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May 19, 2022 2:23 pm
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Ukrainian Holocaust Rescuer Evacuated From Russian Occupation of Kherson

avatar by Ben Cohen

Ukrainian citizen Oleksandr Slobodyanyk was honored by Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust for his efforts to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Photo: Screenshot

A 92-year-old Ukrainian man who was honored by Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust for his efforts to save a Jewish family from the clutches of the Nazis has been evacuated from Kherson — the sole major city in the country to have been occupied by Russian forces since the launch of the invasion on Feb. 24.

Local media outlets reported on Thursday that Oleksandr Slobodyanyk had departed with his family from Kherson to the relative safety of Prykarpattia, in western Ukraine. The family had spent the intervening period huddled in their basement shelter, frequently short of water and food.

Lyudmila Skepka, Slobodyanyk’s daughter, said that her young son had begged to leave Kherson “because I want to live.” She added that Slobodyanyk, now living through a second major war, had been sheltered from news of the fighting until a cluster bomb exploded in the family’s front yard.

In 1942, when he was 13-years-old, Slobodyanyk was living with his parents in the Nazi-occupied town of Bershad, where the Germans had constructed a ghetto containing more than 25,000 Jews. On a freezing winter’s day, he came across a 10-year-old Jewish boy named David who had just escaped from the ghetto. Slobodyanyk immediately took David home, where his father instructed him to pass the Jewish boy off as his brother. Slobodyanyk later assisted in the smuggling of David’s mother out of the Bershad ghetto, dressing her in traditional Ukrainian clothing to put the guards outside the ghetto walls off the scent.

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Slobodyanyk was named as “Righteous Among the Nations” — an honorific conferred by Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, on non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Nazis — in 1993. As of 2020, more than 2,600 Ukrainians had been honored in this manner.

Ukrainian forces continued their efforts to drive the Russians from Kherson on Thursday. “The Russians are running, little by little,” one local commander told broadcaster Euronews.

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