It took five weeks, a break in the battle and special permission from the Ukrainian army, but poor Yevgeni Yatsina was finally rescued by his Jewish brethren.
At least his body was, thanks to a faithful friend who just wouldn’t give up, and ZAKA, the organization that is there when nothing else can be done.
Yatsina was a Jewish solider killed five weeks earlier, in the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukraine government. His friend hadn’t heard from him and started to wonder why.
A week ago on Wednesday, volunteers from the ZAKA emergency first response organization (some of whom came from Israel) rushed to the area to begin a search when permission was received to enter the military zone.
Until that point, Yatsina’s body remained on the battlefield. Rescue and recovery personnel had been forbidden to retrieve his remains.
Last Friday – at last – Yatsina was taken from the battle zone, ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav told media.
For quite a while, no one even knew the soldier was dead. His friend was really the first to figure it out; it was he who asked ZAKA Sharon regional commander Israel Godlevski to try and track him down.
“There is a ZAKA unit in Ukraine,” said Meshi-Zahav. “We tried to turn to the Ukrainian army and get initial information about [his] fate…
“At first they didn’t even admit that he is dead. Then they said he was killed in battle and that his body was left lying there.”
For two weeks ZAKA sought permission to remove the soldier’s body but were denied permission on the grounds he was in a battle zone. They were told “no one can even approach the area” at that point.
Jewish law does not permit any Jew to endanger his life or that of another for the sake of burying the dead. But eventually the Ukraine army finally allowed ZAKA to enter the area under its protection, and when there was some calm in the area.
“The entire operation took place at night in complete darkness, with constant exchanges of fire between the sides in the background,” Meshi-Zahav said. “We tried to locate the body in the darkness according to information we received from the army. After searching for about an hour and a half, it was found.
“At first we weren’t certain that it was him, as it was impossible to carry out basic identification on the ground. Only after moving several hundred meters away from the area, we were able to confirm that this was the Jewish soldier we were looking for,” he added.
ZAKA commander in Ukraine Rabbi Yosef Asman, is the son of Ukraine Chief Rabbi Moshe Asman and is in constant communication with the military. Although he personally was ready to give up more than once, Asman said Meshi-Zahav’s persistence won out, ensuring “the respectable and emotional ending when we gave late soldier Yevgeni Yatsina a Jewish burial.”
Last Friday, Yatsina was laid to rest in a Jewish cemetery in Kiev. May his soul find the peace he sought in life, and his memory be for a blessing.