Photo Credit: courtesy, United Hatzalah
Chief Rabbi of Moldova, Rabbi Pinches Zaltzman, coordinate with United Hatzalah teams.

The flood of humanity trudging across Ukraine’s border to Moldova is moving at a painfully slow rate.

Thousands of mothers, children, elderly people, those who are sick or disabled, all must move with the flow to avoid the danger of being trampled.


It can take between two and three days to make it across the border from Ukraine to Moldova, according to United Hatzalah EMT Ken Staub, who spoke with on Monday evening about what he has seen since arriving in Moldova last Thursday.

United Hatzlah team member Sandra (L) with Miri Shwimmer and a Ukrainian child in Kishinev.

Combine this with the freezing cold temperatures – below zero Celsius – and it’s no surprise that some refugees require medical care when they finally arrive in Moldova.

Staub says he saw “a few thousand” people at the border when he was deployed there this past Shabbat.

‘You Cannot Sit Down’
“The mother of one 12-year-old girl who had just crossed the border came to our team in tears,” Staub relates. “She could not feel her legs.” The United Hatzalah team who treated the child discovered her legs had lost all feeling because she was forced to stand for 24 hours as the line crawled across the border.

“You cannot sit down,” Staub explained. “You have to be up, because if you aren’t, you will be trampled by the people behind you. It’s like coming out of a Coliseum after a sporting event.”

Staub describes the situation as “organized chaos,” pointing out that “everyone is trying to help.”

There are more than enough refugees in desperate need of that help, including many Hebrew-speakers, Staub says. “We help everyone. It doesn’t matter,” he adds.

Kindness is Key
Staub is usually with a Russian translator, but he doesn’t require language to see what’s happening. Above all, the refugees are exhausted, he says.

“I think they have come to grips with the fact they had to get out of there, but they’re not sure what’s coming next.

“The kindness we can show them – whether giving them a chocolate bar, or games for the kids – I think it really helps the situation. It is something that I think turns on a spark in them,” he says.

Team Members Hold Back Tears
That’s not to say that the volunteers are not themselves facing real emotional stress. “The things we see, they make you want to cry, but if you do that you cannot help anyone,” Staub points out.

The United Hatzalah teams change their tasks each day, “so that people won’t get burned out,” he says. “We feed ourselves, we make our own breakfast – we prepared more than 2,000 meals this morning for the refugees at the hotels and near the border. But we probably won’t eat tonight until 9 or 10 pm,” he says.

Chief Rabbi of Moldova, Rabbi Pinches Zaltzman, coordinate with United Hatzalah teams.

Much of the nuts-and-bolts meal coordination is being carried out by Chief Rabbi of Moldova, Rabbi Pinches Zalzman.

What They’re Doing
The current UH delegation is comprised of 55 medical professionals, divided into six teams of five medics each, plus others who work in operations, various administrative assignments and fielding phone calls. The group, all volunteers, includes doctors, paramedics, psychotrauma responders, a dentist, and EMTs.

They help the refugees staying in the local Agudath Israel synagogue, and in numerous hotels, as well as at the two border crossings, one in the north and one in the south, a 3.5-hour drive and 2.5-hour drive from where the volunteers are staying.

Part of their efforts also involve arranging flights for the Jewish refugees and others who are eligible to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible.

The teams rotate their tasks between preparing meals, attending local medical calls, serving in a small field hospital set up by United Hatzalah and providing humanitarian and emergency medical care at the border.

Preparing for Shabbat is just part of the day’s work.

“There are a lot of religious people coming over,” he comments, but notes there is little difference between the Jews and gentiles when it comes to addressing their needs.

Supplies Going Fast
Although 10 tons of supplies were delivered to the teams on Thursday, they are already nearly gone. Another 100 tons of supplies are expected sometime this week.

Some of the supplies needed to provide aid to refugees from Ukraine when they reach Moldova.

Up to this point, those supplies had to be brought via a five-hour drive from Romania, because planes are not allowed to land in Moldova. Staub says the Moldova government may allow ELAL planes to land, however, which will cut the travel time for those supplies by several hours.

“The Moldova government has seen the way we work, and as a result has made us the coordinating organization for the humanitarian supplies coming in,” Staub comments.

Exhausting But Fulfilling Work
The hotels are packed, he adds. “There are tons of hotels, but they are all fully booked by NGOs and people coming across the border,” he says.

His own day, and that of his teammates, is packed as well, starting at 7 am and running straight through to midnight, sometimes later.

“We’re all exhausted,” Staub says, but adds that he feels “fine” other than the fact that his feet hurt from standing so much. On Sunday, for instance, the medic says he “did 17,000 steps.”

Nevertheless, Staub says he is glad to be taking part in such an important operation. “There is a comradery among us,” he notes. “We are all volunteers.

“I am just so honored to be part of the team.”


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.