Russia frees Ukrainian medic who filmed firsthand horror of besieged Mariupol

Celebrated Ukrainian medic Yuliia Paievska has been freed three months after she and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on the besieged streets of Mariupol.

Ms Paievska — better known as Taira in Ukraine — made international headlines in March when footage from her body camera was smuggled out of Mariupol by an Associated Press team, the last international journalists in the city.

Using the camera, she recorded 256 gigabytes of her team’s efforts over two weeks to save the wounded, including both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.

She transferred the clips to the press team, one of whom fled with it embedded in a tampon on March 15.

Taira and her colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on March 16, the same day a Russian air-strike hit a theatre in the city centre, killing hundreds.

A woman with blonde hair and wearing glasses and a military uniform, smiles for a picture
Taira was taken prisoner by Russian forces in March.(Invictus Games Team Ukraine via AP)

Zelenskyy announces release in national address

“It was such a great sense of relief. Those sound like such ordinary words, and I don’t even know what to say,” her husband, Vadim Puzanov, told The Associated Press late Friday, breathing deeply to contain his emotion.

Mr Puzanov said he spoke by phone with Taira, who was en route to a Kyiv hospital, and feared for her health.

Initially the family had kept quiet, hoping negotiations would take their course.

But The Associated Press spoke with him before releasing the smuggled videos, which ultimately had millions of viewers around the world, including on some of the biggest networks in Europe and the United States.

Mr Puzanov expressed gratitude for the coverage, which showed Taira was trying to save Russian soldiers as well as Ukrainian civilians.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Taira’s release in a national address.

Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, assists as a serviceman is brought in on a stretcher in Mariupol.
Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, assists as a fighter brought in on a stretcher in Mariupol.(AP)

AP finds no links to Azov Battalion

Hundreds of prominent Ukrainians have been kidnapped or captured, including local officials, journalists, activists and human rights defenders.

Russia portrayed Taira as working for the nationalist Azov Battalion, in line with Moscow’s narrative that it is attempting to “denazify” Ukraine.

But AP found no such evidence, and friends and colleagues said she had no links to Azov, which made a last stand in a Mariupol steel plant before hundreds of its fighters were captured or killed.

The footage itself is a visceral testament to her efforts to save the wounded on both sides.

A Ukrainian medical evacuation helicopter lands in front of Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, in Mariupol.
A Ukrainian medical evacuation helicopter lands in front of Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, in Mariupol.(AP)

A clip recorded on March 10 shows two Russian soldiers taken roughly out of an ambulance by a Ukrainian soldier.

One is in a wheelchair. The other is on his knees, hands bound behind his back, with an obvious leg injury. Their eyes are covered by winter hats, and they wear white armbands.

A Ukrainian soldier curses at one of them. “Calm down, calm down,” Taira tells him.

A woman asks her, “Are you going to treat the Russians?”

“They will not be as kind to us,” she replies.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 14 seconds

Parts of eastern Ukraine pulverised by Russian shelling.

Taira was a member of the Ukraine Invictus Games for military veterans, where she was set to compete in archery and swimming.

Invictus said she was a military medic from 2018 to 2020 but had since been demobilised.

She received the body camera in 2021 to film for a Netflix documentary series on inspirational figures being produced by Britain’s Prince Harry, who founded the Invictus Games.

But when Russian forces invaded, she used it to shoot scenes of injured civilians and soldiers instead.


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