Sofia Petrova is a pretty typical 17-year-old, by all accounts. She's got a boyfriend, she shares poetic feelings on Facebook, and she's experimented a little bit with alcohol. What sets Petrova apart is the fact that she has been suffering for two years while exiled to Siberia - yes, Siberia, the northernmost part of Russia that's covered in ice and snow - as a punishment doled out by her mother and step-father.
Petrova was born in Russia but moved to the US with her mother when she was 2 years old. Petrova's mother, Natalia Roberts, arrived in Washington, DC, and met an Iraqi man named Farid. Petrova told The Siberian Times in a recent interview, "I thought he was my dad." Petrova's mother broke up with Farid when Petrova was 12 and they never saw him again. Natalia Roberts married her current husband, immigration lawyer James Roberts, when Petrova was 14. Natalia and James sent Petrova to Siberia a week after her 15th birthday.
Petrova's mother and step-father have said that Petrova's behavior was out of control (Petrova admits to stealing $1000 cash off her parents' dresser, but says other than that her behavior wasn't egregious), so they sent her to Siberia to live with her biological father, who Petrova hadn't seen or heard from in 12 years. Her father Igor spoke no English and when she arrived in Russia, Petrova spoke no Russian. Petrova believed she was to visit her father and his family for three weeks. Weeks went by, then months, then years. Petrova's mother and step-father will still not let her come home.
This story is complicated by the fact that Petrova is not a US citizen, even though her mother is, which means Petrova may not be able to come back to America after her 18th birthday. Her former classmates in Virginia are hoping Petrova will soon be able to come home, and even strangers have taken an interest in helping her come back to the states. There's a petition on Change.org asking the US government to intervene on Sofia's behalf and a Facebook group dedicated to her return. There are other campaigns as well. Petrova's US family maintains that Petrova's ability to come home "is in her hands," but they refuse to tell her specifically what she must do to earn reunification.
There is much controversy in comments sections on every online article about Petrova's story pertaining to whether or not Petrova is truly an unruly child who is expert at manipulating the media into portraying her as a victim. Regardless, shipping a child off to strangers in Siberia without warning or language skills is certainly as abhorrent as stealing $1000, if not more so. Troubled teenagers may be hard to handle, but Petrova's US parents didn't try to handle the situation at all. Instead, they've swept a young girl's life and liberty under a snow-covered rug.
-By Carolyn Castiglia
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