Captives were told their families stopped caring about them

Rescued hostage, ‘brainwashed’ by Hamas, thought IDF forces had come to kill him

Andrey Kozlov’s family tells of ‘psychological terror’ and physical torture he endured during 8-month captivity in Gaza, as well as the joy and challenges of reuniting with him

Rescued hostage Andrey Kozlov looks at his phone at Sheba Medical Center on June 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Rescued hostage Andrey Kozlov looks at his phone at Sheba Medical Center on June 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The mother of Andrey Kozlov, one of the four hostages rescued from Gaza by Israeli commandos last weekend, has described some of her son’s harrowing experiences during his eight months of captivity, as well as the surge of emotions that she and her family have experienced since officials rang her to say that he was safe.

Evgeniia Kozlova, who held a series of interviews with Israeli and international media outlets that were published on Wednesday, said she had initially feared the news she was receiving was that something had happened to her son.

“They said we have some news so please sit down — so I threw away my phone because I didn’t want to hear any bad news,” she told The Telegraph. “I started to cry, ‘No, no, no!’ And then they shouted from the phone, ‘We have good news, please answer!’”

“For a few minutes I probably didn’t know how to react. But then I started laughing. And I’ve been laughing all the time ever since. I’m absolutely happy,” she told Reuters.

Kozlov, 27, was one of 251 hostages abducted by Hamas-led terrorists during their devastating October 7 attack on Israel that also killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

He was rescued along with 21-year-old Almog Meir Jan and 40-year-old Shlomi Ziv by Israeli special forces who raided the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Saturday in an operation Israeli officials said took weeks of planning and preparation.

Another Israeli hostage, 26-year-old Noa Argamani, was rescued from a nearby building during the same operation.

Evgeniia Kozlova said her first conversation with her son was an overwhelming mix of feelings that reflected the anguish they had suffered since his abduction.

“It was both hard and joyful, and wonderful, and terrible because he was in a huge emotional turmoil,” she told Reuters.

‘Flow of energy’

Kozlova said Andrey had told her that throughout the ordeal, during which he said he and his companions had been mistreated in various ways, he had been convinced he would return.

“There was such a flow of energy from him, he was crying and laughing, and I was laughing too. We were comforting each other,” she said.

The emotion felt by the family has been reflected across much of Israeli society, where news of the rescue was greeted with a surge of elation after months of increasingly grim news from the war in Gaza, now in its ninth month.

At least 120 Israeli hostages remain in Gaza, 43 of whom have been confirmed dead, but talks aimed at agreeing on a halt to the fighting and a deal under which they would be returned in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel, appear to have stalled.

Andrey’s father Mikhail, brother Dima and girlfriend Jennifer Master also gave interviews to various media outlets, describing how they had heard of his rescue and what he has told them of his experiences in captivity.

Andrey’s parents live in Russia. In the hours after the rescue, Israeli authorities helped them quickly catch a flight to Israel and they were reunited with their son on Sunday morning.

Speaking to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster via an interpreter, father Mikhail said that he had only found out that Andrey had been rescued when Master called him to say she had heard of his release on the news. Master had assumed that Mikhail had already been told. A moment later, Evgeniia called to tell him that the IDF had just told her he was free.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Mikhail Kozlov recalled.

Evgeniia and Mikhail Kozlov, the parents of Andrey Kozlov who was rescued from Hamas captivity after eight months as a hostage in Gaza, pose for a picture during an interview in Tel Aviv on June 11, 2024. (Flash90)

‘Psychological terror’

The rescued hostages, who were taken directly to hospital from Gaza, have not spoken publicly about their ordeal.

“Andrey told us: ‘There are some things I will never tell you’. I don’t know what he didn’t tell us and what he doesn’t want to ever tell us,” Kozlova said but did say her son had given her a glimpse of the conditions they lived under.

The parents reinforced media reports of the psychological abuse the hostages suffered, relating that guards had told the captives that Israel did not care about them at all, or that their loved ones had deserted them.

“He told us that they were required to follow some very strange rules, like you can’t sit with your legs towards these terrorists. You can’t do this, and you can’t do that,” Evgeniia said. “You could be punished for getting the wrong water or getting it from the wrong place.”

She said the guards had frequently abused the prisoners verbally. “They liked to tell them: ‘You’re an animal, you’re a donkey, you’re a fool, you’re dirty.’ Andrey now knows these words perfectly well in Arabic — everything about Arabic swear words he has learned well.”

Speaking to The New York Times, Evgeniia Kozlova said the captors had told Andrey: “Your mom is on vacation in Greece. Your mom doesn’t know about you at all — and doesn’t want to know.”

The terrorists had also persuaded him and the other hostages that their girlfriends were dating other men, Andrey Kozlov’s mother told British outlet The Telegraph.

“He said he was brainwashed… they told them that nobody wants them, that nobody is fighting for them,” she said. “They said that the Israel Defense Forces wants to kill them and that this will be the solution for the war. So, at the moment when the IDF came, Andrey thought that they came to kill them.

“It took him a while to understand that the army came to bring them back to Israel. It was only after a soldier said to them that they love them and they will be fine, that they will be safe. It was only after these words he believed,” she said, adding that he then viewed the soldiers as “superheroes.”

Father Mikhail told Kan that Andrey had described one guard as being particularly cruel and mentally disturbed, abusing him one day and the next saying, “I love you.”

“This was psychological terror that was intended to cause the hostages to feel the most unease” and to “break them mentally,” Mikhail said.

Evgeniia, also via the interpreter, told Kan that for the first two months, Andrey had been tied up. At first, his hands were bound behind his back. Andrey, she said, was able to joke to her about what a “gift” it was when they eventually bound his arms in front of him instead.

Andrey Kozlov (C), freed from Gaza in an Israeli military operation a day earlier, meets with his parents, brother and girlfriend at Sheba Medical Center, June 9, 2024. (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)

‘I didn’t give up on him’

Asked whether they support military pressure to free the hostages or a deal with Hamas, Master responded on behalf of the family, saying they “believe there needs to be a hostage deal that will bring all of the captives home.”

Appealing to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government, she urged that “they take the right decisions, and fast. It very much hurts Andrey to think that the hostages [in Gaza] are going through each day and perhaps thinking that is their last day. ”

Master told Channel 12 news that the couple had started dating only shortly before Andrey was kidnapped.

She reported that Andrey was “in a very, very delicate, very fragile state” as he digests what has happened.

They had only been dating for three months before October 7, but over the following eight months, Master was a vocal campaigner for his release, including giving media interviews.

“I didn’t give up on him, and I had faith every day that he was alive and that he would come back alive,” she said.

Evgeniia Kozlova holds up a portrait of her 27-year-old son, hostage Andrey Kozlov, while Kozlov’s girlfriend Jenifer Master stands behind her in their family house in Rishon Lezion, October 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Andrey kept a daily journal, each day writing “another day, another day,” and “promised himself that he would come back alive,” she said. The document was left behind in Gaza.

His Russian citizenship did not impress his captors, Master said. Rather, they would ask him why he came to live in a country that is “an occupation.”

Master said that being away from his family was what Andrey found hardest. His captors forced him to draw a picture of his mother “and he didn’t want to. That was very hard for him, he didn’t want to draw her.”

His mother, she explained, “is his weak point. Each time he thought of her [while in captivity] he simply broke to pieces” because of the “nightmare” he was causing his parents.

“He blames himself for being kidnapped,” she said. “He came back a different person. He just came back a fragile and different person.”

While Hamas has denied mistreating the hostages, the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday cataloged the repeated physical and psychological abuse the hostages suffered during the eight months in Gaza, citing the abductees’ relatives as well as Israeli security and medical officials.

Israeli hostages pictured after their rescue from Hamas captivity in Gaza on June 8, 2024. From left: Shlomi Ziv (IDF); Andrey Kozlov and Almog Meir Jan (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90); and Noa Argamani (Courtesy).

According to the Journal, Jan, Ziv and Kozlov were held in a single dark room for six months and had no contact with the outside world except for their interactions with their captors.

Punishments for failure to comply with their captors’ strict orders included being locked in the bathroom and being buried under blankets in the intense heat, the Journal said. The guards also abused the hostages psychologically, repeatedly threatening to kill them and telling them nobody would come for them or even cared about them.

Earlier this week, the Israeli doctor who treated the four rescued hostages after they were brought back to the country reported that they were beaten and abused “almost every day” while in captivity.

Dr. Itai Pessach of Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv told CNN that the hostages suffered “a harsh, harsh experience.”

In addition to the physical abuse, they were malnourished from not having received proper food during the eight months in captivity which “left a significant mark on their health.”

Officers of the police’s elite Yamam counter-terrorism unit, along with Shin Bet agents, on Saturday morning simultaneously raided two multi-story buildings in the heart of Nuseirat, where the four hostages were being held by Hamas-affiliated families and guards of the terror group, according to the military.

Israeli hostages pictured reuniting with family after their rescue from Hamas captivity in Gaza on June 8, 2024. Top L-R: Almog Meir Jan with his family, Noa Argamani with her father. (Israel Defense Forces) Bottom L-R: Shlomo Ziv reunites with his sister and cousin (Hostages and Missing Families Forum), Andrey Kozlov meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Maayan Toaf / GPO)

Hamas’s government media office claimed at least 274 people were killed amid the operation, an unverified figure that also does not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

The IDF acknowledged that it killed Palestinian civilians amid the fighting, but it placed the blame on Hamas for holding hostages and fighting in a dense civilian environment. “We know about under 100 [Palestinian] casualties. I don’t know how many of them are terrorists,” IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Saturday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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