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Holocaust survivor dies in Mariupol basement amid Russian siege

Holocaust survivor dies in Mariupol basement amid Russian siege

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Vanda Obiedkova was 10 years old when German troops occupied Mariupol, a strategic port city in the south of Ukraine, in 1941.

Nazi soldiers began rounding up the city’s Jewish population, but the little girl escaped arrest by hiding in a basement, according to Chabad.org, the official website of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Thousands were removed from Mariupol and executed, including Obiedkova’s mother. She survived the war.

More than eight decades later, once again trapped in a basement as Russian forces bombarded the city for weeks, Obiedkova lost her latest battle. She was 91. Before she died on April 4, she had asked her family: “Why is this happening?” according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Before the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Mariupol — located between Russian-annexed Crimea and areas of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists — had a population of about 430,000. Officials in Ukraine say that up to 20,000 civilians in Mariupol have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion. (The Washington Post was not able to independently verify the death toll.)

For days now, Ukraine has rejected multiple Russian deadlines to surrender the city. Victory here would provide the Kremlin with a land corridor connecting the territories under its control, and free up troops as it launches a new attack in the east.

What is happening in Mariupol, the Ukrainian city under Russian siege?

The situation on the ground in Mariupol is increasingly dire. Plans for humanitarian evacuations from the city fell apart on Wednesday, according to Russian and Ukrainian officials, who blamed each other. Videos verified by The Post showed the bodies of more than a dozen civilians lying on streets.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that he is ready to exchange Russian prisoners for civilians trapped in the city, though Moscow has “so far” rejected any deal. He said troops are defending wounded soldiers and about 1,000 civilians sheltered inside an industrial plant that has become a final redoubt for Ukrainian resistance in the city.

The commander of the remaining Ukrainian forces, Maj. Serhiy Volyna, said in voice messages to The Post that his troops were outnumbered and running out of supplies. Amid fierce Russian bombing, they are “dying underground,” he said.

Obiedkova isn’t the only Holocaust survivor to die during the Russian invasion. Boris Romantschenko eluded death at Hitler’s hand, surviving forced labor and detention in four Nazi concentration camps before being killed last month when a Russian missile struck his apartment building in Kharkiv. He was 96.

Ukraine is home to about 10,000 Holocaust survivors, according to the Blue Card, an American nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to survivors in the United States.

An 82-year-old Ukrainian woman survived Russia’s occupation of her town in Kyiv region, but she’s still struggling to cope with the aftermath. (Video: Reuters)

Survivor of four Nazi concentration camps is killed in Ukraine, foundation says

Obiedkova’s daughter, Larissa, told Chabad.org that she had watched her frail mother’s life ebb away as they were holed up in the basement of a local store, “like animals” — with no running water, power or heating.

Larissa said she and her husband risked incessant Russian shelling to bury Obiedkova in a park near the Sea of Azov.

“Mama loved Mariupol; she never wanted to leave,” she said.

Sammy Westfall, Claire Parker, Isaac Stanley-Becker and David L. Stern contributed to this report.


https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/21/ukraine-mariupol-holocaust-survivor-dies-russia/