VINNYTSIA, Ukraine (AP) — Liza, a 4-year-old girl with Down syndrome, was en route to see a speech therapist with her mother in central Ukraine when a Russian missile rained down from the sky.
She never made it to the appointment. Now the images that tell the story of her life and its end are touching hearts worldwide.
Wearing a blue denim jacket with flowers, Liza was among 23 people killed, including boys aged 7 and 8, in Thursday’s missile strike in Vinnytsia. Her mother, Iryna Dmytrieva, was among the scores injured.
After the explosion, the mother and daughter went in different directions. Iryna, 33, went into a hospital’s intensive care unit while Liza went to a morgue.
“She remembered that she was reaching for her daughter, and Liza was already dead,” Iryna’s aunt, Tetiana Dmytrysyna, told The Associated Press on Friday. “The mother was robbed of the most precious thing she had.”
Shortly before the explosion, Dmytrieva had posted a video on social media showing her daughter straining to reach the handlebars to push her own stroller, happily walking through Vinnytsia, wearing the denim jacket and white pants, her hair decorated with a barrette. Another video on social media showed the little girl twirling in a lavender dress in a field of lavender.
After the Russian missile strike, Ukraine’s emergency services shared photos showing her lifeless body on the ground next to her blood-stained stroller. The videos and photos have gone viral, the latest images and stories from the brutal war in Ukraine to horrify the world.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s wife posted that she had met this “wonderful girl” while filming a Christmas video with a group of children who were given oversized ornaments to paint.
“The little mischievous girl then managed in a half an hour to paint not only herself, her holiday dress, but also all the other children, me, the cameramen and the director … Look at her alive, please,” Olena Zelenska wrote in a note accompanying the video.
When the war started, Dmytrieva and her family fled Kyiv, the capital, for Vinnytsia, a city 268 kilometers (167 miles) to the southwest. Until Thursday, Vinnytsia was considered relatively safe.
Dmytrieva gave birth to her only daughter when she was 29. The girl was born with a heart defect but doctors saved her. She also had Down syndrome.
“Liza was a sunny baby,” her great-aunt recalled. “They say that these children do not understand or know how to do everything. But this is not true. She was a very bright child. She knew how to draw, spoke, always helped adults and always smiled. Always cheerful.”
For her mother, Liza was the greatest gift of her life.
“She loved her infinitely,” said the great-aunt.
The explosion site is now cordoned off. People come to leave flowers, candles and teddy bears. Another item at a makeshift shrine is a page from a children’s lesson book. Among the mourners are mothers deeply touched by the story of Iryna and Liza Dmytrieva.
“Innocent children die,” said Kateryna Kondratyuk, bursting into tears at the explosion scene.
Meanwhile, Iryna is conscious and in intensive care.
“She is a fighter. She will get out. We are all praying for her,” her aunt says.
Liza’s father was at the morgue Friday, completing the paperwork to receive his daughter’s body for burial.