Mother of freed Russian-Israeli hostage feared the worst for son held by Hamas

Evgeniia Kozlova was at home in St Petersburg last weekend when she got the call from her Israeli liaison officers.

"They asked, 'how are things, how are you feeling? Are you alone there? Are you sitting down?'

"I dropped the phone to one side, and it fell under the table."

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Her son, Andrey, had been living in Israel and working as a security guard at the Nova music festival when he was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th.

After eight months of hoping he was still alive but hearing nothing about his condition or whereabouts, Evgeniia feared the worst.

"Suddenly I heard from under the table 'it's good news, good news!' and so I crawled under the table.

"Did you say good news?

"'Yes, they are bringing Andrey over by helicopter, he's almost in Israel now!'

"They said it three times, and I still couldn't comprehend. Who is bringing whom over, and where?

"They said it over and over until I got it. From that moment on I haven't stopped smiling, I haven't stopped laughing!"

Mikhail Kozlov, divorced from his wife but on good terms, packed instantly and ran over to join her. They flew to Israel the following day.

An emotional video of them being reunited with the son in an Israeli hospital showed Andrey breaking down and hugging his mother's legs.

Read more: The hostages rescued by Israel

"During the eight months we've been waiting for him we feared he would be changed a lot, that he would be a different man and we would have to help him rehabilitate, help him recover," Evgeniia said.

Footage released by Israeli counterterrorism police showed the moment they were rescued amid heavy explosions and gunfire.

As well as Andrey, three other hostages were rescued: Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan and Shlomi Ziv.

Ziv, Jan and Kozlov were held together. Kozlov doesn't speak fluent Hebrew or English and so it was hard for him to communicate with the other two, but they supported each other through their captivity and remain close.

"One of the phrases that really scared or hurt us, was when he said, 'there are some things I will never tell you about,' as for everything else, yes, he tells us, but it's as if he's playing storyteller, as if to entertain us," Evgeniia added.

"Even the fact that his hands and feet were tied for two months - his hands and feet were tied - he tells it as if it were a joke.

"At first, their hands were tied behind their backs, and he told us how proud he was that he managed to eat with his hands tied, unaided.

"Andrey said that they are kept in very difficult conditions. His guards told him 'your conditions are good compared to the rest, they are kept in much worse conditions'.

"The main thought he carried out of there was that all those remaining there must be freed. For a living, normal person it is unbearable to stay there for such a long time, eight months.

"These are impossible conditions. Impossible."

Hamas claims at least 274 Gazans were killed during the raid and hundreds injured. Mobile phone footage shows scores of dead and wounded in the crowded Nuseriat market area.

Israel says the death toll was below a hundred and blames Hamas for holding the hostages in a busy civilian area, but the United Nations has suggested both sides could be guilty of war crimes.

Diplomatic efforts to secure a new ceasefire and hostage deal are progressing unsteadily, despite the presence of US secretary of state Antony Blinken in the region again.

Hamas formally responded to President Biden's proposal on Tuesday night but reportedly want amendments that might not be acceptable to Israel.

Both sides continue to differ over when a permanent ceasefire should come into force: Hamas insists on it being agreed before any deal is implemented, whilst Israel is sticking firm on its commitment to keep fighting.

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Tensions have also risen to new levels on Israel's northern border with Lebanon. More than 160 rockets were fired into Israel on Wednesday morning after Israel killed a Hezbollah commander on Tuesday, the most senior killed during the war so far.

No casualties were reported, although small fires broke out where some of the rockets landed.