• במרתף הבית בלוגנסק, ארגז תפוחי האדמה שבו ישנו האם והבן ארתור

    במרתף הבית בלוגנסק, ארגז תפוחי האדמה שבו ישנו האם והבן ארתור

    ויצסלב זולודייב, ויצסלב זולודייב ©

From Eastern Ukraine to Israel

For the past year and a half, The Jewish Agency has been there to help the Zolodyev family, every step of the way. This began with their daughter Aleksandrina’s participating on Sela, moving to a absorption center in Karmiel; and it continued to the rescue of the family from an explosive Lugansk, the parents moving to an absorption center in Karmiel and their son Artur starting in a technological high school in Nahalal.

September 2014. Oksana and Vycheslav Zolodayev, and their 16-year old son Artur, arrive at Ben-Gurion airport, greeted by their 19-year old daughter Aleksandrina. Aleksandrina is a student of the Selah program of The Jewish Agency and a participant of ‘Garin Tzabar’, the army integration program for young olim. After months of separation, their reunion is emotional.

Look at the pictures of this meeting, taken spontaneously at the airport – but one can’t imagine the extent to which The Jewish Agency has saved this family, like many other families in the past 85 years, and in the past year in particular as conflict continues to rage in eastern Ukraine.

The couple Oksana and Vycheslav wanted to immigrate to Israel several years ago. “We wanted to sell the apartment in Lugansk, so that we can come to Israel with some funds,” said Vycheslav.

Eighteen months ago,  the Zolodyevs sent their daughter Aleksandrina ahead of them on The Jewish Agency program Selah (Selah – an abbreviation for “Students Before Parents”). Aleksandrina came to Karmiel, where she studied Hebrew intensively and prepared for higher education and integration into Israeli society. “She is a wonderful girl and very talented, she was my star here at the Karmiel Absorption Center. She has performed in the center’s productions, a very talented singer, and she will go very far,” said Karmiel Absorption Center Director Ziona Eisenstein.

And in the second half of 2014, heavy fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russian separatists. Lugansk was heavily bombed, and the entire city and its entrances were ridden with ground battles. The Zolodayev family hid in the basement of the house, with limited provisions (potatoes and onions mostly), and lived in terror for two months. They had no way of contacting their daughter Aleksandrina in Israel. The city suffered from severe food shortages, with workers’ salaries remaining unpaid and the property of local citizens ruthlessly confiscated.

“I was terribly worried, I almost went crazy,” Aleksandrina tells me in the Raanana Absorption Center, where she is in a Tzabar military prep program, a program of the Tzofim (Youth Scouts) Movement and The Jewish Agency.


Lugansk: Life in a Basement

In Lugansk the situation deteriorated drastically. The daily reports were getting increasingly terrifying.

“We lived in a state of war, citizens being wounded on both sides,” Vyacheslav tells. “There was no one to protect us. There was no electricity in the homes, water supply was minimal and at limited times. The telephones were cut off. Our girl, in Israel, was searching for us for two months and we couldn’t get in contact with her.”

“Nothing was functioning in Lugansk,” Oksana says. “Not the police, not the education. Nothing. Everyone withdrew into themselves. And of course, there were no salaries. Yes, whoever fought in the war was paid for it, with money and social services. The children and elderly did not receive those services. Everything was closed. The children were terrified to leave the house. We sat in the basement of our house, it was our only shelter from the bombing. We lived on potatoes, barley, onions, dry food.”

Our son’s school was close to the police headquarters and military officials. They were constantly firing in the area, very close to the school. The children completing ninth grade had a quick graduation party, received their certificates, and fled home in early June. Since then, we spent the summer hiding in the basement.

Artur, an avid athlete, was confined to a cellar for weeks in the summer heat.

“The boy is very active, and it’s hard to put him in the basement. When the shooting died down a bit, my husband went with him to play basketball. When they heard shots, they returned to the basement. All we tried to do, as parents, to prevent panic,” Oksana recalls.

The parents did all they could to ensure that the young boy would continue studying mathematics and English, but it was difficult with no electricity. Vyacheslav used a battery-operated lamp for Artur to learn mathematics under, and would go out to look for batteries every time the shooting died down – just so his son could continue reading.

At night, when the city became dark and quiet, the Zolodayev family went into the basement. Oksana and her son slept in a potato crate. A temporary bed was set up for Vyacheslav. The neighbors helped each other, passing on information and with physical assistance. “If one found out that someone has milk for sale, one would run to get it. If someone didn’t have food, we would bring them,” Oksana tells.

Sometimes we would go to buy bread, we would for two hours on line and then in the end, they would tell us they have nothing left. Because we had no refrigerators, we couldn’t maintain anything. Most of the time we lived on vegetables and porridge, and that’s how we survived.”

When the fire died down a little, the Internet connection resumed and the first thing the Zolodayevs did was finally get in touch with Aleksandrina in Israel, via Skype.

The family decided it was time to leave Lugansk.


Escape from Lugansk

The family left Lugansk on September 2, Vyacheslav’s birthday. Indeed, a birthday gift.

Before they left, Artur turned 16. The parents organized a birthday party in the basement. “There was one hour of electricity, and I quickly baked a cake and decorated it. We celebrated in the basement, even took pictures,” Oksana says, smiling.

“We tried to take as little as possible with us, and we tried to hide our son from seeing the destroyed homes all around us, the remnants of a car which had exploded with people inside it.” Right as they began to leave the city, a shell landed on a neighbor’s house, completely destroying the house.

The road out of Lugansk is slow and dangerous.  Vyacheslav was worried about the checkpoints ahead – both pro-Russian and Ukrainian.

“On our way out, we saw endless tanks and army trucks. From both sides. No one will surrender in these battles – this war will continue for many years,” Vyacheslav says.

“On our way to Kharkov, 300 km from Lugansk, there were ten checkpoints alone. Every time, they checked our documents, asked the men to strip down and prove they were unarmed. They checked for injuries, scratches on the body, and there were specific lists of those permitted to leave,” Vyacheslav remembers.

“When we were leaving Lugansk, there was a refugee checkpoint outside the city. When you arrive, you have to strip, declare all your possessions. They take your photograph. Across from me sat men with masks that only showed their eyes. They interrogated us: What did you do there? Where are you going? This was every checkpoint, for hours at a time.


In Israel

The road to Kharkov was a long one. “We were surprised to receive such a warm welcome from members of The Jewish Agency in Kharkov. We were very touched by the concern of total strangers, people wanting to help and support us. It’s moving, it made us happy,” Oksana tells.

Natalia Greenstein, of the Russian-Speaking Jewry unit, was in touch the entire time with Aleksandrina Zolodayeva in Israel – and by the time that the Zolodayevs’ plane landed in Ben-Gurion Airport, Aleksandrina was there, waiting to greet them.

Aleksandrina, cared for by Ziona Eisenstein (Director of the Karmiel Absorption Center)

The Jewish Agency organized all the small details, to the last piece.

Vyacheslav and Oksana are now residing in an Ulpan program at an Absorption Center, where they will be for half a year. Artur is studying at “ORT-Polytechnic”, a Jewish Agency program in Nahalal, and Aleksandrina is awaiting her draft into the IDF in an absorption center in Raanana, as a participant in ‘Tzabar’.

“The boy is calming down now, from all fo the horrors he has seen, and he’s still adjusting to this new way of life,” Einstein tells.  “He’s dreamt of coming to Israel, but what he gets today is beyond his expectations. That’s what he tells me. He is living in the dormitory of ORT-Technion, along with three other olim.”

“We’re able to really invest ourselves in studying Hebrew,” Oksana says. “We receive absorption benefits and focus on studying. We thank The Jewish Agency for taking care of our daughter; it was through her that we were introduced to The Jewish Agency.”

Aleksandrina is excited to be reunited with her family. “It’s a dream for a person from Lugansk to come to this place, to Israel. And not everyone is blessed with this opportunity. Only those who have the right to make Aliyah,” says Oksana. She smiles, “This is our home, our one and only home.”

18 Nov 2014 / 25 Heshvan 5775 0
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נתן רועי

נתן רועי נולד ביפו להורים שעלו ב"עליית גומולקה"; בעל השכלה וניסיון של למעלה משלושים וחמש שנות כתיבה תחקיר ועריכה עיתונאית הן בעיתונות הכתובה, בטלוויזיה הישראלית וברדיו (גל"צ); פרסם בישראל 18 ספרים בתחומי צבא ובטחון והחברה הישראלית; מרצה בנושאי תקשורת והיסטוריה הן ברמה אקדמית והן בפני קהל;מחבר תכניות חינוכיות הן בתחום ידיעת ארץ ישראל והן בתחום ההיסטוריה של ישראל; נמנה על צוות ההקמה של "תגלית" ומחבר תכנית היסוד של "תגלית" ב 1995; בעל שלושה תארים : משפטן Llb , היסטוריה ופילוסופיה,תואר ראשון ותואר שני Summa cum Laude; זכה בפרס של תנועת "סובלנות" (1987 ) בראשות נשיא המדינה אפרים קציר ומיכל זמורה-כהן על מאבקו העיתונאי למען חסידי אומות העולם בישראל ומתן מעמד מיוחד להם ולבני משפחותיהם במוסדות המדינה; זכה בפרס של מכון שכטר ( JTS ) בירושלים על הישגיו בלימודי התואר השני בהיסטוריה ופילוסופיה ובמלגה מטעם המכון בסיום לימודיו. נשוי באושר ואב לחמישה ילדים.