Taira and "good Russians"

13 December 2022, 03:55 PM

A group of MEPs and I met with Taira in Brussels during a busi-ness trip. She gave me a big smile, ran up to me, and hugged me as soon as she heard me speaking Ukrainian.

"When you were in captivity, did you still manage to communicate with the Russians? Were there those who sympathized?” an MEP asks Taira.

We are having lunch in the European Parliament. More precisely, Taira ate, and wecatch her every word.

"Sympathized?” Taira asks.

“No, there were none of those. There was one Russian woman, a doctor, she hated me just as much, but she fulfilled her ‘Hippocratic Oath’ and gave me pills after torture.”

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"A woman," an MEP said with hope lighting up her eyes.

"And what did she say?" Did you communicate?”

Taira thinks: "I remember once, I was thrown into my cell after an interrogation. It was very bad. I walked, leaning on the wall."

The Russian woman gave me painkillers through the door slot. She looked at me: "Why are you so worried? You think they beat you. What, did your husband never beat you?"

"No, never. He doesn’t beat me."

"Really?” the Russian woman's eyes widened.

"I want to look at your husband, is he a man at all?" she laughed.

We met Taira in Brussels during a business trip. She smiled widely, ran up, and hugged me as soon as she heard the Ukrainian language. She exudes incredible energy, optimism and strength. She jokes a lot, and asks for meat at dinner, rather than the vegan dishes primarily served here in the parliament cafe.

"Taira" is the call sign of Yulia Paevska, a volunteer, soldier, and famous paramedic.

You look at her joyful face and confident gait, and you cannot imagine that she survived three months of captivity and torture in Mariupol. Three months in a dark cell. Three months of pain. She eats and laughs.

By profession, Yulia is a paramedic, the commander of the Taira’s Angels unit, and currently she is the Commissioner for Rehabilitation of Combatants. Since 2014, she has been teaching tactical medicine and rescuing our soldiers. From February 24, this has included both ours and Russians.

In March, she and her driver were captured by Russian occupiers in Mariupol. An indictment was brought under the Criminal Code of the "DNR" under an article punishable by execution.

She spent three months in captivity.

Taira is now testifying before the Helsinki Commission about the atrocities in Mariupol and Russian captivity. She talks about a 7-year-old boy with a bullet wound who died in her arms. About how she saw pregnant prisoners in captivity, whose fate is still unknown.

She is forced to describe again and again the pictures from Mariupol that she tries to forget: a dead child in his mother's arms; the mutilated bodies of women and children who were taken out from under the rubble; dogs that dragged human limbs through the city.

European deputies persistently ask her about the "Russians:" how did they behave?Did they thank her for saving their lives? This is the only opportunity for MEPs to "touch" the "other" world. Somewhere far away.

"No," says Taira, "they didn't thank me."

At first, when they got to the hospital, they were very afraid that they would be killed, and kept silent. And then, when they understood that they were not going to die, they fell apart and started talking to me with the words "what's up, baby?" Were they grateful that I saved their lives? They considered me a "fool" because I saved the lives of Russian soldiers."

I look at her and remember her last interview. About how Ukrainian prisoners were forced to take off their clothes before being shot.

Clothes were more valuable than their lives.

For me, this is like scary footage from films about the Second World War which has become reality. For Taira, it is reality. For someone in Mariupol, it is what is happening right now.

It is impossible to imagine. I try to recreate it in my own mind for a second, and my brain blocks out the picture. Protecting me.

If these "rationalizations" about "good Russians" bother me, how difficult they must be for her. But Taira is calm, and she offers explanations to foreign colleagues and journalists again and again.

"Russians are completely addicted to television," says Taira.

“Without informational nutrition, they really languish. They seem to be "chained to it," like tubes from the "Matrix" inserted into the neck. When there is no propaganda or television, they start to "break" physically, and they feel bad. We turned on the recording of Ukrainian news on their phone. In the first days, they were like after a "breakdown." Then they started listening. Ask questions little by little. With some of them, something changed in their views."

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"Translate, please," adds Taira.

"We will definitely win." She looks proudly into the camera, laughs, and hugs us.

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