The Holocaust survivor who fled Ukraine twice

STORY: Iya Rudzitskaya – who is Jewish – has fled Kyiv twice.

First in 1941, when German bombs started falling on the then Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. She was just ten-years-old.

The second time came last year, when Russian invaded Ukraine in February.

Sitting in the small one-bedroom flat she shares with her son Arthur in Krakow, Poland, the 92-year-old says she did not believe a Russian invasion of Ukraine could ever happen.

“Now it is incomprehension, because before the Germans were the enemy, you know. I don’t understand... the Russians' actions. They think that they are defending their country, they are defending themselves, but they came to us, they have destroyed the unfortunate Kharkiv, what do they need it for? There is nothing left there.”

Her grandfather, Nuchim Waisblat, was once the main Rabbi in the Ukrainian capital.

Her father Vladimir was a writer and book publisher for high-profile Ukrainian authors.

In July 1941, during Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, Rudzitskaya woke up to the sound of bombs.

“Dad said in panic that we to leave, we need to pack and leave, but it was already impossible to leave, because already by July 9th there was such terrible panic already. Everyone who could was fleeing, you understand: the communists, the Jewish people and all the others were leaving.”

Her family fled first to Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine… From there, they travelled thousands of miles across the Soviet Union to Tashkent – the capital of present-day Uzbekistan.

Rudzitskaya remembers they left just eight days before the Babyn Yar massacre took place.

Nazis murdered some 34,000 Ukrainian Jews – one of the biggest single massacres of Jews during the Holocaust.

Russian shells struck close to the Babyn Yar memorial in March of 2022.

Rudzitskaya's family returned to Kyiv after the war. She got a job as a typographist and started her family.

After passing through 10 different apartments since fleeing Kyiv with the help of a synagogue last year, Rudzitskaya and her son now have a somewhat stable flat.

But she says she wants to go home and talk with her neighbors in a language they both understand.

“I had my own daily routine, my own regime, everything. And here I am torn out of everything there. I already have a grave there, my parents' graves are there and next to it is my plaque with my name. You just need to put the last digits there and everything, everything will be in order.”