91-year-old Holocaust survivor dies in siege of Mariupol

The city has been under relentless Russian assault for weeks


A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who hid from the Nazis in her Mariupol basement has died in another cellar in the same city amid brutal Russian shelling.

Vanda Semyonovna Obiedkova, who was said to have survived unimaginable horrors in her lifetime, kept asking “Why is this happening?” as the shells rained down on the city.

During the last two weeks of her life, Vanda was so ill and emaciated she could not even stand up in the freezing basement where she and her daughter, Larissa, were seeking shelter. She died on April 4, Larissa told the website

“Mama didn’t deserve such a death,” said Larissa, who was at her mother’s side throughout the non-stop shelling.

Rabbi Mendel Cohen, the Ukrainian port city’s lone rabbi, said: “The whole Mariupol has turned into a cemetery. Obiedkova and her family had long been active members of Mariupol’s Jewish community, the matriarch regularly receiving medical aid from Cohen’s synagogue.

“Vanda Semyonovna lived through unimaginable horrors. She was a kind, joyous woman, a special person who will forever remain in our hearts.”

Since the war began, Rabbi Cohen has been working full-time to evacuate locals from the inferno, including on Shabbat, and Passover. Earlier this week he was able to evacuate Larissa and her family.

Ms Obiedkova was born in Mariupol on Dec. 8, 1930. She was 10 years old in October 1941, when the Nazis entered Mariupol and began rounding up the city’s Jews. When the SS came to the family home and took away her mother, Maria (Mindel), the little girl managed to evade arrest by hiding in a basement.

“She couldn’t scream; that’s what saved her,” said Larissa.

In October 1941, the Germans executed between 9,000 and 16,000 Jews in ditches on the outskirts of Mariupol, including Ms Obiedkova’s mother and her mother’s entire family.

The little girl was later detained, but family friends came and convinced the Nazis that she was Greek. Her father, who was not Jewish, then managed to get her checked into a hospital, where she remained until Mariupol was liberated in 1943. Ms Obiedkova gave a full account of her life and Holocaust experience to the USC Shoah Foundation in 1998.

“We had a VHS tape of her interview at home, but that’s all burned together with our home,” said Larissa.

Ms Obiedkova married in 1954, when Mariupol was known by the Soviet name of Zhdanov, and spent her entire life in the city. In recent years, she lived with Larissa.

“Mama loved Mariupol; she never wanted to leave,” Larissa said.

When the shelling began in early March, the family moved into the basement of a neighbouring heating-supply store. The only assistance the family received throughout that time came from Rabbi Cohen’s synagogue and community centre.

“There was no water, no electricity, no heat—and it was unbearably cold,” Larissa said. “But there was nothing we could do for her. We were living like animals.

“Every time a bomb fell, the entire building shook. My mother kept saying she didn’t remember anything like this during the Great Patriotic War [World War I].

“I’m so sorry for the people of Mariupol. There’s no city, no work, no home — nothing. What is there to return to? For what? It’s all gone. Our parents wanted us to live better than they did, but here we are repeating their lives again.”

The one, lonely bright spot, Larissa said, has been Rabbi Cohen and the Chabad of Mariupol Jewish community, which has been a lifeline throughout the last seven weeks of hell.

“Thank God we have our Jewish community,” said Larissa. “People need community, family, during this time. That’s all we have left.”

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