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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Searching For Marianna, A Pregnant Doctor From Mariupol Held Captive By The Russians

We’ve heard about the plight of the soldiers-turned-prisoners from Mariupol. Here are some traces of the disturbing fate of a young female doctor who’s been taken away.

Photo of a paper dove reading "Mariupol" at a shelter of the Ya Dopomozhu NGO center for displaced children in Uzhhorod, western Ukraine.

A paper dove reads "Mariupol" at a shelter for displaced children in Uzhhorod, western Ukraine.

Paweł Smoleński

"Wait for me, because I will return…"

Marianna Mamonova wrote these words to her family, among the text messages and short phone calls that are the only remaining fragments used to piece together her recent past. We also have a photo of her, posted on Russian websites, where she looks into the lens, gaunt and exhausted, signed with a number like a concentration camp prisoner.

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Until the Russian-Ukrainian war, Mamonova’s biography was available to anyone who wanted to know. She was born in 1991, studied at the Ternopil Medical University, and later at the Kyiv Military Academy. After completing her studies, she was sent to work in the coastal city of Berdiansk. Her mother says that this is where her daughter's dream came true: She’d always wanted to be a military doctor, and worked in Berdiansk for three years, receiving the rank of officer in the Ukrainian army.

Beginning in 2014, she’d worked stints as a front-line doctor in the Donbas region, and when Russia invaded Ukraine in February she went to war again. This time in Mariupol.

She worked at a military hospital, where buildings were marked with huge Red Cross signs visible from the air. For the Russians, it helped point them where to drop their bombs. As the siege continued, army medics were deployed at the Ilyich metallurgical plant (where Marianna went) and to the Azovstal steel plant. They took the wounded and the sick with them, caring for thousands of patients, soldiers, and civilians for weeks.

Cry and pull yourself together

Marianna wrote to her siblings and parents that the horrors of Donbas were nothing compared to what was happening inside Mariupol. The new experience had surpassed her comprehension of war, and repeated Russian crimes weighed on her psyche.

"Every time I go to bed, I think about my family and cry,” she wrote. “After a moment, I pull myself together and get back to work."

I pull myself together and get back to work.

She worked with the wounded in the field hospital, and at night went out on the streets to look for victims of the latest raids. When dying of exhaustion or from wounds that could only be calmed before death, she attached – like other Mariupol doctors – ribbons with information so that their loved ones could find them and identify them.

"If I come back alive, my life will change dramatically,” she wrote to loved ones in a message. “I know how much each slice of bread and bottle of water is worth to survive or save others from hunger or thirst. Wait for me..."

Ukrainian medics

Two volunteers help an elderly woman get off a Red Cross bus after she was evacuated from Mariupol to Zaporizhia on May 8.

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Moscow’s trap

Subsequent texts indicate that Marianna — despite her past frontline experience — was struggling with her mental health. The information grows more and more fragmented, coming from a brave woman who understands that she has chosen a path with a dead end; She is both deeply afraid and intent on keeping the fidelity of her oath and mission as a physician.

At one moment, she had an opportunity to escape from the besieged city where 20,000 civilians had already died, but she declined. In the middle of April, the Russians cut off the Ilyich shelter from Mariupol, and the shelter became a trap.

In the last SMS to the family, she wrote that the situation was getting worse, but tries to hunker down together with other doctors and nurses. Around that same time, Marianna had realized that she was pregnant, although she could not confirm this with a medical examination.

Babies taken away

According to the calendar, she is in the seventh month of her pregnancy, soon to give birth to a child. This means that if Marianna does not get out of prison, the child will be taken into the Russian state system, likely to be put up for adoption, or vanish forever into the network of state orphanages, converted into a Russian.

All we know about the fate of Marianna and other medical workers from Mariupol is information circulating on Facebook and other social media. This concerns several hundred people, doctors, and nurses.

The Mariupol prisoners were divided according to gender: The men were taken to the camp in Olenivka, where an explosion last month killed dozens. The women were taken further east, reportedly to a prison in the Russian region of Taganrog.

The conditions there are believed to be terrible: A dozen people in double cells, and during the day you are not allowed to sit down or lie down. The Russians probably want to exchange the women nurses for their own prisoners, but this is not within the framework of the Geneva conventions or the rules of war conducted by civilized states.

Marianna isn't the only pregnant woman locked up in a Russian prison. But besides the fate of their future sons and daughters, those from Mariupol must now also worry about the prospect that the Russians will put her in a cage set up in the city’s theater for an expected show trial against Ukrainian prisoners. This is not how Marianna had wanted to return.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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