Eliezer Sherbatov, Ukraine apartment blocks destroyed in Russian strikes

Israeli hockey player recalls harrowing escape from Ukraine amid invasion

'We had to decide whether to hide in a shelter where we may be killed by a grenade or risk a 50-50 chance of surviving a train ride through areas under Russian attack,' says Eliezer Sherbatov, adding he just wants to stay close to his family now

Raanan Weiss |
Updated: 03.07.22, 11:19
Two weeks ago, Israeli ice hockey player Eliezer Sherbatov was still planning to take the field for his team in the Ukrainian Hockey League when an explosive device detonated outside the hotel near the city of Donetsk, where him and his team mates were staying.
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  • Now, the 30-year old star of HC Mariupol is happy to have made it alive of the country, thanking Israel for helping him get to Canada, where he lives.
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    אליעזר שרבטוב
    אליעזר שרבטוב
    Eliezer Sherbatov, Ukraine apartment blocks destroyed in Russian strikes
    (Photo: Israel Hockey Foundation, Reuters )
    "I woke up to a loud bang at 5am. I've never heard such a loud noise," he told The Sports Network (TSN) website. "The room began to shake. Everything was shaking. The war was on," he said.
    After the initial shock the Mariupol coach called the players in for an emergency meeting. "Guys the war has started," he said. "My advice to you is to stay together but if you choose to leave, it is up to you," he said.
    Sherbatov and his close fried decided to go to the nearest local train station, but the train to Leviv was two days late.
    "We were told the trains were being fired upon and another team member that was supposed to join us said he was not prepared to die," he said.
    "We had a 50-50 chance of staying alive. We had to decide between entering a shelter and hoping no one throws a grenade inside or take our chances on the train. I went for the train," he said.
    After speaking to his father and praying to God, Sherbatov boarded the train heading towards Kharkiv and north west Ukraine and then West through Kyiv, all under heavy Russian attack.
    "Imagine what I felt for those 24 hours. I called it the death train," he said, "because you expect to be shot at any second. The military was everywhere but you never knew who's soldiers you were seeing."
    When he reached Lviv, Sherbatov contacted the Israeli embassy in Latvia and a group of Israeli volunteers who he said put him on a bus full of elderly people and children, which was heading to Poland.
    "No one from the consulate came with us because they were waiting for more people to arrive," he said. "This was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I was responsible for 17 people in a life and death situation," Sherbatov said.
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    פליטים מאוקראינה בגבול פולין
    פליטים מאוקראינה בגבול פולין
    Ukraine's refugees on the Polish border
    (Photo: AP)
    When he returned to Canada where he now lives, he was united with his family. "I thought I would never see them again," he said. "My daughter was in her bed sleeping and I hugged her and just stayed with her crying."
    Sherbatov made news in Israel less than two years ago when he signed to join the Polish team in Oswiecim, where the Nazi occupiers built the infamous Auschwitz death camp.
    His parents immigrated to Israel from Moscow and he was born in Rehovot but moved to Canada aged 2.
    Both his mother and father were avid fans of the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadians and as family legend goes, were given visas only after Sherbatov's father announced he intended to make his young son a champion hockey player, like local legend Jay Leffler.
    At 13, Sherbatov returned to Israel and joined Metullah in the local league. Three years later he returned to Canada but began his European tour in 2011 playing in France, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Poland and finally in Ukraine.
    "I don't know where I will play next and for now I just want to be with my family," he said.
    "When you think you may never make it home, never see you parents again, the only thing you want is to be with your family for the rest of your life," Sherbatov said.

    First published: 11:16, 03.07.22
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