Arkady Kesselman, a lone IDF soldier from Ukraine, did not expect the surprise that awaited him on Wednesday at his swearing-in ceremony at Jerusalem's Western Wall to mark the end of basic training for new immigrants.
Lone soldiers are servicemembers who do not have immediate family in Israel. They are generally either non-Israelis of Jewish background or immigrants under the Law of Return, which allows them to attain Israeli citizenship.
After nearly two years, Arkady met his mother and younger brother who had fled Odesa to Cyprus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The moving meeting took place shortly before the ceremony and no one around was left indifferent.
Following a joint family decision, Arkady made Aliyah alone almost two years ago with the aim of enlisting in the army. In Israel, he found a warm home in Kibbutz Barkai as part of a program of the Kibbutz Movement helping lone soldiers better adapt. Until his enlistment, he studied Hebrew in an Ulpan and worked for a living.
In early March, Kesselman's mother Tatiana left Odessa with her youngest son Albert on the orders of the father who remained in the city. The father heads a charity in Odesa that helps Jews throughout Ukraine.
The two first traveled to Romania and from there flew to the city of Paphos in Cyprus, where a family friend lives.
Yael Eisner, who oversees the Kibbutz Movement program, heard from Arkady about his family's great escape and decided with the help of coworkers to fly Tatiana and Albert in especially for the ceremony.
Their plane tickets were purchased with funding from the Kibbutz Movement, without Arkady knowing anything about it and with the cooperation of his commanders.
Tatiana and Albert landed in Israel on Tuesday afternoon and stayed the night on the kibbutz where Arkady lives before leaving for the ceremony in Jerusalem the next morning.
Tatiana says that although she was staying in neighboring Cyprus, she did not think she would be able to visit Arkady, and was really excited to hear the Kibbutz Movement had decided to fly them in.
According to her, she did not have a hard time keeping the secret from her son, which made the whole experience much more exciting. She further said that although her son does not often give out his emotions, he was visibly touched as well.
Until their flight back to Cyprus next Tuesday, Tatiana is planning to stay with Arkady on the kibbutz and visit friends living in Israel. Tatiana says that the family is interested in Albert following in his older brother's footsteps and making Aliyah too.
Eisner said that she and the Kibbutz Movement have been working tirelessly since the outset of the war to provide soldiers who have immigrated from Ukraine with the support they need.