Holocaust survivors land in Israel on rescue flights as Yom HaShoah begins

'I was a refugee in 1941 and now I’ve become a refugee again'


Nine Holocaust survivors rescued from the war in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight, at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ?????? ???? ?????? ????? ???????? ?????? ????? ????? ??? ????? ??? ?????

Nine Holocaust survivors fleeing the war in Ukraine landed in Israel on Wednesday night on a special plane as the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations began.

12 other Holocaust survivors fleeing from war-torn Ukraine landed in Israel earlier in the day on a regular flight organised by the International Fellowship of Jews and Christians.

Those 21 survivors have joined an estimated 500 survivors of Nazi genocide who have found refuge in Israel over the past two months, along with over 15,000 others from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, according to figures from the Israeli government's department of Immigration.

Shortly before leaving for Israel, Ninel Zhilinska, 88, one of the survivors on the specially outfitted plane, told The Times of Israel: “I never thought that this is what would happen again — that at my age I would have to again flee a war and again hear the sounds of bombs going off around me.

"I already beat Hitler once, I survived the Holocaust. I have a daughter, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. And now again I’m a refugee trying to save her life."

“I was a refugee in 1941 and now I’ve become a refugee again,” she added.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 following months of high tensions between the two countries and weeks of Russia amassing military forces on the shared border.

Thousands have died in Ukraine since the war began, which has displaced millions of people and triggered a refugee crisis in Europe not seen since World War II.

The special medical flight is the fourth to have landed in Israel since the invasion began. The nine survivors on board had medical needs that needed accommodating, according to the ZAKA emergency response group, which co-organised the medical flight with IFCJ.

The plane departed from Moldova, a landlocked country between Ukraine and Romania, where the refugees had been put in a hotel while waiting for their transport arrangements to be completed, The Times of Israel reports.

There were 12 other refugees on that flight who also required medical care, but were not Holocaust survivors, a ZAKA spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

The refugees were greeted personally at Ben Gurion Airport by the Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata. She noted the resonance of the survivors landing in Israel at the start of the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations, saying: "It is symbolic. During the Holocaust, they didn’t have a place to run. Today, there is a strong Jewish home."

Those remarks were echoed by the head of the International Federation of Christians and Jews, saying that their arrival as Holocaust Remembrance Day began “symbolised more than anything the essence of Zionism and the Jewish people’s responsibility for one another.”

Ambulances met the plane to transport the passengers with medical needs to hospitals, care facilities, or the homes of family members. As they disembarked, they were greeted by cheers and waves from volunteers and government officials, and given roses and small Israeli flags.

Tatyna Ryabaya, 99, was the oldest passenger on the flight, and traveled to Israel with her 73-year-old daughter. She said: "I didn’t believe until the last moment that I would have to flee.

"I didn’t believe that at my age I would have to travel on a rescue bus for more than a day as bombs were going off around me and that I would have to fear for the life of my daughter."

During the Holocaust, in which large numbers of her family members were killed, she made a similar escape.

Ryabaya said: “Then too we traveled to a faraway part of Russia, then too the path was dangerous but we wanted to save our lives. I didn’t believe that at my age — I am almost 100 — I would need to go through that again. It’s very hard to leave everything behind at my age."

Valery Kanievski, another survivor on the flight, said that he and his wife had encouraged their son to emigrate to Israel, they never thought they would do so themselves.

“Our original plan was that our son would move to Israel and we would come to visit, but the plan changed because of the war," he said. "They blew up our city. That is a terrible feeling. The gunfire and the explosions just never stopped, and the feeling of terrible fear was with us constantly."

He said: “When World War II started I was little, but I still remember our escape perfectly. I remember the bombings and I remember the fear. It is the same exact feeling that we have now.

“I didn’t believe that at my age I would need to go through this again. I didn’t believe my city would be destroyed. I didn’t believe I would have to have these feelings again.”

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