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A Ukrainian medic recorded footage of her time in Mariupol — then sent it to the AP

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

When the Ukrainian city of Mariupol fell to Russia last month, that followed weeks of heavy fighting. Media reports from the city were hard to come by, but one Ukrainian medic recorded bodycam scenes she saw. She then smuggled her recordings out to the Associated Press. Her name is Yuliia Paievska, and she's known in Ukraine as Taira. Days after she managed to sneak that footage to the AP, she was captured by Russian soldiers and disappeared. I spoke earlier with Lori Hinnant, an investigative correspondent for the AP in Paris. She wrote about Taira. And a warning - we mention disturbing incidents, including the death of a child. Hinnant began by describing who Taira was.

LORI HINNANT: Taira was first well known as a martial arts athlete. And then during the 2014 protests, she became a quite famous medic in Kyiv at the Euromaidan protests. But it really took off after that because she started to train other medics. She created this medical unit called Taira's Angels. She had a big - has a big personality. She became a member of Ukraine's Invictus team. Invictus is an organization set up for disabled military veterans, for athletics - kind of like an Olympics, but for military veterans.

PFEIFFER: As I understand it, she recorded about two weeks' worth of footage on a camera she had somewhere on her body. And in it, she's seen treating soldiers and also civilians and, in one case, a little boy. That was very powerful, of course, because it's a child. Could you tell us about that?

HINNANT: The little boy came in with his sister. The two of them had been injured at a shooting at a checkpoint. Their parents were killed. And it's incredibly moving to watch this team of doctors and nurses and medics try to save these children. The little girl survived, and the little boy - despite the CPR, despite all of their efforts, the little boy died. And you see Taira just absolutely break up with his death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YULIIA PAIEVSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

HINNANT: And she kind of leans her body against the wall, which we actually see.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAIEVSKA: (Crying).

HINNANT: And she just says, "I hate this."

PFEIFFER: In one clip, she's seen treating a Russian soldier. This is significant because she's Ukrainian. Could you describe what happens in that scene?

HINNANT: Well, she actually treats Russian soldiers in a couple of the clips, but the one that was particularly moving was one of the last things that she filmed. And it was on March 10. And these two soldiers, both clearly injured, are being brought in by Ukrainian soldiers. They're both Russian. And one of them has an obvious leg injury. And she tells the Ukrainians to be gentle with him. And then a colleague says to her, "are you going to treat them?"

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAIEVSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

HINNANT: She said, "they're not going to be as kind to us as we are to them, but I don't really have a choice."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAIEVSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

HINNANT: "They're prisoners of war, and I will treat them." And what's really striking about it is that she was taken prisoner, as far as we know, six days later. And then sometime after that, she appeared on a Russian television network, and her face is bruised, and she's in handcuffs. And when I see that footage and then think back to her comments about how they won't be as kind to us as we will be to them, it really - it remains moving.

PFEIFFER: Oh, I'm sure. Any idea where she is, where that footage of her seemingly captured was taken?

HINNANT: No, it's really hard to say.

PFEIFFER: You can imagine that this footage is very important for many reasons. It could document war crimes. You can imagine that the Russians may not want the public to see some of it. Yet she was able to get it out to the AP. How did she do that?

HINNANT: Taira passed the data card to a police officer that she knew would be coming into contact with our team in Mariupol right around the time that everybody was hoping to get to leave the city. So when they got the data card, my colleague Vasilisa Stepanenko made the decision, knowing that they were passing a lot of Russian checkpoints but not how many, to hide it inside a tampon. She sliced open a tampon and put the data card, which is quite small, inside it. That allowed them to pass undetected through 15 Russian checkpoints until they finally made it to the 16th Ukrainian one.

PFEIFFER: Lori, in the article you wrote about Taira's story, one of her colleagues is quoted as saying, "this is not about saving one particular woman. Taira will represent those medics and women who went to the front." Do you know what that person meant exactly with that?

HINNANT: Taira's capture is a sign of all that this person, I think, sees has gone wrong - that medics should be protected, that hospitals should be protected. And neither of those is happening right now.

PFEIFFER: That's Lori Hinnant, investigative correspondent with the AP. Lori, thank you.

HINNANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Kathryn Fox