SOCHI - After hearing about Thursday's disastrous crash of a Russian airliner, Danny Ushkakov, 24, did not wait for an official announcement - knowing there was no hope of survival for his mother, Ludmila, 42, he donned a kippa and readied himself for mourning.
Ushkakov had taken his mother to Ben-Gurion International Airport on Thursday for a flight to Novosibirsk where she worked at the Jewish Agency. Ushkakov is participating in the Na'ale project (where immigrant youth come to Israel without their families to study), and his mother had come to visit him for a month in Kiryat Bialik, north of Haifa.
"I went back home to sleep a little," Ushkakov recounts. "A minute before turning off my cell phone, a friend called me and told me to turn on the television. I turned it on and I saw the number of my mother's flight on the screen. They said the plane had crashed."
Ushkakov boarded a plane yesterday - along with 85 other relatives of passengers on the fateful jetliner that plunged into the Black Sea - on a journey to Sochi, a Russian coastal city on the Black Sea where recovery operations are centered.
"I saw the debris from the airplane on television," Ushkakov says. "They showed her shoes there - white high heels - and a special notebook that she had; my cousin taught her Hebrew when she was in Israel, and she had given her a yellow notebook. My friends and other relatives recognized that the items belonged to my mother, and they called me immediately."
His father, Valery, who lives in Russia, is already in Sochi, where he constantly updated his son on progress in identifying the bodies. Only 13 bodies have been recovered so far, including six last night. Ludmila's body was not one of them. Father and son know that finding more bodies now will be very difficult.
Family members are being hosted at the Moscow Hotel at the expense of the Russian government. They are also receiving aid from psychologists, doctors and representatives of the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption.
"The Prosecutor's office is collecting testimonies from relatives of the passengers," says Alik Milman, head of the rescue and support team from Israel. "Their aim is to collect details about the dead, and following questioning, the authorities will allow family members to go to the morgue in Sochi to identify their loved ones. Russia is trying to make this process as short as possible and to carry it out in the most sensitive way possible."
Relatives are now asking Russian authorities for permission to be taken to the area of the crash so they can see the debris themselves. Russia has yet to respond to the request.
"It is very important for me to know exactly what happened," says Ella Kalnitzky, whose mother, Zinaide Tushin, 71, was killed in the crash.
"If this was indeed a Ukrainian missile that shot the plane down, it was really stupid. I just cannot comprehend it. Just stupid."
The Kalnitzky family, which lives in Givatayim, immigrated nine years ago, while Tushin, who was on her way to visit her sisters in Russia, arrived six years ago.
"Our daughter, Irina, plans to get married in March, and her grandmother traveled to take invitations to relatives in Russia," says Ella Kalnitzky.
"She traveled there in such a good mood; she was so eager to go. She prepared so long for this trip and suddenly we got an announcement about the crash and that we need to try and identify the bodies," she says while bursting into tears.
"On Thursday at noon my husband called and told me to return home urgently, but refused to tell me why," Kalnitzky recalls. "I was really angry with him, and I slammed the phone. He then called me again and told me that the plane crashed. Many people have come to us and offered help; I can't even remember who. But no one can bring my mother back now, and we want to identify the body now and fly her back to Israel for burial there."
Ilya Rosinov, 20, a soldier, flew to Russia to identify the body of his father Victor.
"My father flew to visit my grandparents in Russia, and I could not take him to the airport because I was in a position near Ramallah. We heard the news of the crash at noon during lunch. I could not believe it. I called everyone - the airport, friends, everybody. I wanted to find out if my father was on that flight. I then went to Ben-Gurion and I met my mother there. Now, we are both in Russia."
Dimitry Braun is also a soldier. His mother and sister were both on flight 1812. "My mother and sister lived in Russia and they came to visit me in israel. They were with me but suddenly my grandfather became ill and they had to go back to Novosibirsk. I saw the news on Thursday but at first I thought this was not their flight because they said something about a stop-over in Bulgaria. Then they said that was not true and I understood that I had been left alone."
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