A day after his return from Sochi, on the Black Sea, Vadim Iakoupov went to a funeral yesterday. The bodies of his wife Liliya and his 18-month-old son Michael have not been found - and it is doubtful whether they will ever be found - but Vadim went to take part in the funeral of the sister of his friend, a friend in time of need.
He met Nikolai Fronshtein after he arrived in Sochi. Their connection began when they exchanged mutual words of condolences, and continued with long conversations during their trip, by boat, to the location where the Siberian Airlines aircraft crashed.
"Now he is truly a good friend," Vadim said yesterday, on his way to the funeral. "I feel that I need to be with him. He is left alone, because his mother and sister died in the crash of the airplane and I am also alone now. He lives in Bnei Brak and I live in Rehovot. I really feel we need to be together, all the time together."
Iakoupov will dedicate the next few days to bureaucratic arrangements. The Russian authorities refused to provide the families of the victims with documents confirming the death of their loved ones, and now he needs to make arrangements to acquire death certificates in Israel.
He is still unable to go back to work, but he needs the money - either way he is left with only debts. His wife and son flew to Russia in order to visit the grandparents in Novosibirsk; Iakoupov was not allowed to leave the country because he owes money on loans.
But the subject that most concerns Iakoupov is what exactly happened to Flight 1812. What did Michael and Liliya feel, were they killed immediately in the explosion, or did they die during the crash into the Black Sea?
"This has become the most important thing - I want to know who did it and how could this have happened. I want them to find those responsible, and if necessary, put them on trial. If this happened once, it can happen again and again, and this should not be allowed to happen again," Iakoupov says.
Iakoupov returned on Wednesday, but 24 other relatives of victims asked to stay in Russia. Some of them took part in a seven-day mourning period for those who will be buried in Russia, and others have asked to stay a few more days in Sochi, the town where the recovery efforts centered.
"The minute we get back to Israel, Russia will stop the investigation and we will not know anything about what happened," members of the families say. "We will stay here a little more in order to pressure the Russians."
The Jewish Agency has promised its assistance. "We provided plane tickets for the families that wanted to go to the funerals that are taking place in Russia," Amos Lahat, director of the Commonwealth of Independent States department at the Jewish Agency.
"Siberian Airlines refused to pay for these tickets, and we decided to support the families who are not in a stable economic situation. They will be able to visit their families and return to Israel with our aid. We will not stand idle and look for someone to assist - we'll just assist ourselves."
Lahat was sharply critical of Israeli society for not providing sufficient support to the families. "There is constant talk of the integration of the new immigrants in Israeli society, but I want to see the connection of the society to the immigrants. These families are dispersed throughout the country and we are now looking for adoptive families that could assist them and take them under their wing. I am expecting at least 50 veteran Israeli families to turn to us and tell us that they want to help these people in overcoming this difficult crisis."
Based on the data of the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption, a number of families from Novosibirsk and its environs that lost their loved ones in the disaster are now asking to immigrate to Israel. However, the precise number is still unknown.
Valentina Nabratov lives in a small village near Novosibirsk. She lost her daughter Oksana Zeltser in the crash, and now she is asking to leave Russia. "I do not believe anyone here. Everyone is lying, especially President Putin," she told members of the Israeli delegation before they left Russia for Israel.
"I am asking you to help me. I want to come to Israel, to Eilat, at the place where my daughter lived, and where my grandson lives," she pleaded.
Yesterday, exactly six days after the crash, six funerals took place in Israel, and another funeral will be held today.
The Kamerie family buried their daughter Adi, 25, who died on her way to visit her mother, Aliza Kamerie, a representative of the Jewish Agency in Novosibirsk. Nikolai Fronshtein buried his mother, Svetlana, and sister Yulia, 18; Ella Kalnitzky buried her mother, Zinaida Tushina, 71.
Lyuba Bazilevich, 48, who immigrated to Israel only two years ago, was buried yesterday at Kfar Masaryk. Sofia Federov, 50, who traveled to Russia to visit her son, was buried in Sderot. Haya Sara Kamkha, 78, who was on her way to visit her sister, who was ill, was laid to rest in Jerusalem.
Another funeral, of Maria Korchounova, 68, will be held at the Yarkon cemetery today. Korchounova had been on her way to visit her daughter and grandchildren in Russia.
During an official day of mourning in Israel yesterday, the flag was lowered to half mast and the Knesset and the Russian parliament held special sessions in memory of the victims. The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption also held memorial services.
The crash claimed the lives of 78 persons, and only 15 bodies have been found so far. One body, of a woman, still remains unidentified and Israeli investigators returned from Russia yesterday to continue their work in the laboratory, using DNA samples.
While the chances are minimal, there is hope among the families that more bodies will be found. Vadim Iakoupov found a shoe on Wednesday, belonging to his son, and hopes that the bodies of his son Michael and his wife Liliya will be found. The Russian authorities promised to carry on the search.
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