Decades after fleeing Nazis, Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find asylum in Israel

Hours before the outset of Holocaust Remembrance Day, elderly refugees arrive in Israel, fleeing the inferno of war; 'I never thought I’d be forced to go through this again'

Itamar Eichner |
Published: 04.27.22, 22:11
The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced untold millions, including hundreds of Holocaust survivors who were once again forced to flee their homes to save their lives.
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  • The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has helped hundreds of Holocaust survivors flee Ukraine, including 21 who arrived in Israel Wednesday: the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
    One such survivor is 88-year-old Nanel Zelinsky, who fled from the besieged city of Kharkiv to Israel, where she landed Wednesday, a few hours before the outset of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
    "I have already beaten Hitler once, I survived the Holocaust," Nanel tells Ynet.
    "I have a daughter, two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren - and now I'm a refugee again, trying to save my life."
    “I immigrated to Israel in order to survive. I am very excited. We have a Holocaust memorial in Kharkiv, which I make sure to visit from time to time. This year I will not be visiting it though,” said Nanel, who added that the significance of arriving in Israel on the day dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust is not lost on her.
    “It excites me to know that the whole country has stopped to think about what we went through.”
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    Holocaust Survivor Nanel Zelinsky
    Holocaust Survivor Nanel Zelinsky
    Holocaust Survivor Nanel Zelinsky
    (Photo: The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)
    Despite arriving safe and sound in Israel, Zelinsky has a hard time relaxing: "The situation in Kharkiv is now worse than it was in World War II… The entire city was devastated.”
    "Everyone in my building went down to hide in the subway station, but because of my medical condition I could not get there myself,” she recalls.
    “I was left completely alone in my apartment for ten days. I felt like I was in prison, in solitary confinement. I was left alone in a nine-story building, with no electricity and no ability to communicate with the outer world… After that, I decided to move to Israel.”
    Valery Kanievsky, 83, and his wife Nelya, 80, were also forced to flee the incessant Russian shelling of Kharkiv.
    "When World War II broke out, I was little, but I remember very well our escape," Valery recalls.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    ולרי קנייבסקי ורעייתו בדרך למטוס
    ולרי קנייבסקי ורעייתו בדרך למטוס
    Holocaust Survivor Valery Kanievsky
    (Photo: The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)
    "We ran for our lives under the bombs, I was not sure we would survive the road. I remember the bombings, the fear. The same feeling accompanied us now. I never thought that at my age, I’d be forced to go through this again.”
    Tatiana Riabaya will celebrate her 99th birthday this coming December, she is making Aliyah to Israel alongside her 73-year-old daughter: "My uncle and his family were all murdered in the Holocaust. My family and I managed to escape, that’s how we stayed alive.”
    “Now, at my age, I’m running away from my city again. I did not believe we would have to flee until the very last minute,” said Riabaya, who remembers the horrors of World War II vividly.
    "Back then, we also traveled to a remote area of Russia, even then the road was dangerous… I did not believe that at my age, almost 100 years old, I would have to go through this again… I am most grateful that we have the Jewish state where I will have a home."
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    Holocaust Survivor Tatiana Riabaya
    Holocaust Survivor Tatiana Riabaya
    Holocaust Survivor Tatiana Riabaya
    (Photo: The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)
    According to the Holocaust Survivors' Rights Authority, about 525 Holocaust survivors have immigrated to Israel from Ukraine since the outset of the Russian invasion on February 24. Another 113 Holocaust survivors have made Aliyah from Russia and one from Belarus.
    “During the time I was here, we brought close to 3,000 refugees from Ukraine, including about 270 elderly people and Holocaust survivors, "says Benny Haddad, director-general of the Aliyah Department at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
    "These elders, for the most part, did not plan to leave Ukraine, but their home is on fire, and Israel is like a second home for them.”
    The head of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Yael Eckstein, said she was "proud of the privilege we have of giving these dear people, who for the second time in their lives faced the danger of extermination, a chance to come full circle and return home — to Israel.”
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