Court victory, emotional scars for Russian girls switched at birth

MOSCOW -- It was more money than either family has ever seen — but it's still not clear if it can make the pain go away.

A court awarded two Russian families $100,000 each in compensation Monday from a maternity home that accidentally switched their daughters at birth. It said they could use the money to house the girls, now 12, next to each other.

The story has captivated Russia since the families learned about the switch several months ago.

During divorce proceedings, one man refused to support his daughter Irina — who has dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin — because she didn't look like him. A DNA test then revealed that neither he nor the mother, Yuliya Belyaeva, were Irina's biological parents.

An official investigation then tracked down Irina's biological father, Naimat Iskanderov, who had been raising Belyaeva's own child, Anna, in a neighboring town.

Fair-skinned Anna strongly resembles her biological mother Belyaeva, while Irina looks like her father Iskanderov, an ethnic Tajik born in the Central Asian and mostly Muslim ex-Soviet state of Tajikistan.

The video showed Belyaeva caressing Anna, while Irina, whom she raised, sat stern-faced with her eyes downcast.

"She feels jealous," Belyaeva said in televised remarks.

Belyaeva married again after separating from her husband and gave birth to two more children. Iskanderov parted with his wife when Anna was five but later married again, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Despite the verdict, Belyaeva said the swap will leave lasting emotional scars.

"The money just can't ease the pain," Belyaeva said. "All the money in the world isn't worth a child's look at mother ... there are moments when I think it would have been better if I hadn't known anything about that."

Russian television reports said the girls don't want to leave the parents who raised them, so the families were thinking of using the compensation money, which is huge by Russian standards, to live near each other or even share a home.