Woman Sold To Gypsies Aged Four Reunited With Her Family

A Belarusian woman who was kidnapped and sold to a gypsy family for a pair of earrings has found her birth family after 17 years of separation.

Olga Romanovich, 21, was snatched aged four after she and her mother moved from Minsk to Moldova following her parents' divorce.

The kidnappers were acquaintances of her mother, Tamara, and ran away with her little girl while she was in a shop buying cigarettes in their new hometown, Soroca.

Soroca is well known as a centre for the country's Romani gypsies, who have lived there for hundreds of years.

After being taken, Olga says that she was given to another gypsy family in exchange for a pair of earrings.

Despite her ordeal, Olga - who now hopes to train as a doctor - has fond words for the gypsy family who raised her for the next 16 years. "I was loved," she told Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. "They raised me as well as they could."

As time went on, she learnt to speak the Romani language, and was enrolled in a Russian-language school. She then trained as a chef and a hairdresser at a college in Soroca, as well as winning a beauty contest in the town.

Known in her new family as Maria Preyda, she was treated as a daughter by the gypsies who had adopted her. But, Olga says, she was always aware that she belonged somewhere else and cherished the hope of reuniting with her birth family.

It was her adoptive grandmother who urged her to follow her instincts. "She told me 'find your relatives. If I knew anything about your real mother, I would have told you'", Olga remembers.

Interpol, working with Moldovan police, were able to help her piece together the details of her abduction, and DNA tests confirmed that 'Maria Preyda' was really Olga Romanovich.

The first person that Olga wanted to see was her birth mother, who she says is now 'very ill' and 'lives in her own world'. "She is not to blame for what happened," Olga says. "It was just fate."

After her daughter's abduction in 1997, Tamara returned to Minsk and filed a report with police, which she claims was ignored.

In the following years, she became unable to look after her three sons. The well-off family who adopted the brothers also lobbied police to investigate Olga's disappearance, and Interpol finally took on the case in 2007, 10 years after the child went missing.

Now Olga, who is living back in Belarus with a birth aunt, is looking forward to being reunited with her younger brothers and other family members.