‘It’s a miracle’: Girl, 13, recovering after shrapnel blasted through her skull during Russian attack

It is a miracle 13-year-old Sophia is still alive.

The schoolgirl was left with a piece of shrapnel the size of a peanut embedded in her brain following a Russian attack on her village in southern Ukraine last month.

She is now recovering in the country’s top children’s hospital in Kyiv, her head shaven and bandaged, with a tube sticking out the top to drain off fluid.

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“I was standing next to my mother and heard some explosion,” she said, speaking in a soft, fragile voice, about the eruption of violence on 5 March that changed both of their lives.

“I ran – only three steps. Then I heard another explosion. And then I lost consciousness.”

A military round had exploded on to their house.

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Sophia and her mother Liudmila, 48, had been standing outside at the time. They did not want to give their surnames because of security reasons. The area where they are from is still under threat from Russian forces.

“I woke up when my parents took me to the basement of our house. My mum took my legs and my father took my arms. And then I passed out again.”

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Her mother had been slightly wounded, with a cut next to her left eye that was bleeding.

She did not at first realise her daughter needed urgent medical help, thinking instead that perhaps she had just been concussed.

“Only once in the hospital I understood that something was in her head,” she said.

They had gone to their local hospital in the nearby city of Mykolaiv, close to the Black Sea.

Doctors there managed to stabilise Sophia and inserted the tube into her head.

But they did not have the specialist equipment needed to remove the jagged lump of metal that had blasted through her skull and stopped in the middle of her brain.

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The only place in Ukraine with the ability to treat the young teenager was Ohmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv – some 250 miles away, across a country that had become a war zone.

After almost three weeks of waiting, Liudmila managed to transfer her daughter there safely via the city of Odesa.

Doctors immediately took a CT scan to gain a better understanding of the injury.

Pavlo Plavskyi, the top paediatric neurosurgeon in the hospital, said Sophia’s survival was a miracle.

He pointed to a 3D model of her skull on a computer screen, which showed the shrapnel.

Had the metal moved a centimetre more up, down or to the side it would have hit a vital part of the brain that could have killed her.

However, it had stopped – deep in her skull – but without causing any haemorrhaging.

“She had some sign of inflammation and inflammation can cause bleeding, so we decided to remove it,” the surgeon said.

‘Ukraine has the best doctors in the world’

The operation took place the following day. Liudmila admitted it was the only time she allowed herself to cry.

“I was told that this operation was really serious and difficult,” she said.

“But now I believe that in Ukraine they have the best doctors in the world. And now I believe that doctors’ hands are controlled by God. It’s a miracle.”

The surgeon was confident. Asked if he had felt nervous about doing the procedure, he joked: “I am a crazy neurosurgeon!

“I always, just before an operation, imagine how to do it. I imagine what I will do. I make preparations before the operation.”

The procedure only took an hour and a half. “I am very fast,” the surgeon said.

He had to cut out a top section of skull, use long instruments to delve into the brain and retrieve the shrapnel, then return the piece of skull.

As for how he felt when he pulled the object out, he said: “Nice – make a photo!”

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The town which was occupied by Russia in the opening days of the war was retaken in late March

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Sophia, speaking on Saturday, said she was already starting to feel better since the operation which took place three days earlier.

She is recovering on a bed in the hospital basement – safe from the threat of airstrikes that still hangs over Kyiv.

Other patients choose to move up to the ward during the day and then just sleep underground, but she is not yet strong enough.

Her next big challenge is to start walking around again.

It is not clear how long she will need to remain in hospital, but she has big ambitions to learn how to play the guitar once she is able to return home.

“I can also read music,” she said. “I dream about a guitar because ours was broken. Dad promised me he’d fix it. That’s why I’m dreaming about it. I want to have a black one.”

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