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They survived the Holocaust. Now they're trying to live through Russia's deadly invasion of Ukraine.

Holocaust survivors face another war in Ukraine
They survived the Holocaust. Now they're trying to live through Russia's deadly invasion of Ukraine. 01:44

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has unleashed significant devastation, forcing at least 1.5 million people so far to flee their homes, and costing many their lives. For many Ukrainians, the invasion is also a painful echo of their past, when they survived the Holocaust. 

"I feel like I'm dreaming," 88-year-old Natalia Berezhnaya told the humanitarian group American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in a video. Berezhnaya, who has a home care worker through the group, was born in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, now called Dnipro, in 1934. She has lived in Odessa since 1938. 

During the Holocaust, Berezhnaya said she was evacuated to Siberia with her mother and family. Now, her home care worker is helping her survive the Russian invasion. 

"It's hard to believe that you might be going through the same thing again that you went through in '41," she said. "This is war. Any ways, any paths that exist to stop it — it must be stopped. And end this bloodshed." 

She said that "fear" is "not the word" to describe how she's feeling now. 

"It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that in '41, I had to hide in the basement of this building," she said, "and that I'm going to have to do that again now."   

Before Germany invaded the country in June 1941, Ukraine was home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. By that September, the Nazi combat soldiers occupied the capital city, Kyiv, and immediately started persecuting the Jewish population.

On September 29, 1941, the Nazis began a systematic massacre of Kyiv's Jews. Over the course of two days, they murdered nearly 34,000 people. The ravine where the mass shootings took place, known as Babyn Yar (or Babi Yar), is said to be the "largest mass grave of the Holocaust." The memorial site was hit by a Russian missile on March 1.

Archival photo of Nazi forces in Ukraine in World War II
Nazi Einsatzgruppen forces execute Jews in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1942. Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It's believed that at least 1.5 million Jews were killed in Ukraine during the Holocaust, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The grandfather of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, fought in the Soviet Army against the Nazis, and other members of his family died during the Holocaust.

Today, there are more than 9,900 Holocaust survivors living in Ukraine, according to JDC, which helps provide services to them and thousands of other elderly Jews with the help of the international nonprofit Claims Conference. 

The attack on Ukraine has rattled the Jewish community, particularly those who survived the Holocaust. 

The city's chief rabbi, Avraham Wolff, told the Los Angeles Times a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor in Odessa called him the morning the invasion began and was extremely distressed. 

"He cried and cried, and I just listened to him," Wolff told the Times. "I told him that everything is OK, the Russians are not coming to kill us, these are not the Nazis."  

And on Thursday, a viral video showed several elderly Ukrainian people who said they are Holocaust survivors pleading for peace in their country. All three of the speakers in the video, which CBS News has not independently verified, say they had relatives who were killed in the 1941 Babyn Yar massacre. 

One of the women in the video, who identifies herself as Lukash Tamara Oleksiivna, says she was born in 1939 and lived in Kyiv before the start of World War II. 

"Putin, I wish for you to die," she says in the video, calling Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a "horror." 

Inna V., one of JDC's representatives in Odessa, told CBS News that the impact of the Holocaust is felt there every day. 

"This city has suffered a lot from the Holocaust," she told CBS News. "We have ghettos here. We had death camps all around Odessa. We have two Holocaust monuments ... one of them is on the place where people were marched to death places." 

Inna said that while many have fled to safety, many other survivors have not left Odessa. When she asks those survivors how they are feeling, she said they respond with just a few words: Fear, uncertainty and anxiety. 

"They all went through cold, hunger and starvation," Inna said. "...It's tough because they say, 'We lived through the Holocaust and through difficult post-war years for our children to have a better future and never have griefs that we have gone through.' ... They are very worried." 

Inna said she can't leave these survivors behind.

"They are everything for me. They are our ears, eyes, everything," she said from her kitchen, amid an air raid alert. "...Just imagine, if everybody leaves, how will they feel if they don't have a chance to leave?" 

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