Russian babies switched at birth
Two Russian babies were mistakenly switched at birth by hospital staff in 1998. (Reuters)

It is every mother's worst nightmare: two teenage girls born at the same time and on the same hospital ward were mistakenly switched by nursing staff and have been raised by the "wrong" parents.

Teenagers Irina and Anya were both born within 15 minutes of each other at the same hospital in the Russian Urals in 1998. The surnames of the two babies' mothers were very similar despite the families' cultural and religious differences, which is thought to have led staff to make the mistake.

The blunder went undetected for years and the truth has only recently come out.

Yulia Belyaeva discovered her daughter Irina's true identity only when her ex-husband refused to pay maintenance, saying the child looked nothing like him.

In order to prove her innocence, Belyaeva had two DNA tests conducted and found out that neither she nor her former husband were Irina's biological parents.

"My first thought was that Irina must not find out and the second was: Where is my biological child?" she said.

Following legal proceedings and an investigation, Belyaeva discovered her biological daughter, Anya, was living in another neighbourhood in the same town with her "father", Naymat Iskanderov.

"They told me they had switched my child with another at the hospital.They said your biological child is with another family," Iskanderov told Russian news channel RT.

"It cannot be: she looks like her mother. I asked to see a photograph of the girl. They gave me a picture of her and I was in shock for about 40 minutes. My hands and legs were shaking."

The two families eventually made contact and decided to introduce the girls to each other before telling them the truth. The girls became friends.

"They're different. They pray, they don't speak like us," Belyaeva said. Irina was raised as a Russian Orthodox and Anya as a Muslim.

On discovering their true identities, both girls chose to stay with the parents who raised them.

This is not the first such case of baby-switching in Russian hospitals.

In April 2009, two baby boys were returned to their biological mothers two years after they were mixed up.