In the Chelyabinsk Oblast region of southern Russia, Zoya Tuganova has raised her daughter Katya in a loving home. But while she showers the girl with affection, she’s always suspected that something is wrong. In the end, then, Katya turns detective and uncovers an awful secret that will change their family for ever.
The story began on January 29, 1987, when Tuganova was a patient at Chelyabinsk maternity hospital. At the time, she was a successful mom with a decent job working for Russian Railways. However, she felt poorly treated by the hospital doctors from the start.
Indeed, Tuganova now recalls being ignored by the doctors as she prepared to give birth. Apparently, they dismissed her claim that her waters hadn’t broken. They also allegedly treated her roughly as they prepared her for a cesarean. Finally, in any case, she gave birth to a tiny baby girl. But after just a few minutes, her daughter was taken away.
When Tuganova next saw her baby, a bizarre change appeared to have taken place. For while she swore that her new child was fair, the daughter she was presented with had dark hair and features. Immediately, then, she knew that something wasn’t right.
“I started telling them that it was a different child,” Tuganova recalled in a June 2017 interview with The Siberian Times. “But the doctors were dissuading me. I told them I could not have such a dark girl – my husband is ethnically Tatar but with light skin – I could simply see it was not the girl I gave birth to.”
To add to the confusion, Tuganova recalled another woman in the hospital who had also had a caesarean. Tellingly, she was a Bashkir villager with a dark coloring. Had Tuganova’s baby therefore been swapped with this woman’s? Tuganova’s suspicions grew.
However, despite Tuganova’s protestations, doctors refused to accept the notion that any mistake had been made. Instead, they allegedly threatened the new mother with psychiatric intervention, claiming that she was deluded. Fearful for her job, therefore, Tuganova at last relented.
Defeated, Tuganova left the hospital with the baby girl, whom she named Ekaterina. And although she had her doubts about her daughter’s identity, she raised the girl, known as Katya, with love. However, Katya was a sickly child and suffered from many medical issues.
As Katya grew up, Tuganova and her husband went to great lengths to help their daughter lead a normal, healthy life. Luckily, the parents were able to afford the best medical care, and they even took the girl to the mountains, where she could better recover in the fresh air.
Clearly, the couple’s care and attention paid off, too. Katya went on to study at university before following her mother into a career at Russian Railways. However, throughout all that time, Tuganova couldn’t stop thinking about the fair-haired girl she had held in hospital all those years ago.
Finally, when Katya was 30, she decided to turn detective in an attempt to ease the weight on her mother’s mind. Incredibly, too, although three decades had passed, Tuganova was able to remember the name of the Bashkir woman from the hospital. And eventually this name led Katya to a woman called Luciya Tuligenova.
When Katya visited the woman in her village in Russia’s Ural Mountains, Tuganova’s fears were confirmed. Just as she had suspected, the two babies had been swapped at birth. Moreover, there was an even sadder twist to come, as Luciya revealed the awful consequences of the mistake.
Before Luciya came home from hospital that day, her mother and father had lived a relatively prosperous life. Although they were a village family, they earned a decent income and owned cattle and transport. Furthermore, their two children never went without.
However, all of that changed when baby Luciya arrived. With her fair hair, she was Slavic in appearance – a strange sight in the family’s Bashkir village. Soon, then, rumors began to spread that her mother had been unfaithful. And, teased for apparently raising a child that wasn’t his, Luciya’s father grew angry.
Eventually, moreover, his anger turned deadly. Convinced that he knew the identity of his wife’s supposed lover, he murdered a local man. Then, when he was sent to jail, Luciya’s mother turned to drink. As a result, soon the three children were left to fend for themselves.
With no one to care for her, Luciya was placed in an orphanage along with her two siblings. And although she eventually had a family of her own, she still suffers the effects of her cruel upbringing. Today, she has little education and no employment, and she struggles to raise her children on welfare.
After Katya’s detective work, her mom finally traveled to meet the daughter she had not seen in 30 years. What’s more, as soon as she laid eyes on her, the family resemblance was clear. Immediately, Tuganova noticed that her blood daughter is well-built, just as her other two kids are.
Tuganova believes that Luciya’s hard life has transformed her from a once-healthy child into a troubled adult. On the other hand, Katya credits her parents’ love and attention for saving her life. “If I had been in that family, I might not have survived with my illnesses,” she told The Siberian Times. “Who’d be looking after me? I’d have died long ago.”
Today, Tuganova is trying her best to build a relationship with the daughter she lost all those years ago. Heartbroken by her situation, she brings her things to help, such as clothes. “The poverty is, of course terrible,” she said. “Luciya is very quiet, and humble.”
Meanwhile, the mother hopes that her family will be compensated for the mix-up. And even though she recognizes that she likely owes her life to the mistake, Katya agrees that her mother and stepsister deserve to see justice done. “I believe this a real crime,” Tuganova said, “so I hope those who are guilty will be held liable.”