Daughter’s plea for the “Angel of Mariupol” who saved 500 Ukrainian lives

Exclusive: Daughter's plea for ?Angels of Mariupol? who saved 500 Ukrainian lives PA

Anna-Sofia Puzanova is a refugee living outside Ukraine from where she has called on the world to help save her mother (Image: PA)

The daughter of a respected Ukrainian medic suspected of being kidnapped by Russian-backed separatists has spoken of the “pain” she feels while waiting for news.

Anna-Sofia Puzanova has received support from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who she met at the Invictus Games in the Netherlands, which her mother Yuliia Paievska is said to have attended.

After the competition ended, Anna-Sofia was unable to return to Ukraine and is instead in a third country.

Yuliia, 52, is the founder and director of Taira’s Angels, a volunteer medical evacuation unit that has worked in Mariupol to assist military personnel and civilians.

Fifty-two days after her arrest, no progress is known to secure her release through a possible prisoner exchange.

Anna-Sofia, 19, traveled to the multinational games in The Hague as well as to Brussels to speak for her mother, whose humanitarian work began at the start of the Donbass conflict in 2014.

She told “It’s really painful for me to be without my mum but it’s important to get the message out around the world. We don’t have any news about her, she’s probably in Russia, but we just don’t know.”

The teenager spoke after pro-Russian media released video footage showing her mother showing signs of coercion.

Julia Paievska

Yuliia Paievska was detained by pro-Russian forces while doing humanitarian work (Image: #SaveTaira)

“It’s really important for the world to help me save my mother, she has been saving lives for Ukraine since 2014,” she said.

“She has already rescued more than 500 people from the front lines, both civilians and soldiers, so the world must help me save them. The world needs to share the true information and speak out about what happened.’

Yulia’s husband, Yadym Puzanov, has told how she was involved in the evacuation of civilians through a humanitarian corridor from the city in south-eastern Ukraine when she was stopped at a checkpoint.

A video released by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic then showed his wife waiting in line at a police station.

Julia Paievska

Yuliia Paievska founded the Tairas Engel volunteer medical unit, which had been working in Mariupol (Image: #SaveTaira)

A few days later, the paramedic was featured on a Russian TV program making false and derogatory remarks about her after she was led into a darkened office with a bag over her head.

Among the unsubstantiated claims was a voiceover in which she said she was acquainted with neo-Nazis — a reference to the Azov Battalion, which is of far-right origin.

Taira was never part of the unit, say her supporters. She had served for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and between 2018 and 2020 she headed the evacuation department of the 61st Mobile Hospital in Mariupol.

She then demobilized and continued to volunteer until she was captured while working to evacuate the wounded from the combat zones and assist the local population.

Julia Paievska

Yuliia Paievska and her group had been working to save lives amid the Russian siege of Mariupol (Image: #SaveTaira)

Mr Puzanov told Al Jazeera: “To accuse you of professing Nazism is sheer madness. For the past eight years, her entire life has been dedicated to saving lives. In terms of her worldview, I would say she’s kind of a Buddhist.”

On April 29, Ukrainian embassies in Europe said Russian media were using Taira in “disinformation narratives and propaganda campaigns,” including videos in which she appears to be under psychological and physical pressure.

These indicators “give reason to believe that Taira’s life is in danger,” it said in a message. The Facebook post also warned of a “lack of progress” on negotiations to put them on a list of prisoners to be exchanged.


The humanitarian group’s founder was recognized for her work as a paramedic volunteer in December 2021 (Image: #SaveTaira)

Anna-Sofia told that she last spoke to her mother on March 13, three days before the paramedic was said to have been captured by Russian-backed soldiers near Mariupol.

“The last time we spoke it was small talk, she asked how I was and said she was trying to find a place to sleep because she had been working on the front lines all those days,” she said.

“She had saved people and was really tired.”

The Ukrainian team made the difficult decision to travel to the Dutch city to keep their home country’s fight in view of the world, with many of the athletes taking breaks from their frontline roles.


Anna-Sofia Puzanova during the Invictus Games in The Hague where she appealed to the world to save her mother (Image: PA)

The Duke of Sussex greets participants as he takes part in the athletics events of the Invictus Games at Athletics Park in Zuiderpark The Hague, Netherlands. Picture date: Sunday April 17, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ROYAL Invictus. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Prince Harry meets a member of Invictus Team Ukraine in The Hague (Image: Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation)

Since then, Mariupol has become the scene of the Azovstal siege, where Ukrainian defenders hold out their last line of defense in the city, despite weeks of heavy bombardment and appalling humanitarian conditions in tunnels beneath the steelworks.

The Kremlin has almost reduced the southern port city to rubble, 200 civilians and an unknown number of soldiers are still in the metal factory.

The civilian death toll in the city was put last week by Ukrainian authorities at more than 20,000 people since the invasion began 72 days ago.

“It’s really painful and I’m really angry about it,” Anna-Sofia said of Mariupol. “I’m really worried about it, it’s a disaster.”


Yuliia Paievska should have competed at the Invictus Games along with her international athletes (Image: #SaveTaira)


A campaign for the release of Yuliia Paievska continues (Credits: PA)

The 63-strong Ukraine delegation received a standing ovation at the opening ceremony of the week-long games, as well as messages of solidarity from Prince Harry, the event’s founder, and his wife Meghan Markle.

The mother and daughter story is set to be featured in a Netflix documentary called Heart of Invictus, which the couple is directing.

“You know about the situation with my mother,” said Anna-Sofia.

“They supported me and they are really nice guys. Prince Harry has said he is truly sorry for the situation and genuinely cares about us.

For security reasons, Anna-Sofia captured the country where she is located after the games, which ended on April 22, and the subsequent trip to Brussels, where she appeared at a forum, around the cause of her mother and others from Russians emphasize taken women, not disclosed powers.

“I can’t go back home because it’s too dangerous,” she said. “I really hope there will be peace when I can return to Ukraine.”

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Justin Scacco

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