Photo Credit: Hana Levi Julian
Around 100 Ukrainian refugees boarded the Air Moldova flight to Israel on March 17, 2022

The JewishPress.com has sent Hana Levi Julian to the Ukrainian border with a United Hatzalah mission, to report on the refugees, the Jewish aid efforts and the situation in Ukraine. This is one of the reports in a series of diary entries of what Hana is witnessing.

The flight home to Israel could not have been more different, literally night and day.

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We left the hotel at 07:30 am and since the minibus did not arrive the team of 15 took taxis, four of them packed to the teeth with luggage and medical equipment, some of which was destined for the flight.

Under strict orders from United Hatazalah operations director David Crystal to “make it snappy” at breakfast, it took a scant few minutes before we were out the door.

Traveling refugees were already gathering at the Agudath Israel synagogue with its inexplicable blue “Kosher Pizza” sign on the outside wall. Verification of names, passports and various other details was swift, with the biting cold and bright sunshine helping to move the process faster.

Last-minute ID and passport checks by United Hatzalah personnel before boarding the bus to Moldova Airport for the flight to Israel on March 17, 2022

A videojournalist from Associated Press who was covering the event obligingly snapped a few photos of the team before we boarded the buses and headed to the airport.

Several UH paramedics had gone out earlier in taxis to pick up those refugees who were disabled and ill. They would not be left behind, the team vowed.

A total of 101 refugees flew to Israel with United Hatzalah’s Operation Orange Wings. Of those, 67 were holding Ukrainian passports.

About 100 Ukrainian refugees flew from Moldova to Israel with United Hatzalah’s Operation Orange Wings on March 17, 2022. The airport was a scene of controlled chaos.

Check-in at the airport was a scene of controlled chaos with babies crying, frightened dogs barking and the faint meows of worried cats. All were boarding the flight to Israel. Many of the refugees crossing the border are bringing their beloved cats and dogs, sometimes their only companion.

Sometimes the only way to reassure a frightened pet, especially in an airport, is to free him from the carrier and hold him close, as any refugee knows. This man is an Israeli citizen who fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine later, rather than earlier.

“I gave him three half tabs in a four hour period and it hasn’t done anything to calm him,” an Israeli citizen flying home said, exasperated that his fluffy white dog would not stop whimpering and barking.

Natasha, 31, was flying with her 16 year old daughter, their two miniature dogs and a cat. Both spoke English fluently.

Ukrainian refugees Natasha and her 16 year old daughter are bringing two small dogs and a cat with them on the plane to Israel from Moldova, March 17, 2022

“My husband is already there,” she told JewishPress.com. “He rented a three room apartment for us in Haifa.” Although the family had made aliyah from Odessa three years ago, last year Natasha and her daughter returned to Odessa so the teen could finish school.

“In Ukraine, 11th grade is the last year,” she said. “Then we go to university.”

They almost made it, her mother added, “but it’s not possible now.”

Natasha, a structural engineer, said is not worried about finding work. Her husband, who works in solar energy, is working. “First we must improve our Hebrew,” she said.

“Maybe I will work in a store for now.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.