Death of 4-Year-Old with Down Syndrome Encapsulates Brutality of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

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Source: NYTimes, Edwardo Medina. The family and friends of Liza Dmytriyeva brushed away tears on Sunday as four men carried her coffin into the cathedral, where a photo of the smiling girl was nestled between roses and teddy bears three days after she was killed by a Russian cruise missile strike.

The death of Liza, a 4-year-old with down syndrome whose family nicknamed her Sunny Flower, encapsulated the brutality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She had been on a walk with her mother, pushing her own baby carriage through a park on Thursday when a flash of fire and metallic shrapnel erupted near them in Vinnytsia, a central Ukrainian town far from the front lines where some sense of normalcy had still seemed possible.

The strike killed 22 others, including two more children, and wounded 140 people. Liza’s mother, Iryna Dmytriyeva, lost a leg and remains unconscious.

On Sunday, the family of Liza, who had just learned her first words and took pride in organizing toys, looked on as the coffin made its way into the cathedral, according to video from The Associated Press.

As the priest, Vitalii Holoskevych, began to speak, he held a cross in one hand and wiped tears from his cheek with the other.

“Elizaveta,” he began, “stands and looks near God.” His voice broke as he looked toward the coffin holding the body of the girl whose portrait showed her in pigtails long enough to touch her fuzzy purple coat.

Photos of Liza’s body, slumped beside the overturned carriage and her mother’s severed foot, have swirled around the world since they were shared online by Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. The visceral nature of the images punched through the too-familiar stream of daily violence directed against civilians by the Russian military.

On Sunday, the men carrying Liza’s coffin to the cemetery wore pink armbands, as her father, Artem Dmitriev, staggered behind them, his eyes closed as two men held him up by the shoulders.

By her grave, dozens gathered around the open coffin, where Liza’s plush toys lay in her lap: a white bunny, a gray bear, a crisscrossed moose. Mr. Dmitriev knelt, and cried.

As a string band played music, Liza’s grandmother, Larysa Dmytryshyna, cried out to her granddaughter: The song, she said, was playing “for you to hear it.”

Then the workers closed the coffin and lowered it into the grave.

Liza’s family cupped dirt in their hands and scattered the earth over her.

According to One News reports, Officials said the missile strike damaged a medical clinic, offices, stores and residential buildings.

Three children younger than 10 were among the dead. Of the 66 people hospitalised, five remained in critical condition while 34 sustained severe injuries, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said.

National Police Chief Ihor Klymenko said only six bodies had been identified, and 39 people were still missing.

Vinnytsia regional Governor Serhiy Borzov said 36 apartment buildings were damaged and residents have been evacuated.

“These are quite high-precision missiles. … they knew where they were hitting,” Borzov said.

Blood stains are seen on a damaged car in Vinnytsia. (Source: Associated Press)

Russia has denied targeting civilians.

“Russia only strikes at military targets in Ukraine. The strike on Vinnytsia targeted an officers’ residence, where preparations by Ukrainian armed forces were underway,” Evgeny Varganov, a member of Russia’s permanent UN mission, said in an address to the chamber.

Among the buildings damaged in the strike was the House of Officers, a Soviet-era concert hall.

Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-controlled Russian television network RT, said on her messaging app channel that military officials told her a building in Vinnytsia was targeted because it housed Ukrainian “Nazis”.