Anna-Sofia Puzanova is living as a refugee outside of Ukraine from where she has called on the world to help save her mum (Picture: PA)
The daughter of a respected Ukrainian paramedic believed to have been abducted by Russian-backed separatists has told of the ‘pain’ she feels as she waits 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, where her mother, Yuliia Paievska, was supposed to have competed.
After the competition ended, Anna-Sofia was not able to return to Ukraine and is instead in a third country.
Yuliia, 52, is the founder and leader of Taira’s Angels, a volunteer medical evacuation unit which has been working in Mariupol to support military personnel and civilians.
Fifty-two days on from her capture, there is no known progress to secure her release via a possible prisoner exchange.
Anna-Sofia, 19, travelled to the multi-national games at The Hague as well as to Brussels to speak out for her mum, whose humanitarian work began at the outset of the Donbass conflict in 2014.
She told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s really painful for me to be without my mum, but it’s important to spread the message to the whole world. We don’t have any news about her, she’s probably in Russia, but we just don’t know.’
The teenager spoke after video footage was released by pro-Russian media showing her mum displaying signs of duress.
Yuliia Paievska was seized by pro-Russian troops as she carried out humanitarian work (Picture: #SaveTaira)
‘It’s really important for the world to help me save my mum, she was saving lives for Ukraine since 2014,’ she said.
‘She already saved more than 500 people from the frontline, both civilians and soldiers, so the world must help me to save her. The world must share the true information and speak about what has happened.’
Yulia’s husband, Yadym Puzanov, has told how she had been involved in evacuating civilians through a humanitarian corridor out of the city in south-eastern Ukraine when she was stopped at a checkpoint.
A video released by the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic then appeared to show his wife in a line up at a police station.
Yuliia Paievska founded the volunteer medical unit Taira’s Angels which had been working in Mariupol (Picture: #SaveTaira)
A few days later, the medic was shown on a Russian TV programme which made false and derogatory comments about her after she was led into a darkened office with a bag over her head.
The unfounded claims included a voiceover saying she is acquainted with neo-Nazis – a reference to the Azov Battalion, which has far-right origins.
Taira has never been part of the unit, her supporters say. She had served for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, heading the evacuation department of the 61st Mobile Hospital in Mariupol between 2018 and 2020.
She then demobilised and continued her work as a volunteer up to the point she was captured as she worked to evacuate the wounded from the combat zones and supported the local population.
Yuliia Paievska and her group had been working to save lives amid the Russian siege of Mariupol (Picture: #SaveTaira)
Mr Puzanov told Al Jazeera: ‘To accuse her of professing nazism is pure madness. For the last eight years, all her life has been dedicated to saving people’s lives. As for her worldview, I would say she is kind of a Buddhist.’
On April 29, Ukrainian embassies in Europe said Russian media was using Taira in ‘disinformation narratives and propaganda campaigns’, including in videos where she appears to be under psychological and physical duress.
These indicators ‘provide grounds for believing there is a threat to Taira’s life,’ a message read. The post on Facebook also warned of a ‘lack of progress’ in negotiations to put her on a list of prisoners to be exchanged.
The humanitarian group founder was given an award in December 2021 for her work as a volunteer paramedic (Picture: #SaveTaira)
Anna-Sofia told Metro.co.uk that she last spoke to her mother on March 13, three days before the medic was said to have been captured by the 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 somewhere to sleep because she was working all those days on the frontline,’ she said.
‘She had been saving people and she was really tired.’
The Ukrainian team made the difficult decision to travel to the Dutch city to keep their homeland’s struggle in the world’s eye, with many of the athletes taking breaks from frontline roles.
Anna-Sofia Puzanova during the Invictus Games at the Hague where she appealed to the world to save her mum (Picture: PA)
Prince Harry meets a member of Invictus Team Ukraine at The Hague (Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation)
Mariupol has since become the scene of the Azovstal siege, where Ukrainian defenders are holding out at their last defensive position in the city despite weeks of heavy bombardment and atrocious humanitarian conditions in tunnels under the steelworks.
The Kremlin has reduced the southern port city to near ruins, with 200 civilians and an unknown number of troops remaining in the metal factory.
The civilian death toll in the city was last week said by Ukrainian authorities to be more than 20,000 people since the invasion began 72 days ago.
‘It’s really painful and I’m really angry about this,’ Anna-Sofia said of Mariupol. ‘I’m really worried about it, it’s a disaster.’
Yuliia Paievska was supposed to have competed alongside her fellow international athletes at the Invictus Games (Picture: #SaveTaira)
A campaign is continuing for the release of Yuliia Paievska (Credits: PA)
Ukraine’s 63-strong delegation was given a standing ovation at the opening ceremony for 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’s story is due to feature in a Netflix documentary, entitled Heart of Invictus, which is being filmed by the couple.
‘They know about the situation with my mother,’ Anna-Sofia said.
‘They have given me support and they are really kind guys. Prince Harry has said he is really sorry about the situation and he really cares about us.’
For security reasons, Anna-Sofia did not reveal the country she is in after the games, which ended on April 22, and the subsequent trip to Brussels where she appeared at a forum to highlight the cause of her mum and other women captured by Russian forces.
‘I can’t go back to my home because it is too dangerous,’ she said. ‘I really hope that by the time I get to go back to Ukraine there will be peace.’
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