A Ukrainian Jewish soldier at the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol called on Israel Wednesday night to intervene to save the garrison.
In a Facebook video posted by kyiv Jewish businessman and activist Ilgam Gasanov, Vitaliy Barabash said in Ukrainian: “It is difficult for me to speak, so my brother will say my speech, on behalf of all Ukrainian Jews who are together with me. here.
Barabash, also known as Benya, held up a Ukrainian flag to the camera as his friend read his statement, a Star of David tattoo clearly visible on Barabash’s hand.
Addressing “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Knesset, the public of Israel” and prominent Ukrainian Jews, Barabash’s statement announced that “among the rubble left over from Azovstali, there are Jews like me, like you.”
Sources close to the Ukrainian government told The Times of Israel that there are more than 20 Jewish soldiers among the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.
The huge Azovstal steel complex is the last bastion of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. The plant, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, has housed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during a weeks-long siege. Dozens of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said some may still be trapped there.
Earlier this month, in a call with the Kremlin, Bennett requested that Russian President Vladimir Putin “examine humanitarian options” for evacuating Mariupol.
The Azov Regiment, one of the units defending the plant, posted photos on its Telegram channel on Wednesday showing wounded soldiers in squalid conditions, many members missing.
“Ukraine has never turned its back on the Jews, so we believe that Israel will not turn its back on the Ukrainian people either, but will stand side by side against the Russian invaders who brought a new tragedy,” the statement read. Barabash.
“Now we, being here, need Israel’s help to withdraw the entire military garrison from Mariupol and demand ransom.”
Gasanov’s Facebook post tagged prominent kyiv rabbis Moshe Azman and Ariel Markovitch, both of whom belong to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He included a Hebrew-language translation of the Ukrainian statement in the comments.
Gasanov told The Times of Israel that he has never met Barabash in person and is doing his best to help the besieged Azovstal garrison after his friends’ wives approached him.
“I know a lot of Jews who are currently at war, and not just in Mariupol,” he said.
“You have the power like no one else,” Barabash said in his statement. “We have hope for you like no one else. We are already waiting for you. We are already making history.”
‘If not Elon Musk, then who?’
A Ukrainian commander in Azovstal appealed directly to Elon Musk on Wednesday, asking the world’s richest man to intervene on behalf of those trapped by Russian forces in the southern city.
Serhiy Volyna, commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, said he created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of communicating with Musk.
“People say you come from another planet to teach people to believe in the impossible,” Volyna tweeted to Musk.
“Our planets are next to each other, as I live where it is almost impossible to survive. Help us get out of Azovstal to a mediating country. If not you, then who?
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Tuesday that more than 1,000 soldiers remain at the factory. “Hundreds are injured,” she told AFP. “There are people with serious injuries that require urgent evacuation. The situation is deteriorating every day.”
Vereshchuk said that Ukraine was calling on all international organizations to put pressure on Russia to allow the evacuation of the seriously wounded, military medical personnel and other “non-combatants, according to the Geneva Convention.”
Vereshchuk also said he had received assurances that “Turkey is ready” to help facilitate evacuations by sea from Azovstal, which he said could take around a week, given the number of people left at the plant.
“There have to be agreements and guarantees that Russia doesn’t start shooting,” he said.
“We need strong guarantees in writing. That is what we are working to achieve now.”
Writing on social media on Sunday, presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said kyiv “will not stop until we evacuate all our people” from Azovstal.
AFP contributed to this report.