Disaster Relief

March 14, 2022

The Dangerous Operation to Rescue Holocaust Survivors from Kyiv

Our Ministry Partners, in Israel, sent us an update on Ukraine:

"As a follow-up to the new letter sent by Shimon Sabag, CEO of Yad Ezer L’Haver, please see below the translated article that explains some of the life-saving operations YEL is conducting in Ukraine thanks to JFMM’s support. This article, which was published by Israel’s leading Hebrew newspaper (YNet - Yedioth Ahronoth) describes one of the rescue operations which saved a Holocaust Survivor from Kyiv and brought her to Israel."


Lilia Vladirovna (78) was left alone in Kyiv amid the war and was forced to leave the house where she was born during World War II. Israeli volunteers mobilized to take her out of Ukraine and rescue her to Lviv, which is about 600 km from the capital. In the coming days, she will land in Israel: "I feel that history is repeating itself.


The siege imposed by the Russian forces on Kyiv forced Lilia and Dyrovna to be locked up in her home for more than two weeks, without leaving her, when she was completely alone. Lilia, a 78-year-old Holocaust survivor, lived in a building in the center of the Ukrainian capital. She was born into a war and now, at the end of her days, she has left the place where she was born as a result of war when she knows she will probably not return to it anymore.


"From the moment the fighting started, I did not leave the house because that is what we were ordered to do," she told Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth. "Every time I heard the alarms, I ran to the stairwell and heard the sound of explosions." Lilia had a hard time walking and even when she walked toward us, she was helped by someone who supported her. She says that due to the difficulty of walking, she did not always manage to reach a more sheltered place.


As the bombings in the Kyiv region became more and more frequent, and the danger to Lilia's life and health increased, her son, who had already left the Kyiv region earlier, tried to find a way to rescue her. The difficult case reached the ears of Shimon Sabag, the founder of the Yad Ezer L'Haver organization, which is in Ukraine with his staff and is involved in rescuing Jews and Israelis stranded in the battle zones in eastern Ukraine and the north.


The great sensitivity of the case, and the fact that Lilya is a Holocaust survivor living alone in the bombed-out city, led to a dangerous rescue operation aimed at reaching her and rescuing her safely from Ukraine to Poland. Sabag recruited a local team that set out this weekend from Lviv to Kyiv, a distance of 600 kilometers, countless checkpoints, and many areas that are frequently attacked by the Russian army, to reach Lilia and get her out of the inferno.


"The road was very long," Lilia repeated. "We drove for more than 13 hours on bypass roads and in the woods. There was very heavy traffic west, towards Poland, but we did not stop for a moment." On Tuesday (Saturday) at 01:00 at night, Lilia arrived with her rescuers in Lviv, was immediately housed in a local hotel, and found it difficult to hide her excitement. By morning she had already reunited with her son and granddaughter who had come to help her move to Poland.


"First of all, I want to thank the people of Yad Ezer L'Haver who risked their lives and came to my house to rescue me," Lilia said as she choked on tears. "I'm in a safe place now and it's hard for me to express my gratitude in words."


Lilia was greeted at the hotel by Sabag. He expressed great satisfaction with the success but was also concerned that there were, in his estimation, other Holocaust survivors who had not yet been able to reach them in the battle zones and save them. "Our goal is to help the helpless who can not take care of themselves. To that end, we have hired local teams and we continue every day to bring new successes."


Lilia left for the Polish border yesterday, and from there she will fly to Israel in the coming days. She says she doesn't know if she will ever return to her home in Kyiv in her life, but she sought to strengthen the efforts of Israelis on private or state-sponsored initiatives to take care of all Jews in distress anywhere in the world. "I was born in Kyiv when the city was constantly bombed. My father was killed in battles towards the end of World War II fighting alongside the Soviet Union, and in my life, I never thought the Russian people would attack Ukraine. Now I feel like history repeats itself and even worse."




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