‘We are trying to find the girl’s teddy bear she was carrying when the missile struck’

Russia’s missiles killed 24 civilians in Ukraine’s Vinnytsia, including Liza, 4, Iryna Dmytrieva’s only daughter. The mother is still unaware

‘We are trying to find the girl’s teddy bear she was carrying when the missile struck’
A memorial near a building damaged by Russian shelling in Vinnitsa, July 15, 2022. Photo: Alexey Furman / Getty Images

Russia’s fleet fired several missiles from the Black Sea at 10.15 a.m. on 14 July, aiming at Vinnytsia, a city in central Ukraine which was believed to be a safe place in this war so far, despite the fact that Russia strikes civilian targets in other cities every now and then.

Iryna Dmytrieva, the mother of a 4-year-old girl named Liza, is in hospital. She still cannot comprehend that her child is dead

I’ve been to Vinnytsia a lot of times, and I visited the Victory Square which was hit by three Russian highly precise Kalibr missiles on Thursday. The square is usually a crowded place, the city market is just around the corner, and the local train station a short distance away. A nine-storey shopping mall, a state-of-the-art clinic, shops, cafés, and a Soviet-era officers’ club building now used as a concert hall and completely unrelated to the military.

It is Vinnytsia’s largest concert venue, a charity concert by Roxolana, a popular Ukrainian singer, was scheduled for Thursday evening there. Her team parked their cars in Victory Square minutes before the missile hit the area; Yevhen Kovalenko, 25, Roxolana’s sound producer, was killed in the disaster. Another member of the singer’s crew was heavily injured, the doctors are trying to save his life.

Sound engineer Yevgeny Kovalenko, who died during the shelling. Photo: Instagram / roxolanas

Sound engineer Yevgeny Kovalenko, who died during the shelling. Photo: Instagram / roxolanas

Russia aimed exactly at the Victory Square; the country’s Defence Ministry later confirmed this in a statement (see below). They fired three cruise missiles, two tons of weight each, at a crowded square in the heart of a peaceful Ukrainian city. No less than 23 people were killed (on Saturday the death toll rose up to 24), 18 are still missing, and at least three children lost their lives, including Liza Dmytrieva, only 4 years of age.

Her mother Iryna posted a cheery selfie with her daughter just an hour and a half before the disaster on her Instagram. Go ahead and watch it if you have the nerve, but be careful, it might break your heart. A mother and her daughter, both smiling, both happy and joyful. They are not expecting Putin’s war to hit them with a 2-ton missile.


Ukraine’s State Emergency Service posted a photo from the scene shortly after the strike hit Vinnytsia: Liza’s stroller lying upside down on the ground, covered with blood. It took some time for Ukraine to announce the death of the 4-year-old girl.

Later in the evening, there was some unverified news that her mother had died in hospital. Luckily, this was not true.

I spoke to a woman named Maryna Hryhortseva on 15 July in the evening. Maryna leads a local association named Vinnytsia Down Syndrome where Iryna Dmytrieva used to be an active participant. Liza put her efforts too, of course, as best she could.

Maryna is in touch with Iryna’s mother, Liza’s grandmother. Here is what she says:

Two ladies from our circle also lost their lives, they simply went for a morning walk there. They had been considered missing at first, but then their bodies were found in the local morgue. They were literally burned to death. Two young women, both had children.

You may tell me about anyone you like: them, Liza or Iryna. By the way, how is she doing now?

Their names are Lesia Vashchuk and Svitlana Cheshkivska, 41 and 42 years old, respectively. Lesia had a 13-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. Svitlana’s daughter is a grown-up lady.

I manage the Vinnytsia Down Syndrome association, and I know Iryna pretty well. We help over 50 families with kids who have Down syndrome. Iryna first visited us when Liza was one year old [the girl was born on 6 March 2018, according to Iryna’s Instagram page. Most of the posts on this page are those of Liza; it has over 100,000 followers.]

Maryna who leads a local association named Vinnytsia Down Syndrome. Photo: personal archive

Maryna who leads a local association named Vinnytsia Down Syndrome. Photo: personal archive

They used to live in Kyiv, but Iryna would visit Vinnytsia often. She was born here, her parents are from Vinnytsia, so she moved here eventually. Iryna used to work for an advertising company before she bore her daughter, but then she quit and started to spend all her time on Liza, she would care about her a lot. She would bring Liza to our classes and participate in different projects of ours. Sometimes we would just bump into each other outside. Liza was such a lovely child, she meant everything for Iryna who is now in hospital in “critical but stable condition.”

I keep in touch with Larysa, Iryna’s mother. I couldn’t reach her yesterday, quite obviously, but I asked my husband to visit her. He first paid a visit to Iryna at the hospital, spoke to her doctor, and then he drove to Larysa’s house.

There was a lot of false news shortly after the strike. Someone said Iryna lost a leg and died, but that’s not true, she’s alive. I saw photos from the scene, there was a foot torn off someone’s body near Liza’s stroller [Maryna barely holds her tears back here]... But it... it isn’t Iryna’s foot. She had her innards severely damaged. The doctors are fighting for her life now... She regained her senses yesterday, and her blood pressure got better.

Iryna managed to call her mother when the disaster happened, before she blacked out.

And when she returned to consciousness, she couldn’t recall it. She’s asking her doctor how Liza is doing, so he keeps telling her that Liza is in hospital, and that the doctors are fighting for her life.

I hope Iryna survives, but this will take a lot of time.

Her mother said they would not bury Liza before they tell Iryna that her baby is dead. We’re going to have to wait until she gets a little better.

Liza’s her only child, you know.

Iryna and Liza. Photo: personal archive

Iryna and Liza. Photo: personal archive

The city is deeply shocked, as my friends there tell me. Vinnytsia was considered a relatively quiet and safe place, wasn’t it?

Yes, we welcomed many refugees here, namely from the regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk. We have lots of people who moved here in 2014. You see, people were trying to escape the war, and [Maryna is trying not to break out in tears]... It was the heart of the city, there’s crowds of people out there all the time! How could they do that?

I visited Vinnytsia a fortnight ago to see my relatives. I live in Czechia now with my younger children. My husband and my elder son had to stay; they are serving at the territorial defence... You see, I think people got too relaxed at some point. It was relatively calm there until yesterday. [There was a missile strike on an airfield located outside the city limits which killed ten people on 6 March].

But you see, Russia aimed their rockets at civilians in the heart of a peaceful city. I think they did it deliberately, I have no other explanation. [Russia’s propagandist Margarita Simonyan said Russia “killed the Nazis in Vinnytsia’s square.”

You can see on the pictures from the scene that there were lots of “strategic military facilities,” such as a concert hall and a shopping mall, there were lots of taxi cabs out there that were also destroyed, just like regular cars in the square’s parking lot. And, of course, a bike rental spot, the one that any Russian city has.

Yes, there was a pharmacy, a bank, lots of cafés and shops. The square has always been crowded; people would take their families out for a walk there.

There was a new clinic up there, on the ground floor of that shopping. [Several patients of that clinic lost their lives, too, including a 7-year-old boy Maxim and his mother Viktoria Rekuta, as well as a dentist and an 8-year-old boy who was waiting for his uncle in a parked car]. Some doctors were killed, too... A famous pediatrician survived, but he had 70% of his skin burned and suffered shrapnel wounds, he is now in ICU [the man in question is Pavlo Kovalchuk, follow this link to help him]. He used to help our kids with Down syndrome.

Lots of people inside the shopping mall were killed, too, both customers and staff. It is a huge 9-storey building [the local officials said the building is most likely beyond repair, same as the concert hall]. The rescuers are still clearing the rubble [after almost two days since the missiles struck].

Were Iryna and Liza visiting the clinic on that day?

No, they went to see a psychologist who worked nearby. They finished their session and stood at a pedestrian crossing there when this happened.

(A pause). We are really concerned about Iryna. We are really close to each other in our group. You see, we have a Viber chat for all the parents, and we keep in touch with each other.

Lisa with her favorite bear in her backpack. Photo: personal archive

Lisa with her favorite bear in her backpack. Photo: personal archive

Larysa, Iryna’s mother, was crying when my husband paid her a visit, she asked him to find Liza’s teddy bear. She always carried it around with her as she went to bed or outside. On that day she forgot to take the bear with her and asked Iryna to come back home and fetch it. They did come back and...

When all this happened, the toy was nowhere near Liza’s body. So, her grandma was in tears and begged my husband to find the bear because she wants to put it in Liza’s coffin.

I asked him to do his best to find it.


Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s First Lady, says she once met Liza before. This is what she wrote on social media:

“We were horrified to see the picture of a toppled over stroller from Vinnytsia. And then, as I read the news, I realised I knew this little girl. Poor Liza was killed by a Russian missile strike today. I’m not going to write all those things I wish to say to those who killed her. I’d rather say something about poor Liza. We got to know each other when we recorded a Christmas video together not so long ago. She was a joyful, wholehearted child who grew up surrounded by love. When we did this video, she was given a brush and some paint, so she managed to paint her dress, other kids, me, the cameraman and our director in different colours... Please look at this photo of her taken while she was still alive. I’m in tears, just like her family.”


Liza`s backpack with traces of blood

Liza`s backpack with traces of blood

I told Maryna that everyone who knows about this tragedy must be heartbroken now. This makes her finally break out in tears:

Russians are literally destroying our country and killing our people! People are dying, kids are dying, this is horrible! Thousands of people, many thousands of people!

And then, as she settles her nerves a bit, she says:

We hope for the victory. What else can we hope for? And we also hope that all of us will get back home soon. Our families are separated now, our men are defending our country, while many women and children are in refuge.

Look, I’m sorry for crying so bad. It’s just that this tragedy is tearing me apart. I just can’t sit still.

You know what... I wish all those people who support this war could step into our shoes. I wish they could picture their children in a city square in Vinnytsia... or their hometown, that would be easier to visualise.

But I don’t wish they lost their kids in a missile strike.


P.S. As I edited this text before publishing it, Maryna texted me the following: “My husband has found Liza’s teddy bear.”

P.P.S. The Hague hosted the Ukraine Accountability Conference where nations discussed coordinating Russia’s war crimes investigation the same day Russia hit Vinnytsia with their missiles. If an international criminal tribunal on Russia’s account is ever held, it will use this statement by Russia’s Defence Ministry as evidence (reproduced with the original grammar):

“On 14 July, Kalibr high-precision sea-based missiles were launched at the House of Officers of the garrison in Vinnytsia.

The facility hosted a conference of the Ukrainian Armed Force command with representatives of foreign armament suppliers aimed at discussing the issues on sending another batch of aircraft, destruction means, as well as on organising the reparation of Ukrainian aircraft. The attack has resulted in the elimination of the conference participants.”

Photos by Maryna Hryhortseva. We wish to thank Anastasia Matviyevska and Oleksandr Bondarchuk for helping us with this article.

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