A woman who claims she is the biological mother of a Ukrainian orphan at the center of a bizarre controversy about her true age claims the girl is, in fact, the age on her birth certificate.
Following an explosive interview with Kristine and Michael Barnett, the adoptive parents of Natalia, who they claim is actually a dangerous adult posing as a child, the Daily Mail tracked down a woman that the outlet identified as the girl's mother — Anna Volodymyrivna Gava — in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
Gava, 40, told the outlet through a translator that she had Natalia 16 years ago, which correlates with the age the Barnetts were told when they adopted the then 6-year-old girl from an agency in Florida in 2010.
Natalia was born with an extremely rare form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, which stunted her physical growth and development. The condition, of which only about 175 cases have ever been diagnosed, led Natalia's birth mother to give her up shortly after she was born.
"Doctors told me to leave the baby: 'Leave her, don’t ruin your life,'" Gava told the Mail. "Both them and my mom told me to leave her. They said the baby would never be good, that she would never be able to move, that she would be chained to a chair or to a bed."
Gava expressed concern after learning of her daughter's predicament, stating she previously thought "everything was okay" with the child she gave up and her new family.
"She now lives in America with adoptive parents who want to ditch her," she said. "It turned out that it's not all okay."
Kristine and Michael Barnett were recently charged with felony neglect of a dependent after abandoning Natalia in 2012. That charge stemmed from the couple having Natalia's birth year legally changed from September 4, 2003, to the same date in 1989, making her 22 years old at the time.
The family signed the girl up for social welfare programs and prepaid for a year's worth of her rent before moving to Canada to pursue schooling for their son, who is a physics prodigy with Asperger's syndrome.
However, according to an arrest affidavit, a bone density test carried out on Natalia in June 2010 concluded she was approximately 8 years old at the time, just 2 years older than her supposed age when she was adopted. A skeletal exam carried out in 2012 at the same hospital concluded she was about 11.
The Barnetts, who are now divorced, vehemently deny the test results and maintain that Natalia is an adult who already exhibited signs of puberty when they brought her home at the alleged age of 6, including a menstrual cycle and "full pubic hair." The pair also alleges that Natalia made repeated attempts to kill her adoptive mother, including shoving her into an electric fence and pouring cleaning fluid into her coffee.
The case has drawn widespread comparisons to the 2009 film "Orphan," in which a couple adopts a 9-year-old Russian girl and later discovers she is, in fact, a 33-year-old woman who has killed at least seven people, including the last family who adopted her.
The Barnetts pleaded not guilty on Sept. 27 and are scheduled for a pretrial hearing on Nov. 11.