The kidnapping of Ukraine’s ‘Angels of Taira’ medic. The husband of decorated volunteer medic Yulia Pajevska who was abducted in mid-March shares his fears for her safety. Source: AL JAZEERA

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The kidnapping of Ukraine’s ‘Angels of Taira’ medic

The husband of decorated volunteer medic Yulia Pajevska who was abducted in mid-March shares his fears for her safety.

Yuliia Paievska is a Ukrainian woman with short blond hair and tattoos
Yulia Pajevska was taken while evacuating Ukrainians in mid-March [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

By Nils Adler

Published On 5 May 2022

This article originally stated that the Angels of Taira were based in the port city of Berdyansk. They were based in the village of Berdyans’ke.

In the days before Yulia Pajevska, 53, was abducted by Russian-backed separatists, the decorated Ukrainian volunteer medic had been evacuating Ukrainians from the besieged city of Mariupol.

Her husband, Vadym Puzanov, had only had brief contact with Pajevska through messages and short videos when the patchy internet and her hectic schedule allowed for updates about the dramatic evacuations and airlifts she had been organising in the southeast of the country.

Puzanov found out about his wife’s abduction when his friend rang him to say he had come across a video uploaded onto Facebook by a former Ukrainian politician which claimed that Pajevska and her driver Serhii were illegally detained at a checkpoint near the town of Manhush in the Donetsk region on March 16. “At first I was shocked and couldn’t believe it,” Puzanov recalls.

According to Puzanov, who is currently in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Pajevska and Serhii had been evacuating women and children along a so-called humanitarian corridor between the southeastern cities of Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia when they were stopped and detained.

On March 17, a friend sent him a link to a video released by the interior ministry of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic, which appeared to show Pajevska in a lineup at a police station.

Then at 2pm on March 18, Puzanov received a chilling text message sent from his wife’s phone offering to exchange Pajevska for Russian prisoners of war kept by Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

He immediately contacted Ukrainian government officials. “After the initial state of stupor had worn off, I felt an urge to act immediately and do everything possible to free my wife,” he says.

On March 24, a trailer was released by Russia’s Gazprom-Media’s NTV, which appeared to advertise an interview with Pajevska. Three days later, the full programme, filmed at an undisclosed location, was aired.

FILE - Local civilians walk past a tank destroyed during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.
In the days before Pajevska was abducted, she was evacuating Ukrainians from Mariupol [File: Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo]

The opening segment, broadcast for a Russian audience, claims that supposed Ukrainian neo-Nazis are killing fellow Ukrainians. About seven minutes in, Pajevska is seen being led into a darkened room with a bag over her head. A member of the television crew lifts it off, and a bright light is aimed at her face, briefly startling her before a series of degrading comparisons are made about her appearance, including showing an image of her next to one of Adolf Hitler.

A voiceover added in post-production continually interjects after Pajevska’s answers, countering her comments with unfounded claims, including that many of the soldiers and volunteers she was acquainted with were Nazis, and often referring to Pajevska in explicitly derogatory language including comments comparing her eyes to that of the devil.

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