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Woman tells of recovery after her face wrecked in bear attack as she protected children

By The Siberian Times reporter
13 October 2015

Marina Fokina, 34, screamed at beast: 'Eat me but don't touch my child.'

Marina Fokina understood her six year old son, Denis, was in danger and covered him with her body, protecting him from the marauding bear.  Picture: Vesti Krasnoyarsk

She was on a June camping trip with her sister and their children in the Yergaki National Park in the Western Sayan Mountains. Rain started falling as they hiked to the camp site, so Marina decided to pitch their tents in the forest. 

She recalled: 'I woke up suddenly because of some noise and saw the tent collapsing on me. I only had time to think 'It must be a tree falling''. Then I understood there was no wind. It wasn't a tree but a beast. It bit me. I felt how my bones broke, I heard them crack.'

The mother-of-two lost consciousness but seconds later  came to her senses because of the screaming. She understood her six year old son, Denis, beside her, was in danger and covered him with her body, protecting him from the marauding bear. 

Marina Fokina


Marina Fokina

'It wasn't a tree but a beast. It bit me. I felt how my bones broke, I heard them crack.' Pictures: Vesti Krasnoyarsk

She screamed to the bear: 'Come on, eat me! But don't touch my baby!' And the bear lunged at her again, sinking its teeth into her back. It was dark, I lost consciousness again. Next I knew, I woke up again and heard my son's voice: 'It hurts!'. 

'The bear still managed to hit him. I was in shock, and thought - wrongly - the bear had bitten off my son's feet. It was dark, my ripped face was all in blood. And only one thought was in me - how he would live now, my son? 

'I felt such a hatred to this bear, that I decided to kill it. I remembered the night there was an axe stuck in a log. Somehow I crawled out of the tent, grabbed it with my broken arm. And then the bear lunged at me for the last time, grabbing my leg. The axe fell. My sister cried: 'Marina, don't'. She saved me with this.'

Marina Fokina


Yergaki


Yergaki

Bear attack occured when the family was on a June camping trip with her sister and their children in the Yergaki National Park in the Western Sayan Mountains. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Instead of fighting the bear - when there would be only one winner - the two women grabbed their children and ran. As she fled in an adrenalin rush, her son in her hands, she was unaware of the extreme severity of her facial and leg wounds. Doctors in Abakan were 'shocked': her face was ripped to shreds. Her lower jaw was hanging loose, with nerve damage, her upper jaw seriously deformed. There was an open fracture of her collarbone, and her leg broken by the bite. 

Fortunately her son escaped without serious injury, as did her sister and her child. Marina's younger son Maxim was not with her on the trip. For three weeks she regained her strength before being moved to Krasnoyarsk, to the regional clinical hospital, where the doctors restored her face. A doctor said: 'There were other injuries too but the main problem was her face. It is distorted and the scars are visible.'

Dental surgeon Olga Bobkova said: 'When Marina was brought to us, she had six or seven fractures to the skull. Many of the bones were moved, the lower part - torn and moved to the left. She could not close her eye and mouth. She could not eat by herself - only through a tube into the stomach.  

'We needed to collect the pieces of the face. How it was done? We cut the skin on the face, compared the fragments, then fixed them with titanium plates and tightened with a screwdriver. It lasted for almost 3 hours! And after all we sewed the skin up. So now in her face are 29 screws and almost 20 plates. 

Marina Fokina

'When Marina was brought to us, she had six or seven fractures to the skull. Many of the bones were moved, the lower part - torn and moved to the left.' Picture: Vesti Krasnoyarsk

'The bones we collected, and then - during the next step - excised scars on her face to make her skin smoother. Then we'll pulled up her face to make it more symmetrical.'

Marina, a businesswoman, recalled how earlier in Abakan she faced danger in the hospital, including a near death experience. 'I could not breathe either by my mouth or nose,' she said. 'I had a tube in my trachea, I breathed through it. The tube was periodically clogged with mucus stopping me breathing. One day I almost died. I turned blue, was unconscious. They rushed me back to ntensive care. 

'I remember that at the same time there was light in front of me. My thought - I don't know if it was sent to me from somewhere: 'My mission is not over yet. I have child, my beloved man. My life must go on'. And then I opened my eyes. Around were the doctors. I was alive.'

She was finally released from hospital on 7 October, four months after the near-fatal attack. Looking back, she blames herself for not taking precautions and making herself and her family a sitting target for bears in the forest. The bear was hungry and could smell the food which they had in their tent.

Marina Fokina


Marina Fokina

Marina's appearance has changed significantly, but she has her face back, and says the experience has taught her to enjoy life. Pictures: Vesti Krasnoyarsk, Marina Fokina

'That was our first mistake. I have been going to Yergaki as a tourist since 1996, when I was in the 10th grade. I have been everywhere around it. But, unfortunately, I learned too late: this year from Tuva - because of the wildfires - the bears massively migrated. My case was the first where a predator attacked the man. Afterwards, officials began to warn people: 'Be careful, bears!'

She said her second mistake was to pitch the tent 'in the middle of nowhere' with no other people around. The third error was not to light a camp fire to ward off wild animals. 

Her appearance has changed significantly, but she has her face back, and says the experience has taught her to enjoy life. 'I have two children, a man who loves me, my work, how can I not be happy?'  

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