A few days before Yom Kippur, Naftali Rabinovitch, who serves as United Hatzalah Chief of Operations in Ukraine, received an urgent phone call from a woman who said she was the granddaughter of an older woman who lives in the city of Lyman, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which has been recently annexed by Russia, and that her grandmother needed urgent medical attention as well as transportation out of Lyman.
The city of Lyman has been a flashpoint in the war between Ukraine and Russia and come under heavy fire as both sides struggle for control of the province, seized by Russian-backed militants in 2014.
Lyman was retaken by Ukrainian forces last weekend, which made the extraction of a patient in a Ukrainian ambulance possible. Uncertain how long the city would remain in Ukrainian hands, Naftali decided to take immediate advantage of this window of opportunity. He dispatched a pair of ambulance drivers, Alexander Valerovitz and Vadim Aniboritzog, who work with United Hatzalah in Ukraine, on a mission to save the grandmother’s life, and return her to her only family member inside Ukraine, in the city of Uzhgorod. The distance the pair had to travel was more than 1,550 miles.
Alexander and Vadim departed on Sunday morning and traveled through the country into Donetsk, alternating driving, often coming under fire, until they arrived in Lyman. They found the grandmother, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor, in a severely damaged house that had been hit by rocket fire recently. The woman had a long list of medical preconditions, but her current concern was that she was unable to use one of her hands, as she had been injured when her house was shelled. There were no active hospitals in Lyman or the surrounding area, so the woman was still waiting for treatment. Alexander and Vadim provided initial treatment and then evacuated the woman, driving her all the way to the western city of Uzhgorod, on the Slovakian border. They arrived safely on Tuesday morning, the eve of Yom Kippur, and the woman was taken to a hospital where she received treatment and later reunited with her family.
“Uzhgorod is probably the furthest city from Donetsk and therefore one of the safest in the country,” Naftali explained after the mission had been deemed a success. “We wanted this woman to feel safe. Additionally, she requested to be taken there because that’s where her family is located. We brought her to a medical facility to receive care and it was there that she was reunited with her family.”
Naftali added, “Alexander and Vadim risked their lives to save this woman. They came under fire both while traveling to Lyman and on the return trip. I was monitoring every step of the way and there were some very scary moments for the team. It was a risk, but to save the life of a woman who has already suffered so much, and who lived in an area where no other help was going to reach her, we all felt it was our duty to undertake this mission. I am very proud of the United Hatzalah team here in Ukraine for pulling this off and I want to thank both Alexander and Vadim for their heroism and dedication to saving lives.”