Earlier this week, something at once ordinary and extraordinary happened: a young mother walked with her four-year-old daughter down a city street on a bright summer morning, filming their journey on her cell phone as the girl, who had Down syndrome, proudly pushed her own stroller.
With her soft blond hair tied back in a ponytail, the child – dressed in white leggings and a denim shirt – strode with expectant energy: she had a speech therapy session scheduled. Once they’d arrived at the special education center, her mother posted an image of little Liza mulling intently over worksheet pictures.
These everyday moments were the kind any proud parent would capture. Indeed, Liza’s mother Iryna Dmitrieva filled her Instagram account with images of her “little angel,” and even filmed a video of her daughter twirling through a field of lavender in a frilly lilac dress.
But three Kalibr missiles shattered all that.
On July 14, Russian forces on the Black Sea fired at Vinnytsia, a city in central Ukraine, killing 23 and wounding 90, with 39 still missing at this point.
Among the dead were three children, including Liza. She was found sprawled behind her overturned stroller, a severed foot above her head. Iryna survived but sustained serious injuries. The wounds of her heart are surely graver still.
Russia’s defense ministry claimed its target was a military one, ignoring any mention of the childrens’ deaths – an unsurprising omission for an authoritarian regime that is waging a textbook genocidal war against the people of Ukraine.
In fact, as the crew of the Russian submarine launched its missiles on Vinnytsia, global leaders were meeting in The Hague to “ensure that war crimes committed during the war in Ukraine will not go unpunished.”
Some have suggested that the timing of the Vinnytsia strike was intentional. Indeed, Russia had fired on Kyiv during an April 28 visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In an all too real sense, the Vinnytsia attack was simply business as usual for the aggressor, which calls the war a “special military operation” with a daily-changing menu of insidious justifications – such as rooting out nonexistent neo-Nazis in Ukraine and retaliating against NATO expansion, while rebranding Russian president Vladimir Putin as a tsar and extending his benighted nation’s borders as far as his delusions demand.
Unlike her attackers, Liza walked – despite her arthritis – with firm purpose and flawless grace. She was, after all, a “sunny child,” as Ukrainians sometimes describe kids with Down syndrome. Her purity of spirit radiated in her eyes and in her smile; her place in heaven is assured – a conclusion we cannot draw for her attackers, nor for ourselves if we allow them to continue their relentless slaughter of the innocent.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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