UKRAINE — This past Shabbos, the Chief Rabbi of Odessa heroically rescued 250 orphan children from potential tragedy. Rabbi Shlomo Baksht determined that it was permissible to travel on Shabbos in order to flee the country.

The terrifying drama began Thursday evening, when heavy Russian bombings rocked the area near the orphanage.

“We just received an update that there were three terrible explosions near the orphanage. The girls were very anxious, sitting and crying. We are trying to move them to the city center next to us. The situation is becoming more dangerous from one moment to the next,” said Rabbi Baksht.

After speaking with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jewish community decided to flee westward.

On Friday morning, eight buses set off, with all of the orphans onboard, as well as the orphanage staff, Rabbi Baksht, his daughter Shira and his partner Rabbi Rafael Kruskal.

A few hours after they fled Odessa, Russian missiles landed near the Jewish community where they had been located hours earlier.

“We had a great miracle that we got out of there on time,” said Rabbi Baksht, “a really great miracle.”

The journey lasted through Friday night into Shabbos morning, and the Rabbi decided that the proper decision was to continue traveling for pikuach nefesh.

“I told them that we are here to fulfill God’s will, and on this Shabbat, His will is for us to escape to save lives,” he said

On Friday the Rabbi told community members, “We will continue to travel on Shabbos because it is a matter of mental supervision. Everyone will turn off their mobile phones, but on every bus there will be one mobile left open in case of an emergency.”

At one point they stopped in the dark and Rabbi Raphael Kruskal recited Kiddush, adding a taste of the Shabbos atmosphere during an unthinkably difficult time.

Rabbi Baksht described the superhuman effort of the staff.

“The babysitters on the baby bus held the toddlers in their arms for many hours. It was not easy.”

As reported by Vos Iz Neias