Two friends who sat at the same school desk as teens were raised by the wrong families for 28 years after being mistakenly swapped at birth in a hospital blunder.
Svetlana Gachegova and Ekaterina (Katya) Naidenko went to each other’s homes for sleepovers never suspecting anything was amiss.
As a child, Svetlana became very close to Ekaterina’s older sister Lyuba and now DNA tests prove they are in fact blood sisters.
Svetlana embraced her real mum Valentina Naidenko, 66, after the shocking findings were revealed on a TV programme.
But the discovery of the Soviet maternity hospital blunder has caused anguish for the two women from Russia’s Perm region.For mum-of-two Ekaterina there is the agony of finding out that she is not related to the four siblings and loving parents she grew up with, and especially that Valentina is not her real mother.
Both her blood parents are now dead so she can never be acknowledged or embraced by them.
She admits to being “upset” and “confused” by the discovery on a Russian TV show on the channel NTV.
During the programme, Svetlana, a mother of one whose married name is Yakimenko, also appears jarred by the discovery and says bluntly: “I would like to forget this DNA test.”While she has remained close to Lyuba, 29, since childhood, she was shaken that the woman she believed was her elder sister – Aleftina – is not related to her at all.
Svetlana said: “I still do not believe it has happened to me. It feels like I’ve been watching a movie.”
A tearful Valentina said: “Katya (Ekaterina) grew up differently compared with my other four children.
“She was a roly-poly child – not slim like others, but I was happy she was healthy.
“I did not really suspect anything but other people did.”
Villagers in remote Bub openly said to her husband Alexey: “This is not your girl.”He loved Ekaterina – now a shop assistant – like his other children but died last year from cancer not knowing the suspicions were true.
Svetlana, a dental nurse and mother of one, grew up in neighbouring village Kichanovo, in the family of Raisa and Valentin Gachegov, both now dead, with sister Aleftina.
Svetlana said: “Katya and I had many common friends, and we often spent time together. We loved the fact that we were born on the same day, it was rather fun.
“I often came to see her at home and stayed for sleepovers.”
Friends often said that Lyuba looked so much like Svetlana – and found it surprising.
One said: “We laughed – who could imagine that Lyuba was my real sister and not Katya’s?”
Several years ago Raisa’s eldest daughter Aleftina moved to Kichanovo village, and locals started gossiping on her likeness to Ekaterina.
Valentina watched other TV shows about swapped babies being discovered decades later thanks to DNA tests.
She contacted a NTV channel show called DNA that had previously unmasked horrific baby swaps.
As a result, their samples were taken – and the results proved a grievous error by Siva maternity hospital staff in November 1989.
It is now deemed too long after the event to determine who was to blame.
Valentina said: “I am happy that I now know. Svetlana is my daughter. And Katya is my daughter too, this is how it is.
“I raised her, I love her children – my grandchildren. I am not going to say that she is not my family.
“When the truth was revealed, Valentina visited their graves of the Grachegovs to thank them for loving and raising her daughter.”
Ekaterina said she was “upset” and “confused” and had been disorientated when she first realised her likeness to Aleftina. But she insists that she still thinks of Valentina as her mother.
She said: “My mother (Valentina) was constantly worried about (the feeling that we had been swapped), so I just wanted to help her (find out the truth).
“I wanted her to calm down, so I did everything to help her. But I never had any doubts that I was her daughter.
“People used to say it right to my face that I was not like my mother. I did not mind it, I was always loved by my mother, as a child I liked to sleep with her so much.
“I got all possible love from my parents. I was one of five children and we had everything.
“I did hear about such swapping cases – but I was always sure that it could happen here, only in big cities, not in our village.”
Before they test result, Svetlana was adamant that it could not be true that she was swapped – even though friends had nicknamed her and Lyuba as “two Dolly the sheep”.
After she heard the verdict in the TV show, presented by Viktor Kalgutin, a professor of forensic medicine, she found it hard to cope with.
She added: “I don’t know what I feel now. I think very well of aunt Valentina as I call her… but I had my own mother, I’m sorry.
“I would like to forget this DNA test. I want Aleftina to be my sister.
“I know it has all been proved now, but I just don’t believe it.”
The show’s DNA tests also proved that Valentina and her daughter Ekaterina were not related.
They showed Valentina is the biological mother of Svetlana, and that Ekaterina and Aleftina are biological sisters.
Svetlana and Aleftina were shown to be unrelated.
The swapped women and Valentina now intend to take legal action against the regional health ministry.
They will each demand compensation for moral damages of 10 million roubles – or £120,000 – but in a series of such cases in Russia, courts have been reluctant to offer more than minimal compensation.