Death in avocado orchards. How volunteers searched for terrorist attack victims in Israel

Kfar Aza, Beeri, Nahal Oz, Nir Oz, Alumim, Reim Kisufim, Ein Shlosha, Sufa, Ofakim, Sderot, Netivot — the names of these kib­butz­im and small towns in the south of Israel will for­ev­er go down in the his­to­ry of world ter­ror­ism. On October 7, 2023, between one thou­sand and two thou­sand mil­i­tants in 20 places broke through the bor­der from the Gaza Strip and invad­ed Israel. They attacked civil­ians, some of whom were killed, some were tak­en hostage into Gaza, and some were list­ed as missing. 

The num­ber of kid­napped Israelis whose iden­ti­ties have been iden­ti­fied has reached 210 today. Their fam­i­lies have been noti­fied. But there is still no exact data on how many of the miss­ing peo­ple are alive and how many were killed. Not all of the bod­ies found have yet been iden­ti­fied. The data is still chang­ing, since a music fes­ti­val was held near one of the kib­butz­im, where par­tic­i­pants from dif­fer­ent coun­tries gath­ered, and it has not yet been pos­si­ble to deter­mine the exact num­ber of guests and res­i­dents at the time of the attack. In addi­tion, the attack hap­pened on a hol­i­day week­end, when many Israelis were vis­it­ing their rel­a­tives on kib­butz­im. This also com­pli­cates the count­ing of peo­ple who could become vic­tims of mil­i­tants. Also, the search for the miss­ing is com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that oper­a­tions to elim­i­nate ter­ror­ists are still ongo­ing in south­ern Israel. Therefore, it is impos­si­ble to con­duct a large-scale search cam­paign where fight­ing is tak­ing place. But small vol­un­teer groups began work on the sec­ond day after the tragedy.

Among them was Alexandra Panyutina. A new immi­grant, she arrived in Israel just six months ago. Alexandra is a zool­o­gist by pro­fes­sion, study­ing the struc­ture and move­ment of ani­mals. Three months ago I start­ed work­ing at Tel Aviv University in a lab­o­ra­to­ry for the study of bats. To search for those who, flee­ing bul­lets and cap­tiv­i­ty, fled towards the thick­ets, gar­dens and forests sur­round­ing the kib­butz­im, she decid­ed to use field equip­ment that she used on sci­en­tif­ic expe­di­tions. At the request of T-invari­ant Alexandra tried to recon­struct the pic­ture of the tragedy that occurred.

The mate­r­i­al is also avail­able as a pod­cast.

Photo from Alexandra’s per­son­al archive

Sasha, how did you get into the search party?

— My col­league and good friend, with whom we once worked in Russia, and now he lives in Israel in the cen­ter of the coun­try, wrote to me on October 8 that he was near Sderot and try­ing to get fur­ther south to start look­ing for those who were able to sur­vive escap­ing from the fes­ti­val. He trains dogs and has orga­nized with the Israeli Kennel Club to go there. I imme­di­ate­ly asked if there was any­thing I could do to help. I don’t have a dog, but I have a pass­able car, some equip­ment for field work and, most impor­tant­ly, the skills to work in nature, since I am, after all, a field zool­o­gist by train­ing. That’s how anoth­er col­league and I end­ed up in this group.

We took a long time to get there, because it was impos­si­ble to get through the direct and short­est route. We end­ed up dri­ving through Netivot, through the sub­ur­ban fields. As it turned out lat­er, this was one of the most dan­ger­ous zones where we should not have been. But, nev­er­the­less, we safe­ly reached Beeri, and already in the Beeri area we met with the group that was engaged in the search.

How did you under­stand where to look, who to look for? Did you know how many peo­ple were miss­ing and how many peo­ple need­ed to be looked for? After all, the nature of the actions actu­al­ly depends on this. When search­ing for one or two peo­ple, one search algo­rithm is used. When they are look­ing for a large group anoth­er. What infor­ma­tion did you use?

— There was just a prob­lem with the infor­ma­tion. The fact is that we imme­di­ate­ly real­ized that we should not con­cen­trate on find­ing peo­ple from the kib­butz­im, since most of them died in their homes. And if some­one remained alive, then he was in his home, and there they could be found much bet­ter by sur­viv­ing neigh­bors, the kib­butz secu­ri­ty ser­vice, and the army. We weren’t need­ed there. And we need to look for the fes­ti­val par­tic­i­pants who were run­ning away through the fields. Actually,Hamas post­ed footage of these peo­ple being dri­ven through the fields.We under­stood that quite a large num­ber of peo­ple could have escaped some­where in the shetach, as they call it in Israel, that is, in nature. And these peo­ple may still be there.

We also knew that at this moment the army had not yet searched for sur­vivors. On October 9, there were still areas where ter­ror­ists were locat­ed. And, accord­ing­ly, the pri­or­i­ty task was to clear this entire ter­ri­to­ry of ter­ror­ists. That is, no one was specif­i­cal­ly look­ing for peo­ple. There was nei­ther time nor ener­gy for this. And, most impor­tant­ly, these tasks: search­ing for ter­ror­ists and search­ing for peo­ple  slight­ly con­tra­dict each oth­er. Therefore, the mil­i­tary did not specif­i­cal­ly search for peo­ple, and we hoped, thanks to the dogs and thanks to our field skills, to have time to help those who were still hid­ing and could sur­vive this attack.

Photo from Alexandra’s per­son­al archive

One of the main prob­lems was the lack of infor­ma­tion. There is a chat in which rel­a­tives of the dis­ap­peared write some infor­ma­tion about these peo­ple. This infor­ma­tion was col­lect­ed at the head­quar­ters of the search group. And our first tasks were to try to check cer­tain points, for exam­ple, places where the phone loca­tions of one of the miss­ing peo­ple were detect­ed. Then we tried to switch and work in a dif­fer­ent way. We sent our col­leagues in Russia footage made by Hamas, where, in fact, peo­ple are being dri­ven across the field. They were geolo­cat­ed there. And we decid­ed to work the streams along this field in the hope that, in fact, the only way out of the field in which it was pos­si­ble to sur­vive was to get into these streams and fur­ther along their beds to find shel­ter and hide somewhere.

But the main prob­lem was that we did­n’t real­ly under­stand what order of peo­ple we were talk­ing about. We are look­ing for one or two peo­ple or we are look­ing for 200 peo­ple  no one knew or could say. And, in fact, as I under­stand it, none of those involved in vol­un­teer work still have such data.

Most like­ly, many of the miss­ing peo­ple who are now being sought will be sub­se­quent­ly iden­ti­fied. That is, they are no longer alive. But, nev­er­the­less, a cer­tain num­ber of peo­ple may have been saved. And here’s some good news: sev­en days after the tragedy, they man­aged to find one liv­ing girl who was hid­ing in a stream in a cave. And she did­n’t come out because she thought that Israel had been cap­tured. And she learned that Israel was not cap­tured from the search engines who found her.

— Describe the begin­ning of the search.

— First of all, when we arrived, we saw the road between one of the most dam­aged kib­butz­im  Beeri  and kib­butz Reim. Right in the mid­dle of this road, between the kib­butz­im, the fes­ti­val was tak­ing place  there was a park­ing lot there. Firstly, we saw that this road was all burnt, there were traces of the remains of cars burn­ing there. There were cars in the park­ing lot.

A lot?

— Just a count­less num­ber: there are many, many, many of them under the trees. Those who could not even try to leave, those who appar­ent­ly died on the spot or who tried to escape on foot. Some cars are very bad­ly dam­aged, some are com­plete­ly intact.

— So, the ter­ror­ists blew up some cars, set them on fire, and left some?

— Well, basi­cal­ly it was in this park­ing lot that they were most like­ly shot. But, appar­ent­ly, due to the fact that many peo­ple tried to run, some­one sim­ply crashed into some­one else. That is, I didn’t see any traces of mis­siles there. It seems to me that there are no signs of shelling in this area. But they set some­thing on fire  yes, and obvi­ous­ly cars were burn­ing on the road, because traces of these burnt cars remained on the asphalt. And along the road there are a lot of cars that burned out. That is, appar­ent­ly, they were set on fire lat­er, killing those who were in them.

Photo from Alexandra’s per­son­al archive

—Have you per­son­al­ly seen the bod­ies of dead peo­ple in these cars?

— When we arrived, work was under­way to extract the bod­ies. There is a spe­cial group in Israel, ZAKA, which is engaged in iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, col­lec­tion of bod­ies, and so on. And so they worked in Beeri that day and the fol­low­ing days. By the time we arrived, the bulk of the bod­ies had already been col­lect­ed, but there were places where this was not so easy to do, since not all the bod­ies were com­plete and in a state in which they could be iden­ti­fied as bod­ies. I think that they are still doing this in kibbutzim.

— Were there many bod­ies that could not be iden­ti­fied by appear­ance and that would require iden­ti­fi­ca­tion by DNA?

— I can only judge from the words of the peo­ple who were involved in col­lect­ing the bod­ies: yes, there are big prob­lems with iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. At least in kib­butz­im Beeri, Nahal Oz, Alumim there were a lot of unknow­able bod­ies. We spoke with a mil­i­tary man­about the search for girls who ran away from one kib­butz to anoth­er. We were going to search between these kib­butz­im and try to find some­one, since it is known that they have not yet been found. And the mil­i­tary man said that it is more like­ly that they all died in the kib­butz where they expect­ed to find help, and he believes that they are all among the uniden­ti­fied bodies.

— Were they burned alive or killed first?

— As far as I under­stand, there is no answer to this ques­tion yet and it will be answered.

—Your task was to find the liv­ing while it was still pos­si­ble. Where are you headed?

— We imme­di­ate­ly reject­ed the idea of work­ing in the fields, because the fields there are now clear­ly vis­i­ble: there are prac­ti­cal­ly no thick­ets there. Therefore, we were inter­est­ed in streams, dry streams (now they are all with­out water), which bor­der the fields and sep­a­rate them, they have a lot of shelters.

On the first day we prac­ticed oth­er tasks, main­ly sig­nals from phones that we received from rel­a­tives. Quite unsuc­cess­ful­ly, we combed sev­er­al areas of the area, try­ing to find, say, the third per­son who had dis­ap­peared from the car where the corpses were found, but one was miss­ing. But in order to search fur­ther in this direc­tion, we need­ed to get into the closed area of ​​the gar­dens, where the army did not let us in that day. And we decid­ed to try to focus on these streams. There were four of us work­ing with one ser­vice dog. The task was to walk in a chain; our group was just enough to view the ter­ri­to­ry from both banks of the stream and in the cen­ter. And we worked on dif­fi­cult places with the dog, so that she would go through bush­es that a per­son could not nor­mal­ly enter, and try to find some peo­ple there.

—What did you find?

We found traces of a hunt. That is, in these streams there were things that run­ning peo­ple threw: a jack­et, a sweater, a child’s coat, a bot­tle, glasses. 

It was clear that peo­ple did not return for them because they were in a hur­ry to run away. Somewhere we found signs that peo­ple were hid­ing there. For exam­ple, there was a park­ing lot under the tamarisk bush­es, where the remains of food lay, appar­ent­ly some­one took a rest. But most­ly we saw signs of peo­ple run­ning and being chased. So, about three kilo­me­ters from the edge of the field there was an aban­doned car, on which there were no signs of exe­cu­tion. So that’s not why she stopped. But in front of her was the track of an ATV. That is, it looks very much like they sim­ply caught up with this car and stopped it by dri­ving in front of it.

Photo from Alexandra’s per­son­al archive

— Does this mean that the peo­ple from this car were tak­en hostage?

— Yes, with a high prob­a­bil­i­ty they were stolen. Then we walked about anoth­er kilo­me­ter and a half and found a car that stopped on its own. And unlike the first one, she showed no signs of being stopped. There were chil­dren’s things in this car. That is, it is obvi­ous that there was some­one adult and chil­dren there. And we began to search inten­sive­ly, because there were just good thick­ets near­by, and we real­ly hoped that maybe these peo­ple were there, since there were also no traces of blood and there were no signs that they had been caught up (there were no traces near­by oth­er cars), we real­ly hoped that maybe these peo­ple were still hid­ing. Well, that is, they are hid­ing some­where here, and they are alive. And we walked back along the stream first and found sev­er­al things. For exam­ple, a child’s coat is so light and col­ored glass­es for a child of ten years old. And a fresh water bot­tle. That is, these are clear­ly things from just these days and it’s obvi­ous that peo­ple were in a hur­ry, because, well, the things were lying so that they didn’t even try to pick them up. And then, in the reeds, my col­league with the dog, he dis­cov­ered a hid­ing place in which lay a small baby bot­tle with the remains of water. So peo­ple were hid­ing there.

 What could be the fate of those peo­ple who were hid­ing and where could they end up? 

— I hope that in this par­tic­u­lar case fate was suc­cess­ful, because from the army post, which stood some­where one and a half to two kilo­me­ters from this point, we found out that A father and two girls came out of this stream some time ago. And we real­ly hope that we found their traces and that they escaped.

 But this is the fate of those who lin­gered. And those who did not hide in streams?

I believe that those peo­ple who lin­gered, who hid, had a greater chance of sav­ing their lives. Because Most of those who imme­di­ate­ly went to oth­er pop­u­lat­ed areas, for exam­ple, to a police post or to anoth­er kib­butz, died. They did not know that all the near­by kib­butz­im were also cap­tured, so there was no point in going there.

— People fled from one kib­butz to anoth­er, think­ing that they would find help there, but end­ed up again with terrorists?

— That’s the point… It’s just that no one knew that there was no point in run­ning there, but that they had to hide. And since we know that there was a bat­tle in Netivot, those peo­ple who came out to Netivot imme­di­ate­ly, they could very like­ly become vic­tims. As far as I know, that group of peo­ple who came to Netivot just along the road along which we arrived, they came out much lat­er. She came out in the evening, when the army was there and at least there was some kind of pro­tec­tion. And those who left in the morn­ing, who ran straight away, they most like­ly end­ed up falling back into the hands of terrorists. 

And we already know many such sto­ries when peo­ple called their rel­a­tives and said: “We escaped, we are run­ning home!”, Then they were actu­al­ly shot in front of their rel­a­tives. Relatives heard on the phone how their loved ones were dying. That is, it was a real hunt (The video on the link was pub­lished by a chan­nel that sup­ports Hamas. We are shar­ing this video, because we con­sid­er it impor­tant evi­dence of Hamas crimes. The events record­ed on it were geolo­cat­ed. T-invari­ant)

Moreover, hunt­ing was not only in cities, not only in kib­butz­im, but it was a real hunt through the for­est, across the field, every­where. There was no pro­tec­tion from them any­where. And this whole shetah was filled with hunters who were chas­ing. And the expec­ta­tion that you will find shel­ter among the trees  for most peo­ple it did not come true.

 Sasha, you are a field zool­o­gist, you know what an expe­di­tion in the for­est is. How would you com­pare the con­di­tions in the for­est of the Central Russian strip and in the for­est that you just saw? How real­is­tic is it to be saved in it? What’s the difference?

— Yes, in Russia I more than once had to think about what to do if I had to run away from the secu­ri­ty forces. And I knew that in our for­est I could always hide, I under­stood how to sur­vive in it for a long time. And here, of course, the con­di­tions are very bad in this regard.

—What is spe­cial about this forest?

— The fact is that this is not a for­est. In essence, it is sim­ply sparse shrub and tree veg­e­ta­tion that does not form closed spaces. And I looked through the trees, try­ing to fig­ure out how to hide in them. Because if I found myself in such a sit­u­a­tion in the Central European zone, then the safest place when they are chas­ing you, in my opin­ion, would be the crowns of trees. And I looked through dif­fer­ent shel­ters that could be made in the trees.

And I didn’t find a sin­gle tree on which it seemed ratio­nal to hide. That is, every­thing is vis­i­ble so well that any per­son who is pur­su­ing you, if he has already gone there, he will def­i­nite­ly find you there.

Another thing is that in some places of these streams there are reed thick­ets. This in itself is a bad shel­ter, because when you sneak into them, you leave traces, espe­cial­ly since it’s autumn and every­thing is dry. At this time of year it is impos­si­ble to dis­turb the cov­er there and imme­di­ate­ly restore it behind you. But there were a huge num­ber of ani­mal trails from wild boars, fox­es, and jack­als. And I think the best shel­ter is to use these ani­mal trails to climb deep into the reeds along one of them.

—You searched for four days. In Israel it is hot in the fall, even more like sum­mer from the point of view of a European per­son, the tem­per­a­ture is about 28-30 degrees Celsius, the streams are still emp­ty, there is no water around. Who had a bet­ter chance of sur­viv­ing and being saved in such conditions?

— Well, first­ly, those who had a back­pack with food and water at hand. For those who did not have sup­plies, on the fifth day, in my opin­ion, there was already lit­tle chance of sur­viv­ing in such weath­er con­di­tions. Another thing is that for at least two of the nights that we were there, it rained light­ly at night, and a per­son with min­i­mal field expe­ri­ence could have guessed to at least try to col­lect water.

— But in Israel quite a lot of peo­ple have this expe­ri­ence. These are trained peo­ple who have been through the army.

— Yes, and this just increased hope. And the main thing is that, appar­ent­ly, it was pre­cise­ly because of this that there were quite a lot of peo­ple who came out on their own. Precisely because peo­ple here have com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent field expe­ri­ence than, say, in Russia. Because in Russia many peo­ple lost in the wild can­not deter­mine the direc­tion to but move, and are sim­ply afraid to go. They sit down and wait for help. And the Israelis explained to me: no one will wait for any­thing, we will go, we will do some­thing, but we will not sit. And, on the one hand, thanks to this, peo­ple them­selves were saved. On the oth­er hand, I am afraid that thanks to this, many died, because they were saved too ear­ly. They came out of hid­ing too early.

— Among those who searched, did you meet rel­a­tives of the missing?

— Yes, at one of the points where we were look­ing, we met civil­ians. At first I couldn’t under­stand how they end­ed up there, because it seems the army doesn’t let any­one in and only peo­ple who are some­how con­nect­ed with search oper­a­tions work there. But it turned out that this was the father of the young man who dis­ap­peared, and his rel­a­tives found his phone in this area. And we were sent there, to this point, pre­cise­ly to this tele­phone sig­nal. We worked with him for two hours. We were giv­en sev­er­al sol­diers who went with us both as search offi­cers and as secu­ri­ty, since this was a zone where there could still be ter­ror­ists. And, prob­a­bly, the most dif­fi­cult thing at that moment was to per­suade this father to walk in chains. Because he hoped so much to find his son that he kept stop­ping at every bush and shout­ing: “Yuda, Yuda!” And it was clear how hard it was for him and how much he still did not lose hope, he believed that under this bush, under which you look through every­thing and see that there is no one there, he still thinks that maybe now his son will respond from there. 

Photo from Alexandra’s per­son­al archive

The hard­est thing was that we were removed from this point and sent to anoth­er task, since the mil­i­tary had to leave, and we were not allowed to remain alone in this ter­ri­to­ry. And we found a chain of human traces that no one had checked yet. And I also thought that per­haps these were traces of his son, if indeed there was a tele­phone there. And we could track them down, that would be a chance. So the next morn­ing I per­suad­ed one of the Israelis, who had pre­vi­ous­ly served in the IDF, to go there. He arrived in the south almost imme­di­ate­ly, as the oper­a­tion to lib­er­ate Israel began, and fought along­side his for­mer army col­leagues. He obtained weapons from one of the wound­ed and helped lib­er­ate one of the kib­butz­im. Then he switched to search work. We agreed to return and try to trace those tracks. But in the morn­ing, when we arrived, it turned out that this entire trail was clogged with sheep. Fully. And there are no more traces. We moved approx­i­mate­ly in the direc­tion where these miss­ing tracks could lead and drove out to a farm. The own­er said that he saw the ter­ror­ists, but did not meet those flee­ing the pur­suit. And since he was a Jew and there were many build­ings on his farm where he could hide, he could help. But no one came to him. Then we have com­plet­ed this part of the search.

And then we met with Yuda’s father on the very last day of the oper­a­tion. He came to the mil­i­tary unit where our search group was based and said that his sec­ond son was able to obtain a dupli­cate SIM card of the miss­ing per­son and hack the GPS of that phone. And, although my son’s phone is turned off, it still sends a GPS sig­nal every once in a while so that he can be found. He showed a point that was five kilo­me­ters from us. And there were about 20 min­utes left before sun­set and it was clear that we couldn’t get into the area where this phone was locat­ed, if it was real­ly there. Firstly, no one will let us there. Secondly, there was a high prob­a­bil­i­ty that this was an ambush and the phone was in the hands of ter­ror­ists. It was already known by that time that many ter­ror­ists, hav­ing tak­en the phones of their vic­tims, sent mes­sages from them, sent videos to rel­a­tives of the mur­der of their loved ones, and post­ed it on social net­works. What was espe­cial­ly alarm­ing was that the point was mov­ing in the direc­tion of Gaza. However, there was still a chance that a dis­ori­ent­ed per­son could move like this. The father said that the miss­ing son did not serve in the army, i.e. he did not have good training.

— So he could have got­ten lost?

— Yes, first­ly, he could get lost, and sec­ond­ly, he could sim­ply be in shock and move chaot­i­cal­ly. And judg­ing by the dis­tance from the point where we were look­ing for him two days before, if he moved very slow­ly, say, fell, then got up, then it was very sim­i­lar to the dis­tance that a dis­ori­ent­ed per­son in poor phys­i­cal con­di­tion could walk. Then we tried to break through the check­point in order to still get clos­er to this place. I had an idea to launch a quad­copter from the road.

— Did you have a quad­copter with you that you used before in your field research?

— Yes, of course. I used I used it to watch ani­mals, it’s a very ama­teur device that can fly for 30 min­utes. Usually no one launch­es it for more than two kilo­me­ters. But since the mil­i­tary did not let us through and the sun was already set­ting, then I final­ly decid­ed to launch from the base. Imagine, if there is a liv­ing per­son there and his father is here, look­ing at me as the last hope, I sim­ply can­not do oth­er­wise. And in fact, I felt guilty for not check­ing those tracks right away, for not telling the elder in our group on the very first day that we need­ed to stay and check the tracks…

— Which were then tram­pled by the sheep?

— Yes, which we lost because of this. I real­ized that I need­ed to do every­thing imme­di­ate­ly to find my son. If he moves in that direc­tion a lit­tle more, he will either be shot by his own, the Israelis, or he will end up with terrorists.

I tried to send a drone there, even filmed the area where the point was. And on the way back I didn’t have enough charge to cope with the wind. There was a very strong wind at the top, and as soon as I went low­er, the drone lost con­tact and had to be raised. The GPS in that area did not work, mean­ing he could not return on his own. I had to raise it to max­i­mum height to fly back, and there the wind kept it almost in place. He did not reach our base two kilo­me­ters and fell. But since I hoped that there was a record­ing on the flash dri­ve and we would see if there were peo­ple there, if there was a per­son there, we spent sev­er­al more hours try­ing to some­how get through there or nego­ti­ate with the mil­i­tary so that they would take the drone. Well, then news came from my father that the body was iden­ti­fied in Beeri.

— So all this time you were look­ing for a per­son who was dead and whose phone was in the hands of the terrorists?

— That’s what we thought then. Although now I have some doubts. The thing is that my GPS was jump­ing there all the time…

— Yes, and here, in the north of Israel, where we are now, there is a prob­lem with nav­i­ga­tion. GPS prac­ti­cal­ly does not work for sev­er­al days.

— And now I think that per­haps the phone was in one place all this time. That is, ter­ror­ists could have tak­en it and thrown it away. But since the sig­nal was jump­ing all the time, there was a feel­ing that the per­son was mov­ing. Therefore, maybe, yes, a ter­ror­ist left with him. Or maybe he was just lying in one place all this time, and the rel­a­tives saw the illu­sion of move­ment and hoped to find the guy alive.

 What did you see that shocked you the most? What will you nev­er forget?

— Hunting. Along the stream along which we walked and which was the most pro­duc­tive, and, as we now under­stand, we had to work and work in it fur­ther, at some point I saw a lot of cars at the top, on the cliff. At first I couldn’t under­stand what dozens of cars were doing there, because the fes­ti­val park­ing lot was on the oth­er side of the road, about five hun­dred meters away. 

And when we approached this place, I real­ized that this was not a park­ing lot… This was a ceme­tery… It was not dif­fi­cult to recon­struct the pic­ture of what hap­pened. People drove through the field as short as pos­si­ble, since the road at that moment was under fire and no one was dri­ving along it. And the peo­ple decid­ed that the safest thing was to run across the field, as there was less chance of being caught. But most of the cars were front-wheel dri­ve, not all-wheel dri­ve, they got stuck in the fur­rows one after anoth­er, col­lid­ing, try­ing to get around each oth­er. So they fell into a trap, where they died.

Here are also those avo­ca­do gar­dens that we didn’t get to on the first day. The fact is that when we searched the side of the road, we found three places where the fence wire was bro­ken. We checked, it real­ly wasn’t very dif­fi­cult to tear it apart with your hands. Where the sec­tions joined. And it was clear that some­one had crawled into these holes. Our col­league and his dog got there a day lat­er. He walked to the oppo­site bor­der of the gar­dens. And there I dis­cov­ered things. Things and traces of the fact that they caught up with those run­ning… These peo­ple did not have time to over­come anoth­er barrier…

Photo tak­en from Alexandra’s per­son­al archive

— How did you under­stand that you had to end your search?

— Based on the weath­er: tem­per­a­ture and lack of water. We did some math and real­ized that Wednesday, October 13, is more or less the last day when it makes sense to look for the liv­ing. But since we were unable to fur­ther exam­ine on Wednesday those places that seemed to us the most promis­ing, and on Thursday we man­aged to get there with­out hin­drance, we decid­ed to con­tin­ue work­ing. And it seemed to us at that moment that it was no longer pos­si­ble to sur­vive. We our­selves, tak­ing with us quite large sup­plies of waters, by the end of the day they were com­plete­ly spent. And the dog was very tired and prac­ti­cal­ly could no longer work. That is, she was com­plete­ly exhaust­ed. And we assessed the chances of those who escaped as zero. Because if a per­son did not come out him­self dur­ing this time, did not give a sign, did not give any sig­nal, he was either wound­ed and died from loss of blood, or he still had to some­how try to stick his head out and make him­self known.

But we were wrong. Now that we know about the girl found… I real­ly regret that we left, because maybe we could have done some­thing else…

The prob­lem is that since we are new Israelis, it was very dif­fi­cult for our group to obtain any per­mits, go some­where and explain what we could actu­al­ly bring ben­e­fit. And it seemed to me that since the rest of the Israelis, who worked with us and knew how to nego­ti­ate on the ground, had fin­ished their search, then we, too, could do noth­ing more. I real­ly regret this now. I think that if we had worked for anoth­er day or two, per­haps we could have helped someone.

Text Olga Orlova


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