By Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey
BAKHMUT, Ukraine – Ukrainian police staged a risky rescue mission in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut this week to evacuate a six-year-old girl who had become separated from her pregnant mother.
Young Arina was found living with her grandparents in a run-down apartment building in Bakhmut, which has been pummelled by Russian forces in heavy fighting.
After trudging through snow to reach Arina, with artillery fire echoing in the distance, policeman Pavlo Dyachenko and two colleagues in combat gear drove Arina to the nearby city of Sloviansk to be reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko.
“A shell exploded in our yard!” Arina, clutching a large white teddy bear, told her mother after they hugged.
“I heard that a shell exploded in your yard, that’s why I got so worried,” said Danylchenko, who is 24 and eight months pregnant.
They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
Dyachenko said there were still about 200 children living in Bakhmut. The city was home to about 70,000 people before the war but officials say only a few thousand residents now remain.
“We’re meeting the families that are still there and talk to them, trying to convince them to agree to be evacuated, either the whole family or the children. Because children must live in a peaceful environment,” he told Reuters.
He had to gently coax Arina into leaving Bakhmut, calmly explaining the dangers of remaining.
“Are there any other children you can play with here?” Dyachenko asked the young girl after finder her in Bakhmut.
“No”, she replied, and started to cry.
“You’re supposed to be in a safe place. Do you understand?”, another officer said. “Do they shoot and shell a lot here?”
Arina nodded in reply.
One of the officers then put a bright orange helmet on her head, explaining: “This is for when we go outside, so that nothing can hit your head.”
They left the building to the sound of shelling, got into a waiting van and left for safety.