By Vicki Tiferet
Three weeks ago, I flew out of Israel with a pioneer team of United Hatzalah volunteers as part of a delegation to the Moldova-Ukraine border to provide humanitarian aid and medical care for refugees who were displaced by the current war between Russia and Ukraine. I was there for 12 days and then came back to Israel for a week’s break. The entire time I was back in Israel, my heart was pulled in two directions; wanting to stay at home in Israel with my family and my community, but also wanting to go back into action and continue to help the refugees.
Yesterday, I returned to Moldova to once again help the Ukrainian refugees fleeing the inferno. This morning, we are stationed at the Palanca border, greeting the refugees who crossed the border, having left everything behind. Some refugees have family in Israel or other countries and they intend on flying there, but many refugees have no idea where to go and what their future holds.
One family from the city of Kherson told me about their experience in fleeing to the border: “As we were driving towards the southern border crossing near Palanca, we cut through a city that was under attack. At some point, a tank appeared in front of us. Fearfully, we jumped out of the car and ran to the nearby houses to hide.
“Thanks to the lovely family who welcomed us into their home and into safety, we were saved. After about two hours of staying indoors, we went out to check on the vehicle and see if it was still there. It was, and undamaged at that. We hurried inside and managed to arrive safely at the border.”
After hearing the dramatic story, I asked the young mother where she was headed with her children. It was so sad to hear them say, “We do not know. But we are going far, far away from here.” They are fleeing the country without any plan where to go. They are looking for a safe place to stay because safety is all that matters at a time like this and anything is better than being in their homes where missiles can fall on them at any given moment.
These stories of narrow escapes from danger are all too common among the refugees who are mainly women and young children, as the men have to stay behind and fight.
While I was back in Israel last week, the traffic at the borders was only going from Ukraine into Moldova. This week, it has changed to going in both directions, with people leaving and entering both countries.
I took a picture of the line of vehicles that were heading back into Ukraine at the Moldova border. When I asked one of the families why they were going back into the country, into hell, they said that they left family members (grandparents, parents) in Ukraine and they miss them. They are returning to be together again because there are sick and elderly senior citizens who can’t leave their homes. These families are not intending to be separated again, no matter what.
This one family chose to go back to the fear and terror of war because there was no one to take care of their elderly parents, and because the children miss their grandparents who could not come with them out of the country to safety. It was heartbreaking that they were willing to risk their lives just to see their families once again and to reunite with them. They couldn’t wait any longer in safety, knowing that they left their family in Ukraine.
This is the daily reality we are facing at the border now. We help where we can and provide medical treatment to those who need it, and food and lodging to others, but the magnitude of human tragedy that’s taking place is immense. This is war with all its ugly facets, and these people need our help.