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They were trapped in Kharkiv. Jewish group chats showed a way out.

In the early days of the Russian invasion, Kharkiv native Oleg Kosariev, who now lives in Israel, lost touch with his mother and stepfather, who had no electricity and had taken shelter in a basement of their home in the Ukrainian city.

He would have to wait until he could communicate with them again, but once he did, he wanted to give them a way out.

Jewish group chats would show him the way.

The Jewish community in Ukraine is well connected, glued together by faith, tradition and longstanding nationwide and local group chats. Those chat networks sprang to life as the Russian invasion began, coordinating evacuations, medicine and food deliveries.

Through one of these chats, Kosariev learned of a young Jewish community leader in Kharkiv, Violetta Koshina, who was organizing a fleet of buses leaving the city, which his parents could follow by car.

“There’s people from Jewish community that you can trust and they can bring you out,” he told his parents once he was able to speak with them again. “I know some of the people in the buses.”

Hanna Kosarieva, 49, and Valeriy Makeev, 48, followed the buses out of Kharkiv, and are now in relative safety, near the Western city of Lviv. Their journey took nearly four days.

“If not for the Jewish communication, I would not know about the convoy,” Kosariev, 27, said in an interview.

Jewish groups certainly aren’t the only ones in Ukraine using group chats, social media and other modern means of communication to shepherd refugees to safety. But their Jewishness is drawing Jews who have never met each other together.

Two days into his mother and stepfather’s escape, Kosariev, who made aliyah in 2018, relied on a different group chat, from a Birthright Israel trip he took several years ago. A member gave his mother and stepfather — and any others trying to flee — a place to rest in the mid-sized city of Vinnytsia before they continued westward.

Throughout the escape, Kosariev navigated for his mother and stepfather, who he said were too shocked to think clearly for themselves. He wants them to join him in Israel, but said his mother can’t, because documentation of her family’s Jewishness was lost the last time Kharkiv was invaded, in World War II.

Kosariev is frustrated with Israel, for failing to make it easier for Ukrainians to immigrate, and for that reason — and also some homesickness for Jewish life in Ukraine — said he intends to move back after the war.

He believes other Israelis, feeling similarly, will also return when the conflict is over.

“When the day will come,” he said. “ A lot of people will go back to Ukraine.”

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