February 3, 2023

After epic journey, orphaned Ukrainian girl is reunited with grandfather

6 min read

Kyiv, Ukraine

When orphaned by 12-year-old Kira Obedinsky WarWho was taken from her hometown of Mariupol in early March to a hospital in the Russian-controlled region of eastern Ukraine, was unsure whether she would be reunited with the rest of her family. family members.

I now KyivDespite all the difficulties, she sits in a hospital bed with her grandfather, Alexander Obedinsky – and spoke to CNN for the first time on Wednesday about her ordeal. She is recovering from injuries that nurses say shell wounds on her face, neck and legs. Her scarred face and awkward manner are signs of the physical and psychological trauma she has suffered.

Obedinsky’s family has been torn apart by the war. Kera’s father, Yohan Obedinsky, a former captain of Ukraine’s national water polo team, was killed on March 17 during a Russian shelling of the city. At that moment, Cara was an orphan, her mother had died when Cara was two weeks old.

Cara was injured in a landmine blast as she tried to flee the besieged Mariupol.

A few days after her father’s death, Cara was taken to a hospital in the Donetsk region by Russian-speaking soldiers after being injured by a landmine while trying to escape from Mariupol with her father’s girlfriend.

“The [Russian] The soldiers came running, they stopped two cars and took us to Manhosh Hospital because we were bleeding. Then they took us from Manhosh to another hospital in Donetsk, “said Kera.

Speaking to CNN from Kyiv earlier this month, Alexander told CNN that he feared he would never see his granddaughter again as traveling to a war-torn country to recover her was almost impossible. It was impossible. He said he had spoken to the hospital where Cara was being treated and was told she would eventually be sent to a Russian orphanage.

Their grateful reunion, arranged more than a month after their last meeting, was arranged by Ukrainian and Russian negotiators – and included a spectacular international trip.

Oleksander Obedinsky reunites with his granddaughter Kira Obedinsky in Donetsk.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky visited Cara in a hospital to celebrate her return, and gave her an iPad to have fun with when she recovered.

Oleksandr said he had told Zelensky that Cara was “tired but happy” and thanked her for her granddaughter’s safe return. “No one believed. [it would be possible]. But thank God we made arrangements, “he told CNN.

Recovering Cara from the Moscow-backed separatist-held territory was no easy task. Following media coverage of her plight, the Ukrainian government told her grandfather that they had reached an agreement to allow her to travel to Donetsk to pick up her granddaughter – but this was not an easy task. Will be.

Fearless, Alexander immediately made the four-day journey as instructed, a train to Poland, a flight to Turkey, a second flight to Moscow, then a train ride to the southern Russian city of Rostov. After another car trip to Donetsk, we finally reached Cara, weeping, he said.

After an emotional reunion – with countless hugs, he said – then the couple walked the same long way back home.

Oleksandr Obedinsky is pictured with his granddaughter Kera before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At Kyiv’s Okhmatdit Hospital, Cara likes one of her father’s possessions, which she managed to retain after her death: her cell phone. Living in Donetsk was the only link between his family and him.

He contacted Alexander by logging on to Instagram and texting his grandfather’s girlfriend about where she was, he said. February’s Instagram posts show Cara posing innocently for selfies, happily unaware of how life would change in just weeks.

This relationship with her former life was very important for this young girl because she found herself in a hospital in Donetsk surrounded by unknown faces and longing for her grandfather.

“I’m glad I can call them. I don’t know how much time has passed,” Kera sighed, adding: “I waited a long time for her to pick me up. At another hospital, too.” I waited; I missed him.

Oleksandr said the couple met again on April 23, the last time they saw each other on March 10. He painfully realizes that if he had tried to take her back alone without Ukraine, he would never have been able to ensure the safety of both himself and Kera. Government assistance.

“I do not dare to do it myself, of course. Because this plan could not have ended with the release of me or Cara,” said Alexander.

Cara Obedinsky in Mariupol before the war.

While living in Donetsk, Kera was interviewed by a Russian state media channel, which aired a video of the young girl happily talking and was occasionally allowed to call her grandfather. According to a Russian TV presenter, the interview was used as “evidence” that he had not been abducted. However, Cara paints a very different picture of her experience.

“It’s a bad hospital there,” he told CNN. “The food there is bad, the nurses are screaming and the hospital is not good.”

Weeks later, Cara recovered from some of her injuries but remembers painfully when the knife was removed from her body.

“I was taken to Donetsk by ambulance at night, they snatched me at night. From my ear. I screamed and cried a lot because I felt their manipulation in my ear. Here it is on my face, It was on my neck and on my legs, ”he said.

Now safely in Kyiv, Cara is also able to reveal what happened in Mariupol and how the family’s fate ended when they tried to flee the city, which was increasingly under siege by Russian forces. Was

She recounts living with her father’s girlfriend Anya and her children amid the shelling and “loud noises” hidden within the crumbling walls of her home. Cara said tanks entered the streets, and he remembered men in military uniforms coming into his yard.

Cara says the family was trapped in the basement after the March 16 shelling of their home, and neighbors helped them out of the rubble. Her father never came forward. For three days, Cara, with her father’s girlfriend and her children, took refuge in another basement before attempting to flee the city.

She says it was Kera’s friend who kicked the mine while running. Cara recalls that after that her ears were bleeding and a family friend’s dog had absorbed most of the blast. The group survived but suffered injuries.

Kera said that this happened when Russian forces – after receiving information about the group’s whereabouts from the blast – picked up the group and took them to a hospital in the town of Manhosh for immediate treatment, and then in an ambulance to another hospital in Donetsk. Gone, where the group was forced to separate, Cara was left alone, wounded and frightened, while the rest were taken elsewhere.

The ordeal is now a world away from Cara as she plays games on her new iPad while not talking about downloading more apps to play music, and her excitement at reuniting with her grandfather’s girlfriend soon. Expresses

As the family begins to return to some of the usual symbols, the fact is that they, for their greater comfort, do not lose them together again.

“I still can’t believe it happened. Because we believed it, but a lot of people said it was impossible. It was a really difficult process,” said Alexander.

He says he has been bullied by the president’s efforts in his case – which has garnered worldwide attention.

But for Zelensky, Cara is just one of many Ukrainian children he says have been deliberately deported to Russian-controlled territories. Moscow, meanwhile, has denied the allegations in a statement issued Friday stating “Similar, baseless allegations concerning Russia’s intelligence have been made more than once.

“We are most concerned about children,” Zelensky said during a visit to Cara on Tuesday. “Children are our future. We will fight for every Ukrainian child to return home.

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