A famous Ukrainian doctor recorded her stay in Mariupol on a thumbnail-sized data card, which she managed to smuggle out in a tampon. Now it is in Russian hands and Mariupol itself is about to fall.
Yuliia Paievska – known as Taira in her role as a doctor – used a body camera to record 256 gigabytes of footage of her team’s frantic two-week effort to save people from the brink of death. He handed over the harrowing clips to a team of Associated pressthe last international journalists in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as they departed in a rare humanitarian convoy.
Russian soldiers captured Taira and her driver the following day., on March 16, in one of many enforced disappearances in areas of Ukraine now in Russian hands. Russia has described Taira as working for the nationalist Azov Battalion, in line with Moscow’s narrative that he is trying to “denazify” Ukraine. But PA found no such evidence, and friends and colleagues said she had no connection to Azov.
The military hospital where he led casualty evacuations is not affiliated with Azov. Yes the video he recorded shows Taira trying to save wounded Russian soldiers with Ukrainian civilians.
A video from March 10 shows two Russian soldiers brutally snatched from an ambulance by a Ukrainian soldier. we are in a wheelchair. The other is on his knees, his hands tied behind his back, with an obvious leg injury.
A Ukrainian soldier curses one of them. “Calm down, calm down,” Taira told him.
A woman asks him: “Are you going to treat the Russians?”
“They won’t be so nice to us,” she replies. But he couldn’t do anything else. They are prisoners of war.
Taira, 53, is now a prisoner of the Russians, along with hundreds of local officials, journalists and other prominent Ukrainians who have been kidnapped or captured. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has recorded 204 cases of enforced disappearances and says some victims may have been tortured and five were later found dead.
Russians have targeted doctors and hospitals even as the Geneva Conventions designate military and civilian doctors for protection ‘in all circumstances’. On May 8, Russian soldiers accused a woman in a convoy from Mariupol of being a military doctor and forced her to choose between letting her 4-year-old daughter accompany her to an unknown destination or continuing into the territory under Ukrainian control. Mother and child ended up separating.
Taira’s fate and what it reveals about Russia’s treatment of Ukrainian prisoners takes on new meaning as Mariupol’s last defenders are herded into Russian-held areas. Russia says more than 1,700 Ukrainian fighters hiding in a steel mill surrendered this week, while Ukrainian officials said the fighters left after completing their mission.
The Ukrainian government says it tried to add Taira’s name to a prisoner swap weeks ago. But Russia denies holding her, despite her appearing on television in Ukraine’s breakaway region of Donetsk and on Russia’s NTV channel, handcuffed and with a bruised face.
Taira is known in Ukraine as a star athlete and also as the person who formed the country’s voluntary medical force. The video he took from February 6 to March 10 offers an intimate record of a beleaguered city that has since become a global symbol of Russian invasion and Ukrainian resistance.
On February 24, the first day of the war, Taira related that he had tried to bandage the open wound on the head of a Ukrainian soldier.
Two days later, he ordered his colleagues to wrap a wounded Russian soldier in a blanket. She calls the young man “Sunshine”, the favorite nickname of the many soldiers who have passed through her hands, and asks him why he came to Ukraine.
“You take care of me,” he told her, almost amazed. Your answer: “We treat everyone the same”.
Later that night, two children, a brother and a sister, arrive seriously injured in a shooting at a checkpoint. His parents are dead. At the end of the night, despite Taira’s pleas to “stay with me, kid”, so does the boy.
Taira turns away from her lifeless body and cries. “I hate (it),” she says.
Throughout the video, he complains of chronic pain due to back and hip injuries. She makes jokes. And still, he carries a stuffed animal attached to his waistcoat to give to any child he may care for.
On March 15, a policeman gave the small data card to a team of journalists from Associated Press. Taira asked reporters via walkie-talkie to safely remove the map from Mariupol. The map was hidden inside a pad as journalists passed through 15 Russian checkpoints.
The next day, Taira disappeared with her driver Serhiy.
A video broadcast on a Russian news program on March 21 announced his capture. In it, she looks dazed and haggard as she reads a statement calling for an end to the fight. As he speaks, a voiceover taunts his colleagues by calling them Nazis.
With a husband and a teenage daughter, Taira knew what war can do to a family. At one point, a wounded Ukrainian soldier asked him to call his mother, and she told him he could call her himself, “so don’t make her nervous”.
Taira’s husband, Vadim Puzanov, said he had received little news since his wife’s disappearance.
“To accuse a volunteer doctor of all mortal sins, including organ trafficking, is already outrageous propaganda; I don’t even know who it is for,” he said.
Taira was part of the Ukrainian Invictus Games. He received the body camera last year to film a Netflix documentary series about inspirational characters produced by Britain’s Prince Harry, who founded the Invictus Games.
In exchange, footage from the war. In the last video Taira filmed, she is seated next to the driver who would disappear with her. Today is March 9.
“Two weeks of war. Mariupol under siege,” he said quietly. Then he curses no one in particular and the screen goes black.
(With AP information)