A missing five-year-old girl has miraculously survived three days in a rain-drenched Russian forest with a ravenous bear on her trail.
Zarina Avgonina had got lost after trying to follow her grandmother who went out to collect wild mushrooms earlier this week.
Search dogs and rescue parties failed to trace the “shy” child who was said to be “scared of men”.
There were initially fears she had drowned in rivers or gushing ravines in the thick woodland in Nizhny Novgorod region.
Then the blonde girl’s recent footprints were spotted in the forest – close to recent wild brown bear paw marks.
“Their paths had crossed,” a rescuer said.
A massive hunt including volunteers was staged for the girl with women in each group deployed to call her name amid fears that she would hide from men.
Recordings of her mother calling to her were played.
The woman could not participate because she was poised to give birth.
Armed hunters had to be called in to keep the prowling bear at bay in a forest where wolves also roam.
Finally after dark on Zarina’s fourth day missing, a rescue team trial to follow her footprints saw the “frightened” girl’s brown eyes amid a pile of twigs and branches.
An amazing video caught the moment she was rescued, safe, but suffering from exhaustion and severe dehydration.
Wearing a flimsy T-shirt and shorts, she had been badly bitten by mosquitos.
Searcher Svetlana Shuga, a local newspaper reporter, is heard saying: “Silence, guys, don’t scream, let me call her.”
Rescuers urge her to come out of her hiding place in the undergrowth but she is scared.
“Go to the child carefully,” one said.
Another tells Zarina: “We saved you.”
The trembling child is asked: “Are you scared?”
She is covered in foil to keep her warm after nights in which the temperature dipped to below 10C at night but with heavy rain for the time she was missing.
Zarina is told: “Calm down – now we will take you home.”
But a rescuer called Alexey, seen carrying the girl in his arms, said: “The most interesting is we asked her 'Are you scared?’.
“And she says: 'No! I'm just thirsty and want to eat cake. And go home!’”
She eagerly ate and drank water offered by the rescuers.
The girl was eventually found about 1.6km from the village of Stepanovka from where she had gone missing.
But her footprints showed she had been “walking in large circles” before she was saved.
She was cared for overnight at the district hospital in Voznesensk.
A local health ministry spokesman said: “The child is in a serious but stable condition. She has severe dehydration.”
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