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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Doll maker Irina Medyantseva was taking the subway in St. Petersburg Monday afternoon to see off her daughter, who was about to hop on a train to another Russian town. Neither ever made it to the railway station.
The 28-year-old daughter survived a suicide bombing on the moving train, but the mother died. Relatives say Medyantseva threw herself on her daughter to shield her from the blast.
Monday's bombing in Russia's second-largest city was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country in years, claiming 14 lives — including that of the bomber — and injuring dozens.
"Irina was a very fun, creative person, she was full of plans," Medyantseva's sister, Anna, recalls. "She was a very good mom. She did a lot for her children."
The 50-year-old raised two daughters, both doll makers like their mother: Yulia and her sister Alyona, who was transferred from intensive care into general care earlier Wednesday. When disaster struck Monday, Alyona had just wrapped up a few days' visit to St. Petersburg to see her mother and sister.
Across St. Petersburg, churches held prayers for the victims of the attack on Wednesday morning. Anna attended one of the services, at the St. Trinity Church, holding red tulips and a picture of her sister with a black ribbon tied to it.
Medyantseva was a successful doll maker who also taught classes in her craft at a small community center on the outskirts of the city. Most of her dolls are made of melted plastic and are sold online for up to $1,000 each.
"Over the years Irina developed her own style," said Marusya Lyovkina, Medyantseva's niece, from Moscow. "(The dolls) all have this St. Petersburg's melancholy, looking like angels, all with sad eyes," she said, referring to St. Petersburg's reputation as a gloomy, melancholic place.
The artists' fans and well-wishers have flooded the family with messages of support and condolences. By Wednesday morning, employees at the community center had set up a makeshift memorial, with Medyantseva's picture standing next to one of the dolls she made — a smiley red-head with big blue eyes. The room where she taught her classes is decorated with her dolls. Shell-shocked colleagues say the artist's students keep calling, asking if they could drop by to remember her.
Lyovkina, Medyantseva's niece, last saw her aunt two years ago when she came to Moscow with her dolls for an arts fair.
Her family still keeps a doll made for her cousin, Lyovkina's father. The figurine, with a grey moustache and glasses, lies in a cup filled with beads as if in a bubble bath. Lyovkina speaks of the doll's likeness to her father, pulling out her phone to show the two of them pictured together.
Medyantseva's husband, Alexander Kaminsky, wrote online the evening she died: "Grief. I have lost my beloved wife."
Unlike Medyantseva's relatives, few families of the 13 killed have spoken out about the loved ones they lost in the St. Petersburg bombing, making the victims largely anonymous.
"I would want her to be remembered not as a victim of a terrorist attack but an artist who lived and worked in St. Petersburg," Lyovkina said.
Irina Medyantseva will be laid to rest on Thursday.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.