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February 27, 2022 6:26 pm
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Former IDF Soldier Helps Ukrainian Army Amid Russian Invasion: ‘Everyone Became a Fighter’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Ukrainian frontier guards patrol an area along the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Antonio Bronic

A former Israeli soldier from the elite “Golani” infantry brigade who fought Palestinian terrorists in Jenin 20 years ago is now involved in a different conflict — this time against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Zvi Arieli, 42, is originally from Latvia and is married to a Ukrainian Jewish woman. He lived in Israel for 20 years before moving permanently to Ukraine. Now, he is helping the embattled Ukrainian army in an auxiliary capacity.

“In Israel we’ve never known a situation like the one happening here now — maybe in 1948 during the War of Independence,” he told Israeli news site N12 on Sunday. “Here, it feels like World War III — just now I heard about a woman with a Molotov cocktail who burned a Russian tank … everyone has become a fighter.”

He said the current conflict is different from what he experienced in 2002, as “in Ukraine you reach a situation where the forces against you are 10 times larger [than yours]. … It’s impossible to prepare for a war like this.”

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“The Ukrainians think I know what to do better than they do, but it’s not true,” Arieli said. “In Israel, they don’t teach soldiers things like this, they don’t teach them to fill a bottle with oil and gasoline and throw it on a tank.”

He evacuated from Kyiv with his family before the Russians reached the capital city, which remains in Ukrainian hands but has been the site of intense combat. Arieli is now with relatives in the town of Uman.

“If the war arrives here, I’ll take part, and that’s why I’m here,” he said, adding that there were indications that Russia may send forces to the town. “We are quite pressured and on high alert.”

Arieli said the Ukrainians are exacting a heavy toll on the Russians, who have “many dead.”

“They thought they would come to liberate the people here, but they don’t understand that there are no problems here like they thought — and so they didn’t expect a reaction like this,” he continued.

“In every city and town that the Russian forces pass, their tanks are burnt,” he added. “This has to go on for another week or two, and then I think the situation will be more difficult from their point of view. It isn’t what they expected, I can say that for sure.”

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