Death toll may be much higher: Lviv resident describes situation in Israel from epicenter of events
Natalia Helber, a Ukrainian native of Lviv, has long lived in Ashdod, which is close to the epicenter of the Hamas attack. She served two years in the Air Force there
Ashdod is a resort city, the sixth biggest in Israel, located 37 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, from which Hamas attacks. One of the terrorists' goals is to break through and capture the city. The woman spoke to Espreso about the situation in the city, which is under fire and close to the fighting, and how the authorities are responding to the hostilities.
"No one can understand how militants have so many missiles"
The massive shelling came as a surprise to both ordinary Israelis and the authorities.
"These terrible events are continuing. There was massive rocket fire and fighting. Terrorists stormed into the cities and spared no one - neither women nor children. On the contrary, they treated them with particular cruelty. We are still not leaving our homes because not all the militants who broke into the country, including those who are breaking into Ashdod, have been detained. It was all unexpected, no one expected it. At about 6 a.m. I heard a siren. When thousands of rockets were flying, the militants were advancing into Israel. The worst part is that no one can understand where they got so many of these rockets," Natalia says.
She says that local news channels report more than 700 people killed, but the actual number is much higher.
"The wounded are not brought to the hospital in time and many die on the way. There is no more room in the morgues. A lot of people are babies, small children, the elderly and women and teenagers. There are also reports of abducted soldiers and we do not know the exact number of prisoners. There are a lot of reports of missing persons, and they (Hamas militants - ed.) even kidnap bodies to mock them. And we also saw this video of children in chicken cages in Kfar Az. They entered homes, killed parents in front of their children, and kidnapped people," Natalia says.
It was a shock for her and many other Israelis that many men stood up to defend their families, but were ruthlessly killed by Hamas militants. So now they want to have guns at home to protect themselves, because they don't feel safe at all.
"We no longer feel protected. I don't know if the authorities are helping, but here, for the most part, everyone is very angry with the government. We even had the impression that there was no government, and we were left on our own," the woman explains.
During the air raid, Natalia and her family leave the apartment for shelter in the stairwell, but only with a neighbor who has a gun.
"They are not people, they are animals"
Ukrainians on the Internet are already comparing the cars shot up on Israeli roads to what the Zhytomyr highway was like at the beginning of the full-scale war. There were also burned cars, killed people and chaos, many kidnapped and injured people. The Israeli believes that the authorities were powerless against the bloodthirstiness of Hamas militants.
"It all doesn't fit in our heads, we can't even realize what has happened. Every time I think about the kidnapped people, I cry hysterically because I can't imagine what they are doing to them now. They are not people, they are animals. And I still hope that Hamas will be wiped off the face of the earth, because it is simply impossible to continue living like this. People were hiding in bomb shelters, and they came in and shot them. It was just a bloody mess. These monsters could not even stop when everyone was dead," the woman says.
Natalia H elber believes that the Israeli authorities are much more tolerant of the local Arab population, while it is important for the militants to kill as many as possible, including ordinary people: children, women, and the elderly.
"Our government warns of a retaliatory attack to save their local population, but they forget that they don't care about us. They are trying to kill as many civilians as possible. They were driving around the streets shooting at everything that was moving, setting cars with people in them on fire. This is a special cruelty. And now I want to see how they will act - bring people back and fight against Hamas," says Helber.
Utilities are available, people help each other
As for residential utilities, Ashdod has electricity, gas and water. In the neighboring city of Ashkelon, there was no electricity the day before. So far, shops are open, people are helping each other, and free transportation has been organized to wherever they need to go. There are many volunteers working in the area. Ms. Gelber says that significant help is needed in the settlement near Kfar Aza, as there is nothing left. They are organizing a hot food distribution. They also help the military.
"Here in Ashdod, we didn't make any special stockpiles of food and water, but I think people in the areas closer to the Aza River had some spare food. Volunteers still bring hot meals there, as well as soldiers, because they don't have much time to eat," she said.
In Ashdod, they made a list of doctors who can provide medical assistance. Our interlocutor Natalia is a nurse, so she also volunteered to help. So far, she says, she has not received a call from the local hospital. She suggests that perhaps fewer victims are brought here and not as many doctors are needed.
In general, medical facilities, maternity and intensive care units in the city are open and located in safe conditions in shelters. On social media, people are asking to take in animals frightened by explosions and gunfire, if possible.
On the morning of Saturday, October 7, 2023, the Palestinian armed groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched a massive air and land attack on the state of Israel in several places.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced the mobilization of reservists and the launch of the Iron Swords counterterrorism operation. For the first time in 50 years, the government introduced martial law in the country. On the night of October 9, the Israeli Armed Forces attacked the Gaza Strip.