Holocaust survivor, 95, flees alone from his home near Babyn Yar and arrives in Poland

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JTA — Before this month, the last time Evgeny Pavlovskiy left the kyiv region was during World War II, when his Jewish family hid from the Nazis in the Urals roller coaster.

Aged 95 and suffering from several serious illnesses, he was content to live alone just two houses from the entrance to Babyn Yar, where the Nazis killed and buried more than 33,000 Jews in two days in 1941. When his son moved to Israel earlier this year, he decides to stay in his native country.

And when rumors of war began to swirl earlier this year, he remained impassive, like so many other Ukrainians who couldn’t believe Russian President Vladimir Putin would attack their country.

“My father didn’t want to leave Ukraine no matter how much I insisted,” said Mykhailo Pavlovskiy, also known as Moshe. “By the time I finally persuaded him, no one was there to help me.”

Evgeny Pavlovskiy eventually made three solo attempts to flee Russian shelling and artillery. His journey to Poland, a journey that would normally have taken eight hours, took three days.

Pavlovskiy’s Great Escape represents the wartime resilience of Jews and Ukrainians, two groups with whom he fully identifies. It also makes him likely to be the oldest refugee to have fled the war in Ukraine on his own, rather than alongside younger family or friends.

“I would like my story to help people and inspire them,” Pavlovskiy said. “And I have another message, I want the Russians to stop killing Ukrainians,” he pleaded. “They started World World III without realizing it, and now they are destroying the homes and lives of peaceful people. They should stop!

After war broke out in February, Mykhailo persuaded his father that Russian saboteurs might invade his house and assassinate him.

So Pavlovskiy took an 11-hour train journey from Kyiv to Lviv, a trip that normally takes around six and a half hours.

The wagons of the kyiv evacuation train intended for six people are usually filled with twice as many passengers, who wait for hours and sometimes days in the hope of boarding. They only have clothes on their backs and personal items that they can store in a small backpack or purse.

“The hardest and most heroic thing, for which I thank him every day, is that my father got on that evacuation train,” Mykhailo said. “Before the trip, my father tried not to eat or drink anything, because there were no toilets. He sat for 11 hours without moving.

Illustrative: Ukrainian refugees arrive on Polish soil after crossing the border into Medyka, Poland, March 15, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

Then things got worse. Trying to leave Lviv for Poland, Pavlovskiy had to wait in line for seven hours in the hope of finding safe transportation.

“He had a severe nervous breakdown,” Mykhailo said. “He felt that everyone had abandoned him; He was crying.”

Young Pavlovskiy remained in constant contact with his father as he attempted to leave the country. “Really, his only support was my voice on the cellphone,” Mykhailo said. “He didn’t meet anyone he knew during his entire trip.”

Mykhailo wanted to save his father himself but could not easily leave Israel as he only recently immigrated there

“I am now going through the repatriation process [or making aliyah]. It’s only the second month for me, so I didn’t have a passport that I could travel with,” Mykhailo explained. “By the time I received permission to leave Israel, 15 days had passed since the start of the war. As soon as I got a passport, I immediately bought a ticket and flew to Poland to meet my father.

Evgeny Pavlovskiy has loved his life in Ukraine despite his family’s history of trauma in the country. (Permission/via JTA)

Meanwhile, strangers took pity on the former refugee and found him a hostel. He again tried to leave Lviv for Poland by bus, but logistical obstacles and worries about Russian bombing thwarted his trip.

Mykhailo was then able to reach friends who helped her father board a bus to Poland operated by Caritas, a Catholic charity. When he crossed the border, he became one of nearly 3 million Ukrainians have left their country since February 24.

It took Pavlovskiy six hours to get to Tomaszow Lubelski, a Polish border town. He stayed there for a day and was sent to Lublin, then to Warsaw to find his son.

The father and son are among thousands of Ukrainian Jewish refugees in the town, where they receive support from several Jewish charities, including the From the Depths Foundation, a Holocaust-focused group that says it has spent $25 $000 in food, clothing and other supplies for refugees in Poland. Staying in hotel rooms paid for by the Jewish Agency in Israel, the Pavlovskiys plan to travel to Israel together in the coming days.

This decision is one that many Ukrainian Jews have made over the past decades, but one that Pavlovskiy never considered despite the trauma he suffered at home, first during the Holocaust and then during the era. Soviet Union, when Jews were the target of state-sponsored discrimination that limited their opportunities to study and work.

While Pavlovskiy’s immediate family survived the Holocaust by fleeing to the Urals – “They didn’t know what a Jew was there,” he said – relatives and friends left for account were murdered.

“My aunt was betrayed by her husband, he personally drove her – she was disabled and couldn’t walk – and handed her over to the German authorities,” he said. “They killed her.”

These traumas were a thing of the past for Pavlovskiy before the outbreak of war, before Russia dropped bombs across his country, including near Babyn Yar on March 1 in a bombardment that has become a symbol of Russian aggression. .

“My father received a decent pension and some help from Chesed,” Mykhailo said, referring to a Jewish charity. “A woman came to my father’s house four times a week to cook and clean. He loved his life in Ukraine and already misses it a lot.

As for Mikhailo, a licensed psychotherapist, he is happy to be in Israel with his wife and children, and hopes he can help the refugees overcome the trauma they are going through. But he also wants to defend his native country. “I want to go back and fight,” he said. “But my family won’t let me.”

Alona Cei contributed reporting.

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