Photo Credit: United Hatzalah
Avi giving a briefing to the team in Moldova.

Heartfelt Thoughts on Being Dispatched to the Ukraine Border

By Avi Marcus


On Thursday just around noon, I was notified that I would be leading a medical and humanitarian expedition to the Ukraine border with Moldova to assist the refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. This would be the first Israeli expedition to put boots on the ground in the conflict. I was tasked to serve as the Chief Medical Officer of the mission. I work as the Chief Paramedic of United Hatzalah, I live in Petah Tikvah with my wife and five children.

At the outset, all I knew was that the Head of the Medical Department for the organization was telling me that “A delegation for the United Hatzalah humanitarian mission is being deployed to help Ukrainian refugees,” and that he asked me to take the lead of the mission from a medical standpoint. This was a minute-to-minute decision, if I didn’t take this on, someone else would need to, and I was being selected as the right person for the job due to my expertise with managing disasters and large-scale medical incidents.

I took a moment to call my wife and get her opinion on the matter. I asked her what she thought of my near-immediate departure for a humanitarian mission. She knows me well and understands and appreciates the importance of United Hatzalah’s work and how much it will make a difference in the field. Like everyone else, she is watching the news and well aware of what is going on in Ukraine. She also knew how many lives we can save and people we can help. She quickly gave me her approval and began to change all of our plans for the coming weeks. I called the director back and the VP of Operations for United Hatzalah Dov Maisel, and told them that I was in.”

At this point, the time and date of the departure were not yet known. There was a lot to do and a lot to prepare for, medical logistics, personal logistics for other team members, obtaining medical equipment, food, humanitarian aid supplies, and much much more. One of the most challenging aspects was to get the proper permits to bring all of our necessary supplies, especially the medical equipment through the borders of not one, but two countries. As Moldovan airspace was closed, the mission began to form with the plan of landing in neighboring Romania and then making our way by land to Moldova.

The preliminary plan was to send out a large and significant delegation of 30 people. However, on Thursday towards the evening, a decision was made to send out a preliminary delegation of 15 people, with the plan to send a secondary force later on as needed and as the situation allows. The team we formed consisted of one doctor, three paramedics, and eleven EMTs, one of whom is also a dentist. Many of our team members are also part of the Psycotrauma and Crisis Response Unit and we all knew that we would each have to play multiple roles in the field as we weren’t sure what to expect. We had to be prepared for anything and everything.

We were told that we had to be ready at three hours’ notice and ready to go, as we weren’t certain when we would depart. Finally, late on Thursday, it became clear that the team would depart immediately after Shabbat (Saturday night).

From Thursday afternoon until Saturday evening, all members of the delegation worked in preparation for the journey to the unknown.

Exhausted, we all met at the airport. Everyone was excited yet serious. The group was aware of the magnitude of the occasion and the purpose of the trip. We were going towards the unknown, to meet refugees and people who left everything behind them in an attempt to save their lives and the lives of their children. People left their homes, work, family, belongings, and they don’t know if they will ever be able to return.

Here we are, coming in as outsiders, traveling across a sea and two countries, to give medical assistance, emotional assistance, humanitarian assistance, to bring food and medicine, and to let these people know that no matter what they left behind them, they are not alone. We are traveling to bring a ray of light and a sliver of hope to a tragic and dark situation. The Jewish people know all too well what it means to be refugees and we will never leave people alone to fend for themselves in their time of need.

In less than an hour, we will arrive in Kishinev to assess the situation. We will meet with representatives of the local government and community, and from there, we will head to the Ukrainian-Moldovan border to begin our humanitarian mission. May we have success in helping these people who have already lost so much.”

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