Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Soldier mourned in his adopted land

Family, friends, and fellow soldiers buried Sergei Volsiuk in Kibbutz Lahav, Israel. Volsiuk, 21, was killed Thursday by a Hezbollah rocket-propelled grenade in southern Lebanon. (David Blumenfeld for the Boston Globe)

Ukraine emigre dies carrying Israeli comrade

BOSTON GLOBE | July 26, 2006
By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

KIBBUTZ LAHAV, Israel -- Sergei Volsiuk came to Israel from his native Ukraine at age 16 in search of a better life, and he died a hero's death.

Volsiuk, 21, was killed by a Hezbollah rocket-propelled grenade in southern Lebanon on Thursday as he carried a wounded comrade from the battlefield under heavy fire. He was laid to rest in a rough wooden casket with full military honors yesterday at his adopted home, the serene Kibbutz Lahav on the edge of the Negev desert.

Volsiuk, one of two dozen Israeli soldiers killed in the two-week-old conflict, was mourned yesterday by family, friends, and comrades in arms, soldiers from the elite Egoz commando unit. He was killed as Israeli forces fought a decisive battle for control of Maroun al-Ras, a village in southern Lebanon known as a center for Hezbollah guerrilla activity.

By the graveside, weeping quietly, were the soldier's two mothers -- one from his native country and his adopted kibbutz mother.

His Ukrainian mother, Yulia, flew in with his father, Vasily, and younger brother, Losha, from their home in Simferopol, Ukraine. As a military honor guard fired three shots over the grave, Yulia said during the service that she understood why he had adopted the name Jonathan. It means ``God's gift" and was the name of King Saul's son, who also fell in battle.

``You were indeed a gift from God," said Yulia, who said she never considered flying his body back to Ukraine. ``He was an Israeli citizen and he fulfilled his duty here, so he should be buried here. He loved the country very much."

Sharing Yulia's tears was Dalit Gal, who took in Volsiuk as a newly arrived teenager at the kibbutz and groomed him for life in his new country.

``For six years, you were a son to me and a brother to my daughter," Dalit said at the graveside. ``You carried her on your shoulders around the kibbutz. I never saw you angry or in a bad mood. You will always be with us."

Overcome with emotion, fellow commando Rotem Cohen told the crowd of several hundred crammed into the tiny kibbutz cemetery of Volsiuk's expertise in map-reading and of his selfless commitment to helping others.

``You sat up late, poring over maps and trails so you could lead us safely through dangerous terrain," Cohen said. ``We first saw you at the training base, carrying a stretcher. And that was also our last sight of you, carrying a wounded comrade from the heat of battle, then running back into the fray without any thoughts for yourself.

``You were killed as you lived, worrying about us, your friends, more than you worried about yourself. You will always be a part of us," he said.

Volsiuk had been scheduled to leave the army in November and planned to set up house with his girlfriend. He dreamed of becoming a dentist. He arrived in Israel in the summer of 2000 with Na'aleh, an organization that looks after young immigrants arriving without their families.

Sergei Fishman, a fellow immigrant and friend from Na'aleh, described Volsiuk as ``an example to us all."

``You were full of love for all around you," Fishman said. ``You lived every moment of your life to the fullest. Your afterworld is in our hearts. We thank your family for giving us such a dear friend."

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