“No one believed it, but we did.” How a war orphan made Ukraine and Russia negotiate her return to her grandfather

The child is recovering from injuries including shrapnel in his face, neck and legs. The disfigured face and introverted posture are signs of the physical and psychological trauma he has suffered.

When 12-year-old Kira Obedinsky, a war orphan, was evacuated from her hometown of Mariupol to a hospital in a Russian-controlled area in early March, the girl was not sure if she would join the rest of the members. from your family.

Now, in Kyiv, against all odds, Kira is sitting in a hospital bed with her grandfather, Oleksandr Obedinsky. According to the nurses, the boy is still recovering from injuries including shrapnel to his face, neck and legs. His disfigured face and introverted posture are signs of the physical and psychological trauma he has suffered. Kira first spoke to CNN about her agony.

The Obedinsky family was torn apart by this war. Kira’s father, Yevhen Obedinsky, the former captain of the Ukrainian national water polo team, was killed on March 17 when Russian forces bombed the city. At that moment, Kira was orphaned. He actually lost his mother when he was only two weeks old.

Kira was injured by a landmine explosion while trying to escape from Mariupol

Days after her father’s death, Russian soldiers transport Kira to a hospital in the Donetsk region after she was wounded while trying to escape from Mariupol with her father’s girlfriend.

“Army [russos] They ran and stopped two cars and took us to a hospital in Manhoush because we were bleeding. Then they transferred us from Manush to another hospital in Donetsk. ”Kira mentioned.

In Kyiv, in an interview with CNN earlier this month, Oleksandr said he feared never seeing his granddaughter again, as it was nearly impossible to cross the war-torn country to get her back. When he called the hospital where Kira was hospitalized, he was told that eventually the child would be sent to an orphanage in Russia.

The happy reunion, more than a month after they met each other, was orchestrated by negotiators from Ukraine and Russia, and included an unforgettable trip.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already visited Kira in the hospital to celebrate her return, and has also given her an iPad to keep her entertained while she recovers. Oleksandr said he told Zelensky that Kira was “tired but happy” and thanked him for her granddaughter’s safe return. “Nobody believed [que seria possível]. But, thank God, we did,” he told CNN.

Saving Kira from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists was not an easy task. After media coverage of their situation, the Ukrainian government told Kira’s grandfather that they had reached an agreement allowing him to travel to Donetsk to pick up his granddaughter. However, it will not be a simple task.

Oleksandr bravely embarked on a four-day trek. He said he took a train to Poland, a trip to Turkey, a second trip to Moscow, followed by a train trip to the southern Russian city of Rostov, and a car trip to Donets, where he finally met a tearful Kira.

After a passionate reunion, filled with heavy hugs, the couple left for home, after the same long journey back to Kyiv.

Oleksander Obedinsky with Kira’s granddaughter, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine

“I missed him”

At Akhmatdet Hospital in Kyiv, Kira cherishes the only property her father was able to keep after his death: her cell phone. This was the only way he was able to communicate with the rest of his family while in Donetsk.

She said she reached out to Oleksander, the only remaining family member, via Instagram, and texted her grandfather’s friend to explain where she ended up.

Her February posts showed that Keira pretends to be innocent in selfies, and she has no idea how to turn life upside down in just a few weeks. This connection to her old life was so crucial to the young woman that she found herself in a hospital surrounded by unfamiliar faces and missing her grandfather.

“I was glad I was able to contact them. I lost track of how much time had passed.”Kira says: “I waited so long for him to come pick me up. Even in the second hospital, I waited. I missed him.”

Oleksandr said the couple met on April 23, having last met on March 10. He admits that he would not have been able to guarantee his safety and that of Kira had he tried to bring her back on his own, without the help of the Ukrainian government.

“I wouldn’t have dared to do this on my own, of course,” Oleksandr said. “Because this adventure could have ended without either Kira or my adventurer being released.”

Kira Obedinsky in Mariupol, before the war

While in Donetsk, Kira was interviewed by a state Russian channel, in which she broadcast a video of the young woman talking happily about how she was sometimes allowed to call her grandfather. According to a Russian TV presenter, the interview was used as “evidence” that she had not been kidnapped. However, Kira tells a completely different story.

“The hospital there is horrible,” she told CNN. “The food is poor, the nurses are screaming and the hospital is not good.”

Weeks later, Kira recovered from some of her injuries, but she remembers painfully the moment the shrapnel was removed from her body.

“I was taken by ambulance to Donetsk at night, and during the night the splinter was removed from my ear. I screamed and cried a lot because I felt they were moving inside. There was more on my face, neck and legs.”She said.

Hidden in the ruins of Mariupol

Now that she is safe in Kyiv, Kira is able to reveal what exactly happened in Mariupol and how her family’s luck ran out as they tried to flee the city that was quickly besieged by Russian forces.

She remembers living amid shrapnel and shelling, hiding with Anya, her father’s friend and their children inside the destroyed walls of their home. Tanks roamed the streets, says Kira, remembering men in uniform approaching her backyard.

After their home was flattened on March 16, Kira says, they were trapped in the basement and it was neighbors who helped pull them out of the rubble. Your father never came back. For three days, Kira, along with her father’s friend and children, sought shelter in another basement before attempting a fateful escape from the city.

It was Kira’s girlfriend who kicked a mine while jogging, she says. Then Kira remembers how her ears were bleeding and how her friend’s family dog ​​absorbed most of the blast. The group survived but was hit by shrapnel.

Kira said that because of the explosion she caused, at that moment she alerted the Russian forces to the whereabouts of the group. They were taken to the town of Manhas for immediate treatment in a hospital, and then transferred to another city in Donetsk in an ambulance, where the group was forced to separate, leaving Kira alone, injured and terrified while the rest were taken to another location.

This whole situation was in the distant past for Kira, who is now playing games on her new iPad and holding off on downloading more apps to listen to music, and is excited to meet her grandfather’s friend soon.

As the family gets used to this new normal, the fact that they are together again is a huge relief to them. “I still can’t believe it finally happened,” Oleksandr said. “Because we thought it was going to happen, but many said it was impossible. It was a really difficult process.”

They also described the enthusiasm they felt for the president’s efforts to recover Kira, an issue that attracted worldwide attention. But for Zelensky, Kira is just one of many Ukrainian children allegedly deliberately deported to Russian-controlled areas. For its part, Moscow denounced the allegations of forced deportations as lies, stressing that Ukraine impeded its efforts to “evacuate” people to Russia.

“We are very concerned about the children,” Zelensky said when visiting Kira. “Children are our future. We will fight for every Ukrainian child to return home.”

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