A family from Kharkiv, Ukraine, with relatives in Vermont, fled to Israel to escape the war. They are now sharing their story of survival.

Mother Chani Segal recalls giving birth to her twelfth child one week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Life was absolutely regular,” said Segal. “Thursday morning, I was up at 4:30 feeding my baby and I was about to put her back to sleep and all a sudden, I heard bombing.”

Chani says the damage is the most heartbreaking part of the war. Her city, once “a very nice place to live,” now unrecognizable with schools, homes, and her own synagogue destroyed. She says her family and neighbors also had to obey strict curfews, which made it difficult to leave.

“If you’re outside, you’re just getting shot because you’re an enemy. You can’t be outside from 4 p.m. to 6 o’clock in the morning,” said Segal.

For more than 15 years, Segal’s family lived on the northeastern border of Ukraine. To escape to Israel, they had no choice but to travel to the other side of the country. A journey that can normally be made in three hours by plane ended up taking three days. Their arrival was welcomed news to her extended family in Vermont.

“When word came, and it was already after Shabbat here, that they already cross the border, that was an unbelievable relief,” said Segal’s uncle, Rabbi Yitzchok Raskin.

Rabbi Raskin has led Vermont’s Chabad Organization since 1984. He says some religious families like Segal’s had to evacuate their homes in Ukraine during Shabbat. For some, the Sabbath is a day to refrain from driving, spending money, or using electricity, but Segal’s circumstances allowed those rules to be broken.

“The law demands from you that you should break the sabbath to save lives,” said Rabbi Raskin.

Raskin says his relative’s journey out of Ukraine is related to Purim, a festive Jewish holiday and a story that is also one of survival.