When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

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.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

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.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

Colombia's reformist president has promised to tackle endemic violence, economic exclusion, pollution and corruption in the country. So what's new with a politician's promises?

Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest