Missing Ukrainian soldier given Jewish burial after months-long search for body

Remains of Ali Shabay, who was killed fighting Russian troops last May, identified by DNA last week; Kyiv appoints Jewish chaplain for military

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Kharkiv Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz conducts a burial service for Ali Shabay, who fell in battle near Kharkiv, April 23, 2023 (courtesy)
Kharkiv Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz conducts a burial service for Ali Shabay, who fell in battle near Kharkiv, April 23, 2023 (courtesy)

A Jewish Ukrainian soldier who died in battle against Russian forces nearly a year ago was given a proper Jewish burial in Kharkiv on Monday.

Ali Shabay, whose mother Marina is Jewish, was killed on May 23, 2022, in the village of Ternova, only 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the Russian border.

Ukrainian troops liberated the area in September, but Shabay’s body was only found last week after months of searching.

His remains were identified by DNA testing.

Before heading out to fight, Shabay asked his family to ensure that he received a Jewish burial if he fell, according to Kharkiv Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz.

Moskovitz conducted the burial service, accompanied by men from Kharkiv’s Jewish community.

At the outset of the war, Moscow saw Kharkiv as an enticing target, believing that its mostly Russian-speaking population would welcome its troops as liberators from nationalist Ukrainians. Though Russian forces briefly reached the city’s center, by mid-May they had been driven back toward the border.

Ukrainian soldier Ali Shabay, who fell in battle near Kharkiv, April 23, 2023 (courtesy)

Still, Kharkiv continues to suffer from shelling and destruction is widespread in civilian areas.

Over the Hanukkah holiday in December, Moskowitz visited military hospitals, handing out food to injured soldiers and thanking them for their sacrifice.

He was also on the lookout for wounded Jewish servicemen.

“We bring bread to every soldier before we even ask about Judaism,” he explained. “We give help and then we ask nicely, ‘Where are you from, and who is Jewish in your family?’”

Moskowitz’s efforts paid off. He met a Ukrainian-Israeli who had been injured around Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk that is currently the scene of heavy fighting.

The rabbi also discovered another soldier whose Jewish wife is in Israel and whose daughter is currently serving in the IDF.

During one of Moskowitz’s hospital visits over the eight-day holiday, a Jewish soldier visiting wounded friends introduced himself and was given a menorah to take with him to the front.

Chief of Staff Valerii Zaluzhnyi appointד Rabbi David Milman as the military’s chaplain to Jewish soldiers, April 20, 2023 (Office of the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine)

To serve the needs of Ukraine’s many Jewish soldiers, Ukrainian armed forces Chief of Staff Valerii Zaluzhnyi appointed Rabbi David Milman last Thursday as the military’s chaplain to Jewish troops.

The ceremony was conducted in the office of Kyiv’s Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman in the Brodsky Synagogue.

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