A Ukrainian doctor recorded harrowing scenes in Mariupol on a tiny body camera. Now it is in the hands of the Russians.

A famous Ukrainian doctor recorded his time in Mariupol on a data card no larger than a thumbnail, smuggled into the world in a pad. Now it is in Russian hands and Mariupol itself is about to fall.

Yuliia Paievska, who as a nurse went by Taira, used a body camera to record 256 gigabytes of footage of her team’s frantic two-week effort to bring people back from the brink of death. She handed the harrowing clips to a team from the Associated Press, the last international journalists in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as they departed in a rare humanitarian convoy.

Ukrainian war doctor in Mariupol
Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, looks at herself in the mirror and turns off her camera in Mariupol, Ukraine, February 27, 2022.

Yuliia Paievska / AP


Russian soldiers captured Taira and her driver the next day, March 16, one of many enforced disappearances in areas of Ukraine now held by Russia. 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 the AP found no such evidence, and friends and colleagues said she had no connection to Azov.

The military hospital where she led the evacuation of the wounded is not affiliated with Azov. And the video she recorded shows Taira trying to save wounded Russian soldiers with Ukrainian civilians.

A clip from March 10 shows two Russian soldiers being dragged out of an ambulance by a Ukrainian soldier. One is in a wheelchair. The other is on his knees, his hands tied behind his back, with an obvious leg injury.

Ukrainian war doctor in Mariupol
Two wounded Russian soldiers, left and right, arrive at a hospital for treatment March 10, 2022 in Mariupol, Ukraine.

Yuliia Paievska via AP


A Ukrainian soldier insults 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 I couldn’t help it. They are prisoners of war.”

Taira, 53, is now a prisoner of the Russians, like hundreds of local officials, journalists and other Ukrainian personalities kidnapped or captured. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has recorded 204 cases of enforced disappearances, saying some victims may have been tortured and five were later found dead.

The Russians have targeted doctors and hospitals, even though the Geneva Conventions designate military and civilian doctors for protection “under 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 fate or continuing into controlled territory. Ukrainian. Mother and child ended up separating.

Taira’s situation and what it reveals about Russia’s treatment of Ukrainian prisoners takes on new meaning as Mariupol’s last defenders are brought into areas under Russian control. Russia said more than 1,700 Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel mill surrendered this week, while Ukrainian officials said the fighters walked out after completing their mission.

The Ukrainian government says it tried to add Taira’s name to a prisoner exchange a few weeks ago. But Russia denies holding her, despite her appearing on TV channels in Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk region and on Russia’s NTV network, handcuffed and with a bruised face.

Taira is known in Ukraine as a star athlete as well as the person who formed the country’s voluntary medical force. The video she 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 chronicled efforts to bandage the open head wound of a Ukrainian soldier.

Two days later, she ordered her colleagues to wrap a wounded Russian soldier in a blanket. She calls the young man “Sunshine” – a favorite nickname for the many soldiers who have passed through his hands – and asks why he came to Ukraine.

“You take care of me,” he told her, almost amazed. His response: “We treat everyone the same.”

Ukrainian war doctor in Mariupol
Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, watches emergency personnel attempt to save a man’s life on March 2, 2022 in Mariupol, Ukraine.

Yuliia Paievska / AP


Later that night, two children – a brother and a sister – arrive seriously injured in a shooting at a checkpoint. Their parents are dead. By the end of the night, despite Taira’s pleas to “stay with me, little one”, so is the little boy.

Taira turns away from her lifeless body and cries. “I hate (it),” she says.

Throughout the video, she complains of chronic pain due to back and hip injuries. She makes jokes. And always, she carries a soft toy attached to her waistcoat to give to the children she could care for.

On March 15, a police officer handed the small data card to a team of Associated Press reporters. 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 during a Russian newscast on March 21 announced his capture. In it, she looks groggy and haggard as she reads a statement calling for an end to the fighting. As she speaks, a voiceover taunts her co-workers 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 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 this is aimed at,” he said.

Taira was part of the Invictus Games for Ukraine. She 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.

Instead, she filmed war footage. In the latest video shot by Taira, she is seated next to the driver who would disappear with her. Today is March 9.

“Two weeks of war. Mariupol under siege,” she said quietly. Then she curses no one in particular and the screen goes blank.

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