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 Russian court on Monday awarded two Russian families $100,000 each in compensation from a maternity home that accidentally switched their daughters, now 12, at birth. The story has captivated Russia ever since the families learned about the mistake several months ago.
Confirmation of the switch – long suspected by one of the fathers – has been bittersweet.
"The money just can't ease the pain," said Yuliya Belyaeva, the biological mother of one daughter, Anna, who raised another couple's child, Irina. "All the money in the world isn't worth a child's look at their mother."
Belyaeva gave birth at the same ward about the same time as Naimat Iskanderov's wife in Kopeisk, an industrial town of 140,000 in Russia's Ural Mountains.
Years later during their divorce proceedings, Belyaeva's husband refused to support Irina – who has dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin – because she didn't look like him or his blonde wife. A DNA test then revealed that neither of them were Irina's biological parents.
Belyaeva then demanded an official investigation, which tracked down Irina's biological father, Iskanderov – who had been raising her own child Anna in a neighboring town.
Fair-skinned Anna strongly resembles her biological mother, while Irina looks like her father Iskanderov, an ethnic Tajik born in the Central Asian and mostly Muslim nation of Tajikistan.
It is not known whether the switch played any role in the two couple's divorces. Iskanderov parted with his wife when Anna was five but later married again, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Belyaeva also married again and gave birth to two more children.
Belyaeva said the shocking news still makes her shiver.
"It is very unpleasant to relive those memories," she told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview. "We still can't fully comprehend what happened."
But on Monday, Russia's NTV television showed Belyaeva laughing with joy after the judge delivered the verdict in a Kopeisk courtroom. Iskanderov, however, remained stone-faced.
The video showed Belyaeva caressing the fair Anna, while Irina, whom she raised, sat stern-faced with her eyes downcast.
"She feels jealous," Belyaeva explained in televised remarks.
Despite winning the verdict, Belyaeva said the swap will leave lasting emotional scars.
"There are moments when I think it would have been better if I hadn't known anything about that," she said.
Belyaeva's former husband and Iskanderov's former wife were not in the courtroom Monday and made no statements after the court ruling. That may change later, for the compensation award is huge by Russian standards and could easily spark jealousy in a region where many jobs have evaporated.
The two 12-year-olds don't want to leave the parents who raised them, according to Russia television reports, so the families are thinking of using the compensation money to live near each other or even share a home.
"I would like us to share a house so that we don't worry about her daughter coming to me and the other way round," Iskanderov told Russia media.
Belyaeva said she would prefer separate houses nearby, so that "we see our children growing up and take part in their education."
Belyaeva also identified the nurse who she claimed mixed up the babies, but the nurse denied any responsibility.
"I know it was not me who did it," nurse Nelly Prokopyeva told Russian television.
This is not the first time a Russian court decision has resolved a hospital mix-up.
In 2009, a court in the central Russian town of Mtsensk ordered two mothers to swap their two-year-old sons following a DNA test that proved the children were mixed up at a maternity hospital. The case was complicated by the ethnic and religious background of the women – one of them was ethnic Russian and Orthodox Christian, while the other one was ethnic Chechen and Muslim.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report