Siberia

'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'.

Sofia Petrova whose American mother sent her aged 15 to Siberia

'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.

Comments (40)

Someone please help this young lady before it is to late I would if I could let people know how they can help.
david, united state
08/11/2013 23:38
Is there a way to send her some warm clothing?
Margo Schlossberg, Reston, VA
08/11/2013 22:38
Is the Siberian Times forwarding these messages to Sofia? Some may prove to be very helpful to her as she seeks how to return to the US.
J Bordeaux, USA
08/11/2013 20:52
Dear Sofia, if you read this paper, please, know that you can contact Ambassador Michael McFaul on Facebook or on Twitter. Even if the Embassy hasn't answer to you, it is their responsibility to hwelp a stranded American to return home. If you hold an American passport, your return should be easy!
Andor, USA
04/11/2013 08:38
The mother lied to her child about who her father was for 12 years. The mother says she sends money but the school, the cops and the reporters can't find any proof of the money and if it was sent to the bio father it shows that it was not spent on the minor child. If the mother is a US citizen who abandoned her child even to a bio father in a foreign land there are laws against that. And bullying your minor child online and in the media just makes her mother and step father look bad. Best bet get a mediator involved. Someone with no agenda.
If the parents want to make it work they need to send that child support. She said she has no clothes /shoes /outerwear for that weather. Ok Mom and Dad find out her size and send her clothes. You can pay for the classes online or find an accredited school online to take her and send her the log in. You can pay for her internet and cell phone (I would get an unlimited plan if I were you if they are available in Russia). I would set up Skype so she could talk to her siblings. I would let her talk to her stepfather who raised her. You could also give her the phone numbers and names of relatives besides her bio father who want to help her. You could stop bulling her so she has to leave State run children's shelters and pay her own bills. You don't want her home ok. Pay her hostel bill so she does not have to work 60 hrs. All of these things take a little time and a little money. but hey why waste time on this child in 6 mths you won't even have to hear her voice and can pretend she Never existed. Oh wait that is what you are doing now.
I say the mother and step father be investigated on child abandonment charges. And child endangerment charges. At least then you can see in black and white what a neutral party says. Knowingly sending a child to live with an abusive parent is child abuse. I don't care what the kid did. Send her to boarding school. If you did not want her, you should have never taken her away from Russia in the first place.
Say what you want about the kid but at 17 she is working harder than most American Adults. Surviving in spite of her parents.
Kate, USA
04/11/2013 03:29
Barracuda, From 2 to 14 is 12 years. She came to the US with her mother and her immigration status was as a "rider" to her mother's. I don't know what type of visa her mom had but sometime after arriving she (the mom) applied for and was granted permanent resident status (a Green Card). The child would have been granted the same as a "ride along". While called permanent resident status, it's really not permanent. The initial Green Card is provisional and is valid for only 10 years. Apparently when her mom applied for citizenship she did not apply for the child and she apparently also did not update the child's Green Card. Therefore the child does not have a valid visa to enter the country. The only way for her to get one would be for her mom to apply for one as her under age child.
Brian, USA
04/11/2013 00:34
jesus taught wickedness never leads to happiness, from stealing to lieing. Now that you have gone thru the refiners fire, your heart is prepared to receive light and knowledge from the holy spirit to guide you in the decisions you will make in your life. (Fertile ground for the seeds (the words of God) to take root in your heart and grow, and not to be cast out by unbelief or cares of this temporary world). If you do come back to America I hope that you dont become corrupt as so many are. For when the majority of people become wicked it is foretold that their blessing will be taken away from them and they will be destroyed. Choose the right from each day forward and you shall see good days in the remainder of your life.
presley parker, salt lake city
02/11/2013 01:03
This little girl has paid way too much for her mistakes. 6 months might have scared her and made her behave , but 2.5 years alone in the world is child abuse. The mother is a disgusting Cow. The little girl works and goes to school which is more than what most teens in America have to do. She has been forced to grow up way too fast. I wish I could help her :(
Mysty, America
01/11/2013 06:20
What was the purpose for sending her to Russia? I definitely sure that there are good private shools in US where children study and live without parents while parents pay for education in these schools. Clearly girl's behavior was not ethical or good one but sending her to Russia without language knowledge seems to me irresponsible and ridiculous. Mother should bear responsibility for her child's fate! By the way, I lived in Siberia for 21 year. Big cities are no that bad actually, I had a lot of good moments and met a lot of good friends there. Still, sending girl without language knowledge is ridiculous and irresponsible.
Evgeny, USA
26/10/2013 10:08
I am from Berdsk, I live in DC now, came to America in 1999, but I still have relatives in Berdsk, how I can help you?
How we can help you? I feel you learned your hard lesson.
Elena, Washington DC
25/10/2013 22:30
Can Sophia go through one of the Deferred Actions cases (called DACA cases, about 1 million of them) that Obama granted to young people who arrived in the US before they were adults?
Jenya Antonova, Washington, DC
25/10/2013 21:23
Enrique, what you are describing here has nothing to do with the story. My guess would be that the Spanish legislation which determines who of the parents has to take care of the child is done in the way it benefits child the most, not in the way to make the child cry and ask to come home
Kate, Russia
25/10/2013 20:58
I just don't understand: this girl used to live in United States and doesn't have a US Citizenship?

How did she live there for 15 years????? She told she has 2 passports and I guess it all Russian... Her mother is a simple prostitute a all!
Barracuda, USA
25/10/2013 12:16
Kate, now in Spain there is equal treatment to men and women so both can have the child. In fact, there are many children whoo, after divorce, live with their fathers instead of living with their mothers. Even if there are cases in which as both parents have exactly the same rights to have their children with them, also there are children who spend half of the year with the father and the other half with the mother. But, I have friends (men) who after divorce have the children with them because the mother didn´t fulfill her obligations as mother.
Enrique, Spain
25/10/2013 07:30
Enrique, think that any person deserves forgiveness and every child should live with the mother
Kate, Russia
24/10/2013 21:28

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