NIKOLAEVO, Bulgaria: A Roma woman in Bulgaria who was quizzed by police over the mysterious blond girl found in Greece admitted she had abandoned a baby girl several years ago but denied receiving any money.
“I am not sure that this Maria is my girl but she could be. Above all, I haven’t sold her! If this was the case, would we live here like that?” said Sasha Ruseva.
The neighbourhood in the small town of Nikolaevo, central Bulgaria is filled with tiny dilapidated houses. There are no sewage pipes and litter everywhere.
Ruseva, 35, and her husband Atanas, 38, live with five of their eight children in a single room with one double bed and coal stove. In Athens, police on Friday arrested a Roma couple on suspicion of having purchased Maria when she was a few weeks old for 4,000 euros ($5,500), but Ruseva says she did not take any money.
A cousin said Ruseva and her husband had “worked illegally in Greece, picking peppers. When their daughter was born there they could not get the necessary identification documents to bring her back to Bulgaria. This costs a lot. So they left her with another family.”
Today the couple are unemployed and live on social welfare and some occasional jobs.
Unemployment benefits are 40 leva (21 euros, $28) per month and children’s allowances are 35 leva (18 euros, $25) per child so most of the families in the area survive by collecting medicinal herbs or iron for recycling.
That is one reason why many in the neighbourhood do not believe the couple gave away their child for free.
“They got 200 or 300 euros to help them return to Bulgaria,” a young man, who also worked in Greece, said.
DNA tests have been ordered to determine whether Ruseva and her husband are Maria’s biological parents.
Their other children show a resemblance with Maria - one three-year old is fair-skinned and blue-eyed, his little sister’s naturally blond hair is dyed carrot red. The eldest son and two more girls are also whitish-blond and light-eyed.
“Atanas and Sasha have dark hair but we have two blond uncles and some of the children are like them,” Atanas’s brother Filip said.