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‘This is the same person’: Rescued hostage’s dad discusses fear, relief

TEL AVIV, Israel — Mikhail Kozlov worried his son would be unrecognizable from eight months in captivity since being abducted into Gaza during the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack.

The 53-year-old father spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, days after his son Andrey, 27, was rescued with three other hostages by Israeli forces from central Gaza.

“We were very afraid that we would see someone else, but this is the same person, and he talks about everything with optimism. He communicates with us very willingly, laughs and jokes,” Kozlov said.

For Israel, the most successful hostage rescue so far brought nationwide elation and removed some of the stain from the army’s unprecedented collapse on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took approximately 250 others hostage.

While Kozlov says his son is smiling and looks physically well, Andrey told his parents there are things he’ll never divulge about his time in captivity.

What he’s described so far involved often harsh conditions, crammed into a small room with two of the other rescued hostages, at times with their hands and feet bound.

If they did anything wrong, they were punished, such as being forced to lie under blankets in the heat for hours until they became dehydrated, Kozlov said. They could also speak only in whispers, not allowed to communicate with each other.

Since being rescued, his son is most preoccupied with the other hostages, especially since the guards told him his conditions were “very good” compared to the others, Kozlov said.

About 120 hostages remain in Gaza, with 43 pronounced dead. Those believed to still be alive include about 15 women, two children under age 5 and two men in their 80s.

Cease-fire negotiations have been at an impasse for months.

Kozlov said that even if a deal had been reached, his son wouldn’t have been among the first released, with women, the injured and elderly as priorities.

He was doubtful he’d ever see his child again.

“This is very emotional because we weren’t counting on this outcome,” he said.

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