A four-year-old girl is recovering in hospital after being lost for nearly two weeks in a forest where bears roam in the Russian north with only her puppy to defend her.
Karina Chikitova was found emaciated but alive at the weekend, having survived 11 days in the Siberian wilderness, where temperatures plunge below freezing at night, with only berries to sustain her in what rescuers said was nothing short of a miracle.
The little girl had left her tiny village in Russia's Sakha region with her dog on July 29 to go and stay with her father who lived in a neighbouring hamlet.
But her father had gone to fight a wildfire and the girl apparently set off by herself into the forest to find him.
With no mobile phone signal in the sparsely populated region where native Yakut people live from hunting and reindeer herding, her mother only realised after four days that her daughter had set off on her own into the Siberian taiga.
Despite a massive search, the breakthrough only came when Karina's puppy traipsed back to the hamlet -- in which only eight people live -- allowing rescuers to send search dogs on the puppy's trail.
"We were sure that the puppy was next to the little girl all this time, warming her at night and scaring away wild animals," rescuer Afanasiy Nikolayev told the Zvezda TV channel.
When the dog came back "we thought this is it" for Karina, as temperatures in the area had already dropped below freezing at night.
A report on the channel said the search party kept to creeks and meadows, going into the forest only in the presence of special forces because there are so many bears in the area.
The search team came across Karina's footprints two days later and found her lying in tall grass about 6km north of her village, shaken but alive.
By then she had lost her shoes and was walking barefoot and had lost a considerable amount of weight.
"She didn't say a thing... she just cried quietly and reached out her arms," Artyom Borisov, a volunteer who first spotted Karina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "She asked for water and food right away."
"It's simply incredible that she was found safe with so much wildlife in the forest," spokesman of the regional rescue service told the paper. "An adult would not survive - he would torment himself with awful thoughts."
Television pictures showed the wide-eyed girl in a T-shirt and leggings just after she had been found gulping water before being carried onto a helicopter.
She said she ate berries and drank water from the river to survive.
Sakha governor's office said Karina was in the main regional hospital in the city of Yakutsk and was recovering well.