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Rescued Israeli hostage's parents: 'It was the happiest day of our lives'

Israeli-Russian Andrei Kozlov, center, rescued from Gaza after 8 months in Hamas captivity, reunites with his family at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Israeli-Russian Andrei Kozlov, center, rescued from Gaza after 8 months in Hamas captivity, reunites with his family at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Andrei Kozlov’s parents describe last Saturday as “the happiest day of our lives.”

Kozlov was one of the four Israeli hostages rescued that day in a special operation by Israeli security forces in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. His parents spoke with VOA about reuniting with their son after his eight months in Hamas captivity.

Twenty-seven-year-old Andrei immigrated to Israel just a year and a half ago and was captured by Hamas on the morning of October 7, 2023, at the Nova music festival, where he was working as a security guard.

“We could never imagine that he was at the party — the one where these terrible events took place,” says Andrei’s father, Mikhail, in an interview from Tel Aviv. An estimated 364 people were killed in the attack on the festival.

“He got there completely by accident. He was invited to work as a security guard, and this was literally a day or two before the events. Neither we nor some of his friends knew about it.”

Andrei's parents were in Russia when they learned of his rescue. On Sunday, they were able to hug him at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. Andrei collapsed on the floor, hugging his mother’s legs and weeping.

Mikhail and Evgenia call their son’s rescue a “miracle.”

“On June 8, I became the happiest mother in the world,” says Evgenia Kozlova. “It’s a miracle that Andrei was released. According to the terms of the deal, he, a young male, was not to be released first. And we understood that we would have to suffer for a long, long time.

“We have a feeling that June 8 has become a holiday for all Israel because Israel has not received happy news for a long time. People got the opportunity to continue to hope, to fight for the remaining hostages.”

Andrei’s father, Mikhail, said strangers recognize Andrei when they pass him on the street this week "and suddenly they rush to him, saying ‘I love you!’, shake his hand. Cars drive past, windows open and people wave their hands. It’s just great, it’s a wonderful feeling.”

According to the parents, Andrei’s captors repeatedly told him and two other hostages, who were being held in the same residential building in Nuseirat, that they were "lucky" because their conditions were better than those of other hostages.

Rescued Hamas hostage Andrei Kozlov is escorted by Israeli forces in Ramat Gan, Israel, June 8, 2024.
Rescued Hamas hostage Andrei Kozlov is escorted by Israeli forces in Ramat Gan, Israel, June 8, 2024.

“We, of course, must understand that everything he tells us is a light version of what happened to him,” says Evgenia Kozlova. “He tells us everything in such a way that it is easier for us to accept, and sometimes it has the opposite effect, because when your child says to you: ‘Mom, after two weeks with our hands tied behind the back, they started tying our hands in front, and we said to each other: It’s a gift from Hamas!’

“It's tough to hear. For two days we all couldn’t get used to the fact that Andrei spoke in a whisper. I say, why are you whispering? He says: ‘Mom, it's a habit.’ This is an eight-month habit, a habit that was forced upon them. And then he says: ‘Mom, well, there are things that I'll probably never tell you’."

Mikhail said his son was never allowed outside for a walk except when he was moved in darkness to a new location. “He now says: ‘I don’t want to stand in the sun because I haven’t seen it for eight months.’ It’s hard to even imagine what other hostages are going through if his situation was better than theirs.”

According to Andrey’s father, in the hospital, standing in front of the buffet table, it was difficult for his son to make a choice of food.

“He found it difficult to choose between porridge and pasta because for eight months he was not given any choice and was not given the opportunity to make any decisions. The fact that he looks good and feels good despite everything that he suffered, it seems to me that this is simply for one reason — because he was still with other people, in this the three of them were very lucky. And, in addition, he is simply a very strong, very optimistic person. We just want him to recover, to be his old self.”

According to the Israeli government, 120 hostages remain in Hamas captivity. Government spokesman David Mencer said 43 of them are no longer alive.

“The topic of hostages who remained in captivity is incredibly painful for him,” says Evgenia Kozlova. “That is, it seems that he should now enjoy life and laugh, but he will never forget about those people who remain there. Never.

‘When he was freed and came to his senses a little, one of his first words was: ‘They need to be freed. They are in terrible condition. They need to be freed as quickly as possible’.”

According to the Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health, at least 274 Palestinians were killed as a result of the raid that freed Andrei. The Israel Defense Forces put the number at fewer than 100, adding that the forces trying to rescue the hostages came under heavy fire from Hamas.

Israeli government spokesman Mencer responded Monday to criticism of the raid’s Palestinian death toll.

“It's the ultimate cheek for Hamas themselves to steal our people, hide them in crowded civilian areas, inside civilian homes, inside families where they've been put to work, from the latest reports from the current released hostages, and then chastise Israel for doing its utmost to release our hostages,” he said.