Maryna Pradunets, 10, was left in a western Ukrainian city by her parents as they dashed to Poland to get treatment for their critically ill younger daughter Dana
Image: Irina Pradunets)
Maryna Pradunets had to stay with her aunty in Klevan, west Ukraine, while her parents headed for Poland with her baby Dana just before the war began.
The 13-month-old is in desperate and urgent need of intense treatment for a severe case of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) which will likely kill her before she is two.
When residents of Klevan’ were warned that the city would be bombed in just a few hours’ time, Maryna, 10, and her aunt rushed to the Polish border in the dead of night.
As a Russian plane was gunned down over their home town late last week, the Pradunets family were reunited to focus their efforts on securing hopefully life-saving treatment for Dana.
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The story of the sisters, who had to leave their grandparents in Ukraine to endure nearby shell attacks up to eight times a day, underlines how the Russian invasion has made life’s struggles that much harder for Ukrainians across the country.
“We left Ukraine two weeks before the war started for physical therapy,” Dana and Maryna’s mum Irina told The Mirror.
“We could not have imagined something like this would happen. We left our older daughter Maryna in Ukraine.
“When the war started, she was calling me and cried on the phone about how scared she was.
“My heart was breaking because I was not there and could not protect her.”
Dana’s health troubles first became known when she was two months old and a therapist told her parents to take her to a neurologist, who diagnosed the baby with SMA.
The disease, which has no cure, is most severe in young babies and causes movement, spinal and breathing issues due to muscle weakness.
A drug called Evrysdi has helped her to breath and swallow independently, but otherwise Dana is almost entirely reliant on her parents.
“She cannot hold her head independently, does not have strength in her legs, she cannot lift her legs, cannot sit,” her mum said.
“Her fingers start contracting so she cannot lift anything with her hands. It cannot be said for sure that she would be alive today without this supporting treatment.”
The family had a serious scare last month when Dana fell ill suddenly.
Irina said: “We almost lost our daughter. She had a sudden onset of pneumonia which is a very serious condition in itself, but especially for children with SMA since their lungs are already much weaker.
“Thanks to God we overcame this disease.”
Now Irina and her husband Ihorivna, who worked at a petrol station, are putting all their hopes in securing a treatment called Zolgensma – a gene therapy medication which has been shown to halt the loss of motor functions in children with SMA.
They had embarked on a major fundraising drive to get Dana the therapy abroad.
While the war has put almost all other aspects of life on hold in Ukraine, the young girl is losing irreplaceable motoneurons every day, meaning Irina and Ihorivna cannot stop raising money, even while the bombs fall.
At the end of February had to make the incredibly difficult decision to leave Maryna with her aunt to head to Poland for specialist physiotherapy for Dana.
The family members were reunited far sooner than they expected when the invading Russian forces began bombing and shelling cities.
“When it was announced that our city would be bombed, my sister took her children and my daughter Maryna and went in the middle of the night to the Polish border,” Irina said.
“That night a plane was shot over our city. My daughter had expired travel document but we thank Polish government for letting through all the children even without proper documents on hands.
“They were standing outside in winter – minus degrees at night – for almost three days in an eight kilometre line to cross the border.
“Now she is finally safely with us, still recovering from the events.
“My parents had to stay behind in Ukraine. They are hiding from shelling four to eight times a day.”
The family are just one of hundreds of thousands that have been forced to flee Ukraine due to the war.
Many are in Poland, which will grant special three year visas to people in their position along with the other 26 EU countries.
To view the family’s fundraising, click here.