While most parents punish kids by sending them to their room, Sofia Petrova’s mother went a little further than that – she exiled her misbehaving daughter to another country. The 18-year-old hasn’t been home in three years; her mother hasn’t permitted her to return in spite of repeated apologies and pleas.
So how does a parent actually convince a 15-year-old high school freshman to board a plane to Siberia? Well, it turns out that Sofia was tricked. Her mother and stepfather told her that they were sending her on a three-week vacation to visit her biological father for the first time. But when Sofia reached Novosibirsk city, she realised the chilling truth – there was no return ticket.
That’s when her mother and stepfather informed her that she was actually being ‘punished’ for her typical teenager behavior – flunking school, running away from home and stealing money. She was to remain in Siberia with her father until she learned to change her ways. Sofia was pretty much helpless; although she grew up in the US, she was born in Siberia and had a Russian passport. So she needed her mother’s consent to return.
Sofia’s mother, Natalia Roberts, is a Soviet-born US citizen with an American husband, Jim Roberts. The couple had pretty much abandoned Sofia in a country that was alien to her, with a man she barely knew. To make matters worse, Sofia’s birth father turned out to be a drunk who often beat her up and abused her. She had no money and was forced to work at a local hostel in order to cover her expenses.
Poor Sofia made repeated pleas to her family back in the US, begging them to bring her back. “I want to come home,” she wrote in a letter to her mother last year. “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.”
In spite of those heart-wrenching words, Natalia still couldn’t bring herself to forgive Sofia. The girl ended up severely depressed and had to flee to a local children’s center to escape her poor living conditions. She even tried to take her own life at one point. Meanwhile, her friends in the US caught wind of what was happening to her and organised protests and campaigns in her favor. But there wasn’t much they could do to help her return.
The local media began to cover the story extensively, and a Facebook page was set up where Sofia posted updates about her condition. She also issued frequent pleas on social media for her family to take her back. “I want to graduate from an American high school (and) I want to do it quickly, to finish within two years,” she wrote.
Photo: Siberian Times
In response, her stepfather posted a very harsh message: “Sofia, from the time that you went to Russia, we have told you that it will be very simple for you to return. Recognise that the path you were going down would end badly for you and try to change it. That’s all. We told you that trying other ways would not work for you. You have not tried the one thing that will bring you back, but you continue to try others.” It isn’t clear what exactly he was referring to, as Sofia seems to have apologised for her past mistakes.
But luck was eventually on Sofia’s side as her strange story took an even more bizarre twist. With the help of a few friends, she managed to track down her mother’s ex-boyfriend Farid Soulimani, who practically raised her as a child. In fact, she had actually believed that he was her father until the age of 13. However, they had lost contact for over six years after he had a bad breakup with her mother.
When Soulimani heard of Sofia’s struggles, he was heartbroken. While he still lives in the US, he immediately arranged for her to visit his family in Morocco and flew there himself to meet with her. “It’s not a new family,” Sofia said. “I remember my grandma (presumably Soulimani’s mother) from when I was a little girl and she had come to visit. It was nice to see a familiar face.”
Under her grandmother’s care, Sofia grew stronger and happier within a month’s time. But when she returned to her father’s home in Siberia, she found that she had lost her job and her boyfriend had dumped her. She was miserable once again, and that’s when she decided to make Morocco her permanent home. “Everyone is just so loving here,” she said. “It’s nice to wake up every morning to hugs and kisses.”
Now that she’s 18, Sofia has moved to Casablanca, and has decided to adopt Farid’s last name. She is studying French in an attempt to integrate into society, and is also in the process of getting her official documentation completed to allow her to stay in Morocco indefinitely, so that she never has to return to Siberia.
Sofia now plans to write a tell-all book where she will reveal everything that she has faced in the past three years. “There are many things I never shared and many secrets that I kept. All of this is going to be included in my book,” she said. “It goes into details about my relationship with my mom, biological father, and men that have been in my life. People know my story, but they only know a little part of it.”
When Sofia made the announcement about the book on Facebook, she once again invited her mother’s wrath. After blasting her for not keeping the details of her life private, Natalia wrote: “I wish you all the best and I forgive you for bringing so much pain to my family and me.”
In reply, Sofia refused to apologise for wanting to tell her tale: “I’m not asking for your forgiveness though. Nothing I did was worth three-and-a-half years of the misery I was put through. Shame on you.”
It has now been several months since Sofia contacted her mom, and she isn’t sure if she is even aware of her move to Morocco. “She is no longer a part of my life, I’ve moved on,” she said. But she still hopes to return to the United States, where she has a sister. She 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.”
Photos: Sofia Soulimani/Facebook