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Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, is a celebrated Ukrainian medic who used a body camera to record her work in Mariupol while the port city was under Russian siege. She was captured by Russian troops but has now been freed. File photo: via AP

Russia frees Ukraine medic who filmed Mariupol horror, saved both sides’ people

  • Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, was held captive by Russian forces for three months after being seized in the besieged southern city in March
  • She had used a body camera to record her team’s efforts to save the wounded; President Zelensky said ‘we will keep working to free everyone’
Ukraine

A celebrated Ukrainian medic whose footage was smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol by an Associated Press team has been freed by Russian forces, three months after she was taken captive on the streets of the city.

Yuliia Paievska is known in Ukraine as Taira, a nickname she chose in the World of Warcraft video game. Using a body 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 an Associated Press team, the last international journalists in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, one of whom fled with it embedded in a tampon on March 15.

Taira and a 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 around 600 people, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Yuliia Paievska, or ‘Taira’, assists as a serviceman is brought in on a stretcher in Mariupol in February. With a body camera she recorded her team’s efforts to save lives. Photo: Yuliia Paievska via AP

“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, said late on Friday, breathing deeply to contain his emotion.

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 Associated Press spoke to 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.

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

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Russia tells Ukraine to end ‘senseless resistance’ and lay down arms in fight for Sievierodonetsk

Russia tells Ukraine to end ‘senseless resistance’ and lay down arms in fight for Sievierodonetsk

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

“I’m grateful to everyone who worked for this result. Taira is already home. We will keep working to free everyone,” he said.

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.

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But the 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 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?”

Medic Yuliia Paievska, known as Taira, part of Ukraine’s team for the Invictus Games. Photo: via AP

“They will not be as kind to us,” she replies. “But I couldn’t do otherwise. They are prisoners of war.”

Taira was a Ukraine member of the Invictus Games for military veterans, and had been due to compete in archery and swimming in the April event. Invictus said she was a military medic from 2018 to 2020 but had 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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