Kidnap baby saga highlights mother who refused to give up

April 7th, 2008 - 11:04 am ICT by admin  

By Aleks Tapinsh
Daugavpils (Latvia), April 7 (DPA) Irina Sukhova never lost hope that her baby boy, kidnapped 16 years ago, was somewhere nearby. It turns out they may have lived only a few blocks apart. In interviews with DPA, people familiar with the case offered new details in a story of one woman’s loss, another’s wish for a child and the happy ending that gripped this Baltic nation.

On Dec 10, 1992, Sukhova went shopping at a supermarket in Daugavpils, leaving her six-week-old baby unattended outside. It was considered a safe thing to do in the former Soviet Union, which the Baltic nation had left just over a year earlier.

When she returned, she found her son disappeared in the city of 200,000 people. The empty stroller was found inside a nearby apartment building.

Sukhova turned to the press, which printed four short paragraphs, asking the public for help amid the post-communist economic chaos of the early 1990s. Nothing happened, although her plight got regular media attention over the years.

Around that time, another married couple reportedly was having its own crisis. A husband threatened his wife with divorce because their marriage was childless.

So, when he left on an extended business trip abroad, the woman kidnapped the baby and later told her husband she had given birth prematurely to their own child, believes Latvian family court judge Ligita Strazda, whose persistence helped crack the case.

The couple christened the child Ruslan and gave him their last name. When the woman’s husband died in 2002, she was left without income. She sold her house and turned to crime when the money ran out, city councilwoman Helen Soldatjonoka told DPA.

Judge Strazda remembered the 1992 headlines when the case of a 16-year-old boy without identity documents landed on her desk in March. When the boy’s false mother, detained for an alleged felony, failed to produce a birth certificate or personal identification number for the boy, Strazda grew suspicious.

A DNA test on Sukhova and the teenager confirmed that he was her long-lost son. She got the city administration to pay the 250-lat ($560) test after the police refused, saying the case’s statute of limitations had run out.

Sukhova and the 16-year-old boy, described by friends as shy and reserved, met for the first time last week at the office of a psychologist who has been counselling them. The boy has attended ninth grade at a local school for children with learning problems.

“She’s happy her son is alive and she’s prepared to wait to form a bond with him, which may take months or even years,” Strazda told DPA. “It will take time to heal.”

Losing her only child ruined Sukhova’s marriage, but didn’t crush her spirit. While she kept her baby’s clothes, her husband turned to drinking and she divorced him in 1993.

She reportedly sold homemade children’s clothing at the city’s open-air market, hoping the kidnappers would buy it for her son. She hired a private detective. She consulted a soothsayer.

Even more tantalizing, Latvian officials say Sukhova inherited her mother’s house in the same part of the town where the woman who raised Vladimir lived before she sold her home.

Local media claim the two women at one point lived within blocks of each other.

By 2002, on the abduction’s 10th anniversary, Sukhova said she had forgiven the kidnappers.

“I wish them good health,” she told Lagales Laiks newspaper.

“I wish they would someday introduce me to the fate of my son. … I only have one request. Please let me know what happened to my son, I’ll agree to any conditions.”

At Ruslan’s school, principal Irina Lavrovska said he and the woman who raised him had similar facial features, so no one suspected foul play.

“He didn’t have many friends, but he didn’t have any enemies either,” says one of his school friends.

Meanwhile, the biological father has expressed a desire to be involved in the upbringing of the child, the family court said.

Now the court will decide about custody, taking into consideration the boy’s wishes. He can chose to stay with the woman who raised him, even though she is in jail. He can stay with the woman’s sister, who has been appointed as temporary legal guardian. Or he can stay with his newfound biological mother.

“Unfortunately, we’ve gotten used to the fact that the children aren’t found, and if they are found, they’re dead,” Soldatjonoka said. “It’s very unusual not only for our city or Latvia that a child turned up after such a long time.”

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