By Aharon Ben Harush
On Friday night, just before Shabbat, I received a phone call from my dear father-in-law Eli Beer, the President and Founder of United Hatzalah, who told me there was a two-day-old baby whose mother was in Israel and the baby needed to be rescued from Kiev. “You must drop everything and assist in this matter,” he told me.
It was the start of a 36-hour expedition without sleep.
In my first phone call, I found out the details I needed to mount the rescue mission. Our team, which is based here in Moldova, is focused mainly on providing humanitarian aid and emergency medical care to Ukrainian refugees who are coming across the border. However, as we know from our experience in Israel and on international relief missions, when something needs to be done quickly and lives are at stake, we step in wherever we can.
In this case, a new baby had been born to a surrogate mother with the mother residing in Israel. After the baby was born, the surrogate mother had abandoned the baby in the hospital and left the country, fleeing the war. The nurse in charge at the hospital informed us that if we didn’t collect the baby by 9 AM Saturday, she would be placed in an orphanage. She simply couldn’t stay in the hospital, it was unsafe.
Instead of enjoying the Shabbat meal with other members of the United Hatzalah mission who were returning from their efforts at the borders, I was making phone calls to no less than 29 local ambulance companies. After a few hours, I located a company that was willing (for a large sum of money) to proceed to a meeting point 80 km from Kiev, but they refused to enter the capital because of the heavy shelling.
And so began a secondary rescue operation, to evacuate the baby from Kiev to the meeting place. Through various connections, I found a doctor who was willing to help and took the baby there–under armed escort. During this time, the arranged meeting place with the ambulance company had been changed due to bombing attacks in the region. After eight hours had passed, the baby reached the ambulance I had hired, and after another nine, nerve-racking, tense, hours involving tons of phone calls and coordinating, the baby reached the border with Moldova safely. Together with Israel’s Foreign Ministry representative Itzik Kagar, who had committed to helping us there, and with assistance from the former Israeli ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, we obtained all the necessary documents to transfer the baby to our care in Moldova. The border police, who by now have gotten to know us pretty well, were also informed and coordinated together with us on the operation.
The mission was accomplished, the baby crossed the border. United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Vicky Tiferet, mother of 4, and I, received the little one.
But our problems were not over. We drove toward the Romanian border since the Moldovan airport adjacent to the Ukrainian border was closed to air traffic. Vicky and I were interrogated at the border, which was to be expected – after all, they wanted to know what we were doing with a 3-day-old baby who had no connection to us.
Thankfully, after 10 additional hours, we arrived at the Iasi airport in Romania on Monday morning, where we waited for the mother and father who were arriving on a special flight from Israel, arranged by United Hatzalah. The flight was coming into Romania together with additional medical teams and supplies for our mission in Moldova. The reunion was tearful for all involved.
But while the challenges for this family were over, another family’s challenges were just beginning.
Onboard the flight from Israel was a second pair of parents who were coming to rescue their child from a surrogate mother, also in Kiev. They, too, were hoping to retrieve their child with my assistance. So I had to go back to work.
I am prevented for reasons of secrecy from providing the details of the entire operation, but after 28 hours, the second baby, also a girl, was, thank God, on her way to Israel. The tears of joy and delight of both sets of parents moved all of us.
I have organized many different operations in my life but this one I will not forget as long as I live. I cannot explain the feeling I have when I look back on the events since this past weekend. I was simply overwhelmed. I’m also proud and excited to be part of the United Hatzalah rescue mission helping the refugees from Ukraine however old or young they are.
Aharon Ben-Harush is a United Hatzalah volunteer EMT from Israel. He left his new wife in Jerusalem to work as Deputy Commander of United Hatzalah’s Medical Aid and Humanitarian Relief mission ‘Operation Orange Wings’ on the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.