A Chantilly High School student who says she was banished to Siberia by her mother and stepfather in 2011 is trying to return to the United States.
Sofia Petrova Roberts, 17, was born in Russia but moved to the United States with her mother when she was only 2 years old. Her mother, Natalia Petrova Roberts, was a Russian citizen but came to the U.S. with Sofia on a student visa. She later married immigration attorney James Roberts, who has a law office in Fairfax, and had additional children.
Sofia grew up in Chantilly with her family, and attended Chantilly High School as a freshman from September 2010 through March 2011, according to school records.
But shortly after she turned 15, Sofia says she was taken out of school and sent nearly 6,000 miles away to a small blue-collar town called Berdsk in the Siberian province of Russia to live with her biological father whom she had never met, and who she had only recently learned existed. She spoke no Russian, and had only known life in Fairfax County, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the U.S.
“Basically in March 2011, my mom and stepdad sent me to Siberia on a plane to meet my biological father,” Sofia said in an email from Russia. “My mom told me that it would be a three-week vacation, and at first I was reluctant to go. But after talking to my friends, they convinced me that it was just a vacation and a chance to see another country. And I became excited about going. But upon my arrival my mom called me and informed me that this was not a vacation and that I would be here for a long time. How long, she didn’t say.”
In emails, Sofia’s mother and stepfather said that 15-year-old Sofia was unruly and “uncontrollable” and that she and her husband did not know what else to do with her.
“The behavior was becoming worse and we saw no solution,” they wrote in an email. “Worse, it was affecting the other children in the house, especially the outbursts that would last until 2 a.m.”
Her mother and stepfather said Sofia stole money from them, used drugs, brought boys into their house without permission, and often ran away from home.
“Sending her to her father, grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousin was not an easy choice that we had to make,” her mother wrote, “but it was the right choice.”
Sofia admits to stealing money from her parents, but she says her punishment far outweighs her bad-girl actions.
“I can say that the one thing that was true, is that I stole money,” she wrote in an email to the Times. “That was a huge mistake on my part and very stupid, and even worse, when she asked me where I got the money from, in panic I told her that I sold drugs. But I do not sell drugs, nor do I do drugs, and she knows this. I never had problems with the police. All I hear is one accusation after another, but I still haven’t seen any documents of these accusations. I didn’t run away from home, but I do remember one incidence where I had an argument with my mom and wanted to leave the house to just walk around and cool off. But she was against that. She called the police and reported me as a runaway, while I was standing in the same room as her. I never left the house, never ran away. And I did not bring boys into the house, I had a boyfriend of two years at the time, who is now a U.S. marine. And yes, I did bring him over to the house one time.”
Sofia says she does not think she acted much differently than many American 15-year-old teens and that she does not believe she should have had her American education interrupted and sent to Siberia to live with a man she did not even know.
“In Russia, my life was completely turned upside down,” she said. “Living with my biological father was extremely difficult.”
In a 2011 report filed with a Siberian school principal that was obtained by the Times, Sofia describes the conditions under which she says she endured with her biological father. In the report, she says he often abused her physically and that he did not adequately provide for her. “At times he is very aggressive and he displays that through violence ... He locked me inside the house on multiple occasions and did not provide food and drinks on a regular basis,” the report reads. “I don’t feel safe around him.”
Sofia says she has since moved out of her biological father’s house and is now living in a hostel in a neighboring town, where she also worked to provide for herself until she recently lost her job because of her age.
She says she is desperate to return to the United States and claims that if she does not do it before her 18th birthday, it will become even more difficult for her because she is not legally an American citizen.
“All I want is to go back home. And when I say home, I don’t necessarily mean back to my mom’s house. I just want to go back to the country where I grew up in,” she wrote in an email. “I really do love my mom, but her actions and her choices are really taking a toll on me, and my future. Here I have nobody that can help me. I just recently lost my job due to problems from the media. There are laws against underage workers and laws that are against living and working in the same place. I can’t graduate high school, as I don’t have the means to. Right now I’m just stuck. I can’t provide for myself, and I don’t know what the future holds for me. It’s scary.”