By SERGIY VOLOSHYN and Valentyn Ogirenko
VINNYTSIA, Ukraine, July 15 (Reuters) – A shy smile, a sunny day – a moment in the life of four-year-old Liza Dmitrieva posted online shortly before she was killed in a Russian missile strike on the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia.
The short burst of video shows her pushing a stroller and happily responding to her mother Iryna, who was severely injured in Thursday’s attack which took place miles from the front lines.
Ukraine condemned the strike as a war crime, saying it had killed at least 23 people, including Liza and two other children, and wounded scores. Russia’s Defence Ministry said it hit a military target.
Doctors said on Friday they had decided for now not to tell Iryna about her daughter’s death, fearing the news would kill her.
But beyond the hospital, the images and footage of Liza on her mother’s Instagram account – set next to news footage of the same pushchair knocked on its aide amid the rubble of the blast – quickly went viral and became a focus of anger and grief.
“Where are we going?” Iryna Dmitrieva is heard asking in the video in a sing-song voice, as they stride along side-by-side.
“To see Alla?,” she asks again as the little girl, who had Down’s Syndrome, nods cheerfully in agreement.
After the attack, the city’s LOGO Club Children’s Center posted a tribute to the girl they called “Sunny Flower”.
“Together we learned to say the first sounds, the first words,” they wrote on Facebook. “Lizochka,” they added, using a diminutive form of her name, “today you became a ray of sun”.
Staff there said that she had especially loved blowing into foam and using a special necklace as part of her speech therapy.
Valeria Korol, a speech therapist at the centre, said Liza had been very clever. Her mum took great care of her, she gave the little girl all her heart, soul and love. Her fantastic achievements made her mum and her family very happy.”
Doctors at Vinnytsia Emergency Hospital said Iryna Dmitrieva was severely injured, and any bad news could be too much for her.
“Were she told about this (the death of her daughter) now, we would lose her,” chief doctor Oleksandr Fomin told Reuters.
“That is why we have created full information barrier around her. So when she asks for a phone, all doctors, nurses, medics say they have been forbidden to use phones at work.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s wife, Olena, tweeted that she recognised the girl, who had once been among a group of children who painted Christmas ornaments with the first lady in a holiday video.
“Look at her, alive, please,” Olena Zelenska wrote.
(Reporting by Elaine Monaghan; writing by Andrew Heavens; editing by Philippa Fletcher)