Russian forces on Friday released a famous Ukrainian medic whose footage was smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol by an Associated Press team, three months after she was captured on the city’s streets.
Yulia Bayevska is known in Ukraine as Taira, a nickname she chose for the World of Warcraft video game. Using a body camera, she recorded 256GB of her team’s two-week effort to rescue the wounded, including Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.
The clips were brought to the Associated Press, the last international journalist in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, one of whom escaped with her in a tampon on March 15. On the same day, a Russian airstrike hit a theater downtown, killing about 600 people, according to an Associated Press investigation.
“It was a wonderful feeling of relief. These sound like ordinary words, and I don’t even know what to say,” her husband, Vadim Pozhanov, told The Associated Press late Friday, breathing deeply to contain his emotions. Pozanov said that he spoke on the phone with Tyra, who was on her way to a hospital in Kyiv, and he feared for her health.
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At first, the family was silent, hoping that the negotiations would run their course. But the Associated Press spoke to him before releasing the smuggled videos, which have drawn millions of viewers around the world, including some of the biggest networks in Europe and the United States. Pozanov expressed gratitude for the coverage that showed Tyra was trying to rescue Russian soldiers as well as Ukrainian civilians.
In a short video posted Saturday on Telegram, Tyra thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his efforts to get her released. “I know that everything will work out and we will all be at home as I am now,” she said, addressing the Ukrainians still detained in Russia, in a loud voice.
Zelensky announced Tyra’s release in a patriotic address.
“I am grateful to everyone who worked towards this outcome. Taira is already at home. We will continue to work to free everyone,” he said.
Hundreds of prominent Ukrainians, including local officials, journalists, activists and human rights defenders, have been kidnapped or captured.
Russia portrayed Tyra as working for the Azov Nationalist Battalion, in keeping with Moscow’s narrative that it is trying to “discredit” Ukraine. But the AP found no such evidence, and friends and colleagues said it had no links to Azov, which took the last stand at the Mariupol steel plant before capturing or killing hundreds of its fighters.
The footage itself is a profound testament to her efforts to rescue the wounded on both sides.
A video clip recorded on March 10 shows two Russian soldiers who were nearly pulled out of an ambulance by a Ukrainian soldier. One in a wheelchair. The other is on his knees with his hands tied behind his back, with his leg visibly injured. Their eyes are covered with winter hats and they wear white armbands.
Ukrainian soldier cursing someone. “Calm down, calm down,” Tyra said to him.
A woman asks her, “Are you going to deal with the Russians?”
She replied, “They will not be kind to us.” “But I can’t do otherwise. They are prisoners of war.”
Tyra was a member of the Ukraine Invictus Veterans Games, where she was scheduled to compete in shooting and swimming. Invictus said she was a military doctor from 2018 to 2020 but has since been discharged.
She acquired a body camera in 2021 to shoot a Netflix documentary series about inspirational characters produced by British Prince Harry, who founded Invictus Games. But when Russian forces invaded, they used it to film scenes of wounded civilians and soldiers instead.