It was my second day as part of Operation Orange Wings, United Hatzalah’s mission to Molodova to assist Ukrainian Refugees and airlift them back to Israel. We set off in the morning. I was placed together with another EMS volunteer, and 2 volunteers from the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit who also speak the native language.
Today’s destination: a Moldovan holiday village that has been converted into a refugee center for those who managed to escape the inferno in Ukraine in hopes of reaching another country. Many of these refugees are hoping to head further into Europe and beyond. Some want to go to Germany, England, Hungary, France, or even Canada. There are of course some who wish to head to Israel.
In the morning, we passed through the Agudath Yisroel Synagogue in Moldova which had been converted into our logistics and equipment center as well as a relief center for refugees. From there, we collected medical equipment and humanitarian supplies, children’s games, and dolls, lots of dolls. I never really connected to dolls, but one doll which I have no idea what character it represents, I adopted. I took it with me and from that moment on we became friends. I told one of the volunteers I was going to give it to a special child today.
With our huge bags holding lots of equipment, we got into the car and set off on a journey of several dozen kilometers.
The first thing we saw was the long lines of women, children, and the elderly, who had arrived on the bus the day before after walking for hours and driving for sometimes more than 10 hours and were only now enjoying a few moments of respite before moving on to other countries. Some were waiting for rescue flights to Israel, which we were helping organize.
We split into 2 groups. The Russian/Ukrainian-speaking team sat down and assisted refugees with filling out forms and organizing their paperwork for the rescue flights, while another delegation member and I went over to the refugees in line to see if anyone needed medical attention, to comfort them, and take care of their needs.
We unpacked the bags we had brought with us. Adults were given supplies and food, children were given sweets and dolls, and everyone was given a smile, affection, and hope.
When we toured the compound, we found a children’s play area. We supplied the kids there with plenty of sweets, started playing games with them, and quickly became friends.
His name was Daniel. He was a shy boy and seemed a little introverted. He was not one of the kids who jumped and played, he seemed to have a harder time than the others. He spoke only Ukrainian, the son of older parents. He was only 12-years-old and his house in Kharkov had been bombed just a few days ago. Another boy told me that Daniel’s family hid in the metro in the lower part of the city and slept there nights. In between the waves of shelling, they would go upstairs and try to cook some food.
Daniel’s 9-year-old brother played a game of snooker with me. I found it was a good way to connect with him. Every time he put in a ball I applauded loudly to compliment him, but by no means did I make any concessions. We played like friends, it was nice. He won.
Next, I went over to help the members of the delegation in registering refugees for the flight. I took my seat at the table and filled out forms together with the refugees.
Their turn came. Dad, Mom, Daniel, and his sweet brother. They are around the same age as my own sons, Chaim and Itzik, and they are such good children.
The father was impatient, which I totally understood, no one was prepared for such a situation. No one is built to lead their family into a foreign country and try to figure out what to do and how to provide for the basic needs in a completely different situation. Basic needs such as where they would sleep that night have now become major struggles. This difficulty was only compounded by the fact that many of these refugees have no money in their pockets.
The older parents were a bit technologically challenged, so Daniel found himself explaining to me what the email address was on his Dad’s cell phone, spelling letters in English, and explaining that they are from Kharkov. They’re here with only a few suitcases which they managed to take with them from home.
From time to time he trembled. At one point he put two hands over his eyes and cried. Tears. My heart broke to see this and I radiated optimism as much as I could to cheer them up. I told them that we would take care of everything and we won’t leave them until they boarded the rescue flight.
We were done. The evening had come. I made sure with the Ministry of Absorption that the documents had been received and that the family would be able to fly to Israel in the morning.
Julia and Vitaly, the amazing staff who, along with me, were willing to sacrifice their trip back to our headquarters and stayed late at the refugee center to help Daniel and his family. The important thing was that this family would be calm and confident and that they had a shuttle to the airport the next day.
The father took out some hryvnia bills (Ukrainian currency) and said he didn’t have enough money to pay for the shuttle. Julia did not give up. She took care of coordinating a shuttle to the airport for free.
Then I saw Daniel. He was crying and hugging his mom.
I walked over to him. I hugged him. I gave him the doll, the one I had adopted earlier that morning, and waited to find a special child that needed it.
Daniel turned around, took the doll, and hugged it. He is 12, not at the age of playing with dolls. But anyway, he put his hand over his mouth and blew a kiss at me in the air in gratitude.
“Spasiba (thank you),” he said.
Sapsiba. He turned back around to face his mother and they walked away, hugging each other as they left us, happy and excited.
Spasiba, I said back to him as he was walking away. I helped him and his family a lot that day, but he would never know how much he had touched me. My second day was over, and while my heart was full I wondered what tomorrow would bring.