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‘An angel’: Ukraine-born lone soldier laid to rest following terror attack last week

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv for the funeral of Sgt. Maksym Molchanov, an off-duty soldier killed last week in a terror attack near the central city of Modiin.

Molchanov, 20, moved to Israel from eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv in 2017, leaving his family behind. He was considered a “lone soldier,” which the military defines as troops whose parents do not live in Israel or who are not supported financially by their parents.

Molchanov’s parents, Evgeny and Larysa, flew in from Ukraine on Monday night. The Foreign Ministry worked to facilitate Molchanov’s father’s travel to Israel despite a ban on men leaving Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.

Lt. Col. Oren Fitoussi, the commander of the 411th Battalion of the 282nd Regiment in the Artillery Corps, the unit in which Molchanov served, said the slain soldier was “an angel from heaven, an angel in human form.”

“Maksym immigrated to Israel from Ukraine at the age of 14, studied in Israel, and enlisted as a lone soldier in a combat battalion out of a desire to fulfill his dream of becoming a combat soldier,” Fitoussi said.

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“This is a dream that came true, when he was the ammunition loader for the team that fired first during the recent escalation in the north,” the officer continued, referring to Israeli artillery fire on Lebanon following an anti-tank guided missile attack in July.

This handout photo shows Cpl. Maksym Molchanov, who was killed in a truck-ramming attack near Modiin on August 31, 2023. (Courtesy)

“Evgeny and Larysa, you sent here a child with values and dreams. You did amazing work with Maksym’s upbringing and education, and I thank you for allowing us to enjoy him. I apologize for not bringing him back safely,” Fitoussi said.

“You were an angel from heaven, an angel in human form. Good-hearted, caring, you were a lesson for everyone,” he added.

Vlad Molchanov eulogized his brother, saying: “He was generous and gave everything he had. He liked to be in the center and to be with all the people, this was important to him.”

“We love you,” the slain soldier’s brother said.

Family and friends at the funeral of Sgt. Maksym Molchanov, killed in a truck-ramming terror attack at the Maccabim checkpoint last week, in Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv, September 5, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Chani, one of Maksym’s high school teachers in Israel, said: “I never imagined that I would find myself standing here and saying things about my student. You were an exemplary lighthouse when it came to volunteering, and your smile characterized everything that you were.”

Immigration Minister Ofir Sofer, of the Otzma Yehudit party, and MK Ze’ev Elkin of the opposition’s National Unity party also showed up at the funeral.

“It was important for me to come to pay my last respects to you. Your personal story touched us all. You immigrated at the age of 14, alone. Despite difficult challenges, you radiated love and joy, that’s how your commander described it,” Sofer said.

Israeli soldiers carry the flag-covered coffin of Staff Sgt. Maksym Molchanov during his funeral in Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Molchanov moved to Israel at the age of 14 through the Jewish Agency’s Naale Elite Academy, a program for Jewish teenagers to complete their high school education in Israel.

Molchanov obtained Israeli citizenship in 2021 and was drafted to the IDF’s Artillery Corps in 2022. He lived in the coastal city of Herzliya.

Last year, while in the military, Molchanov donated bone marrow that saved the life of a 12-year-old boy, after a sample he had provided proved a match for the child.

In the attack, carried out Thursday on the Israeli side of the Maccabim checkpoint six other people, including three of Molchanov’s comrades, were wounded. The Palestinian assailant was shot dead at a nearby checkpoint after allegedly attempting to carry out a second attack.

The attacker behind Thursday’s ramming, identified as Daoud Abdel Razak Faiz, arrived at the Maccabim checkpoint from the Israeli side with a stolen truck, made a U-turn without entering the West Bank, and ran over a number of off-duty soldiers who were walking on the side of the road. The soldiers were walking from a nearby army post to a bus station in order to attend a team-building activity in Modiin.

The scene of a truck-ramming attack at the Hashmonaim checkpoint near Modiin, August 31, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Faiz then fled toward the Hashmonaim checkpoint, some seven kilometers (4.3 miles) away, where he was shot dead by security forces before he could manage to re-enter the West Bank.

The attack left Molchanov dead, another in serious condition, and two more in light condition.

A Palestinian teenager working at a stall on the side of the road was lightly hurt, and an Israeli couple, aged 25, were also lightly hurt after their car was hit by the attacker.

Faiz, a father of five, from the nearby West Bank town of Deir ‘Ammar, had a permit to enter Israel for work. He had no prior security offenses, according to the Shin Bet security agency.

However, the Defense Ministry said that he was apprehended by security guards at the Hashmonaim checkpoint two weeks earlier while allegedly drunk and refused to identify himself and cooperate. The ministry said the guards “used reasonable force” against Faiz.

The IDF has since measured Faiz’s home in preparation for its potential demolition.