Vasili did not ‘fall’ into Ezra’s hands immediately. Firstly, the Jewish aid organisation Chesed in Odessa received a call from Vasili’s daughter from Israel with a request to help find and evacuate her father from Kherson and help him get to Israel. A few days before that, the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station was blown up. And Vasili lived in an area called Ostrov [Island], which was flooded to the maximum after the explosion.
Chesed turned to the Jewish Agency for help, but they answered that they were not dealing with Israeli citizens. Vasili had previously lived in Israel having made aliyah with his wife, daughter and her family. Vasili returned to Ukraine about 20 years ago following his wife’s death. Vasili said “It was good in Israel until the unexpected happened – my wife suddenly died, which was an irreparable blow for me. I could not come to terms with this, cope with my emotions, because I loved her very much and did not want to continue to live on my own, without her. Then I developed a terrible depression, I had to do something about it. And I did… I returned to Kherson, leaving the family of my daughter and granddaughter. I left my wife’s grave there, all our hopes, dreams and expectations from living together in Israel. I immersed myself in work in Kherson.”
Unfortunately, the Israeli Embassy also reported that they are not involved with evacuation. Therefore, one hope remained and that was on Ezra’s worker, Sergei, in Odessa, who closely cooperates with Chesed in taking people to the evacuation bus for Moldova. Sergei checked if we could help the grandfather, who has an expired Israeli passport and does not have a valid Ukrainian passport to travel abroad. Given Vasili’s age – 86 years old, and that he is in a city that is mostly flooded, the answer was yes. There were no other options for him.
Vasili describes living conditions for him in Kherson: “Now, my health situation has changed. This has happened since Russia attacked us on February 24, 2022. I just couldn’t imagine that it was possible. My brain just couldn’t comprehend what was happening! I did not believe it, but the reality was that explosions sounded, tanks and other military equipment drove into the city, foreign troops occupied us and began to establish their own dictatorship! Mobile communications, landline phone, internet were all switched off.”
“At that time, I had my first stroke, kind people brought me to the hospital, but they said that there were no medicines, there were almost no doctors, there was no treatment either! I was sent home. In this state, I remained in the apartment on the 9th floor by myself. And after a short time, I had a second stroke. Because of this, the right side of my body stopped working normally: my arm and leg did not move well, I stopped feeling part of my face.”
The situation in the city also worsened, even though we were de-occupied, the Russians began to brutally shell the city every day. After severe destruction of the infrastructure, water, electricity and gas disappeared. I had to pay money to an alcoholic neighbour to bring me water from the Dnieper River and deliver it to the 9th floor. He collected two bottles of 6 litres each and brought it to me, and I saved it a lot. For me, these 12 litres of water from the Dnieper were a real treasure! I used some of the water for the toilet, and some I saved and drank, it was not possible to boil. It’s good that I dried up crackers earlier, which I could eat when there was nothing to eat in the house. So miraculously I survived!”
He added: “And recently, the police came to me in the morning and told me to urgently collect my things and documents. I had to quickly leave the premises, because there was an explosion at the Kakhovskaya HPP, and our area of the city, which is called Ostrov, will be flooded. And so it happened, the water began to rise rapidly and quickly reached 3 meters. But by that time, I was already in the hospital, where they brought all the single people. The hospital was overflowing with destitute people like me.”
And so, the rescue operation began! Sergei went and found Vasili in the hospital. Both in Kyiv and Odessa, our team members acted in parallel. While Sergei was bringing Vasili to the train in Odessa which would bring him to Kyiv, at the same time Ezra’s Director, Misha, in Kyiv was making an appointment at the Israeli Embassy to obtain a temporary Israeli travel document, with which Vasili could be released from Ukraine.
After a night on the train, Vasili arrived in Kyiv and was met at the carriage by Ezra team members with a wheelchair. Otherwise, walking such distances at the station would have taken a lot of time and effort. There were several hours before the visit to the Embassy, so Vasili was settled in one of the central hotels with a beautiful view of the city. When there are no sirens and loud sounds of air defence, a beautiful peaceful city. In Kherson, Vasili lived for 9 months under occupation and constant shelling of his quarter, and after the occupation, shelling did not stop during the last six months. Therefore, the silence and beauty, albeit military Kyiv, reassured Vasili.
But what completely brought him to tears was the buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Firstly, it turned out that Vasili would not be able to serve himself. In one hand, a walking stick, and in the other, hold a plate. So how to get the food? Therefore, Vasili was seated at a table, and we served him. They gave apple juice to start with, and he sits and cries. And it’s understandable after everything he experienced during the occupation. In Vasili’s words: “They put me in the best hotel in the world! And the guys fed me, and there was a buffet, they served me, since I can’t get food myself. Tears ran down my cheeks. I have never eaten so delicious, never slept so sweetly. I felt like a real king!”
We were allowed to come to the Embassy together with Vasili to escort him. And some time later an air raid alert was announced in Kyiv, and we were evacuated to a shelter. The Ambassador also went down to the shelter with us! We did not hear the loud explosions of the air defence system, but it was a serious shelling. We spent over an hour in the basement. But after that, Vasili received his document to travel to Israel! We organized his transport to Vinnitsa, and from there he was taken to Moldova for a flight to Israel.
Despite having to leave everything behind in Kherson, including precious photo albums of his life with his wife, Vasili is happy to be on his way back to Israel. He said: “It seems to me that what happened to me now is not real, but a fairy tale. After the horrors I experienced, all the torment and suffering, I felt such care, love, understanding and warmth, which I have not received from anyone before in my entire life! The food they fed me was the most delicious in the world! The road when they drove me was the happiest, the attention that was given to me was the most valuable in my life! Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Good health, well-being, prosperity, peace and prosperity to all of you!”