The daring rescue operations carried out by Chabad shlichim to evacuate Jews from the besieged city of Mariupol, which the Russians almost completely destroyed and is now under a renewed attack, were recently revealed in the Chabad weekly Kfar Chabad.
In the lengthy article, Mariupol’s Chabad shaliach Rav Mendel Cohen and several survivors describe how Jews were extricated from the ruthless battlefield on the streets and brought to safety.
The descriptions are appalling. Quite a few of the city’s Jews did not survive the inferno. Some died in horrible ways and some were buried hastily. But hundreds of them were miraculously saved via risky roundabout routes.
The situation in Mariupol deteriorated so quickly that most people didn’t have a chance to flee before it was too late. The lives of Rav Mendel Cohen and his family, who have devotedly served the Jewish kehilla in Mariupol since 2005, were spared due to the fact that Rav Cohen had a leg surgery scheduled in Israel in mid-February. Since there were warnings of a Russian invasion, Rav Cohen decided to take his whole family along with him to Israel, a move that very likely saved their lives.
After the war broke out, Rav Cohen flew to the Romanian/Ukrainian border and helped establish a hostel for refugees. At the same time, he frantically tried to communicate with the members of his kehilla and develop rescue plans.
One of the people he saved was Dovid Betzalel Shislov, 19, who was injured by a Russian shell, and his family members. Dovid Betzalel recounted the terrible moments after he was injured. “I couldn’t move. I suffered a minor injury to my spinal cord and almost every movement was painful. I couldn’t sit comfortably or move my hand comfortably.”
“My mother and I didn’t know what to do. We tried to think of a way to get to the hospital and eventually we managed to get there – although it’s hard to call the place we arrived at a ‘medical center.’ There was no electricity there or other essential services. There were many people there, a lot of blood, and a lot of soldiers patrolling. They tried to remove the shrapnel from my back – without anesthesia – but they were unsuccessful. They gave me antibiotics but I still felt horrible. I couldn’t do anything. My mother had to help me with every little thing.”
As Dovid Betzalel was with his mother in the hospital, his younger brother was with his grandparents in another location in the city. “We couldn’t get to them because of the intense shelling,” he said. “My mother was debating what to do, to travel with me to another city where I could receive proper treatment or to first try to retrieve my brother. It was easier for me to leave the city because the local soldiers were allowing injured people to leave.”
“My mother decided to stay with me and we traveled to Donetsk, where I was treated. We also spoke with Rav Cohen there. Later, my grandparents and my brother managed to join us in Donetsk. From there we traveled to Rostov and other cities in Russia, from there to Georgia, and from Georgia to Israel. Rav Cohen assisted us with every stage of the journey.”
Dovid Betzalel and his family were housed in a hotel in Tel Aviv, and that’s where they spent Pesach. “I need rehabilitation and physical therapy and I’m doing it here in Israel. For now, we’re staying in a hotel in Tel Aviv. The first thing we did was find an appropriate school for my brother and a hospital for me. Later we’ll plan our future. The main thing is that we survived.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)