On Wednesday morning, a small miracle took place in the middle of a refugee center in Chisinau, Moldova. A disabled Jewish man had made his way across the Ukrainian border thanks to the help he received from his ex-wife, who is not Jewish. The pair were being housed in a makeshift refugee center that had been set up in a building that was used as a printing house prior to the outbreak of the war.
The local Jewish community had converted the building to serve as a place for Jewish refugees to have temporary lodging allowing them to recuperate from their journey inside Ukraine and across the border. Most of the refugees spend a few days there but then move on to other locations. Some were headed to Germany, some to Austria, one was even headed to Canada, and a few wanted to go to Israel. As happens in many refugee centers, some of the refugees were unsure of where to go and were hoping that the war would simply end so that they could go back home. But there was one pair of people who were stuck and who could not go to their desired destination, Israel.
Israel has an open immigration policy for all Israeli citizens, anyone who qualifies under the law-of-return, and currently, anyone who has a first-degree relative living in Israel. However, people who do not qualify under the law-of-return and do not have a first-degree relative living in Israel suffer difficulties in gaining the appropriate paperwork allowing them to enter the country.
As part of their daily rounds, United Hatzalah volunteers who are providing medical care and humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees in Moldova visited the ‘printing house’ refugee center on Wednesday, the Fast of Esther. The team treated close to a dozen people for a variety of medical conditions including urinary infections, high blood pressure, an untreated leg injury, and a variety of others.
A staff member from Tikkun Olam Makers, Yael Rogers, who had accompanied the United Hatzalah delegation noticed the pair, a man with disabilities and a woman taking care of him lying on beds near the back wall. She brought one of the United Hatzalah EMTs, team leader Shai Reitzes, and approached the pair to inquire as to their wellbeing. Via a translator who was accompanying the group, Yael and Shai discovered that the pair had fled from Kyiv and that the man Mykola, was Jewish, and the woman, Olena, his ex-wife was not Jewish.
Mykola had previously lived in Israel and left the country several years ago in order to have a complicated medical procedure done in Ukraine. After the procedure, he stayed in Ukraine for follow-up care and was still there when the war broke out. Olena is caring for Mykola and saved his life by bringing him out of Kyiv and across the border to Moldova. Mykola cannot go anywhere without Olena as he is disabled as a result of the procedure and cannot care for himself. However, Olena does not have a first-degree relation living in Israel, and thus, was facing a lot of difficulties trying to immigrate. The staff at the refugee center was trying to help but getting caught in red tape and not making progress.
Accompanying the United Hatzalah team was Meretz Chairperson MK Michal Rozin who came to Moldova in order to see what is happening to the refugees and what help they needed. When she heard about the pair’s situation, she quickly took action, and together with her parliamentary advisor, Meital Arbel, contacted the office of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. In partnership with the Interior Ministry and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, Olena was granted permission to enter Israel and all of her paperwork was completed in less than an hour.
“I don’t understand how a Jewish person with family in Israel can be denied access to come home. I won’t stand for it, and I wish to thank all those who helped make this possible, Minister Shaked’s office, Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, Tikkun Olam Makers, and United Hatzalah for their efforts to bring this man and his relative home,” MK Rozin said.
The issue was done with such speed in order to allow Olena and Mykola to board United Hatzalah’s rescue flight that took off from Chisinau, Moldova, on Thursday morning and brought them, together with another 100 Ukrainian refugees, to Ben Gurion airport in Israel as part of Operation Orange Wings.
Thanks to the incredible teamwork, the couple was suddenly no longer stuck and had a place of refuge and a free flight to help them get there. Natasha, the person in charge of the refugee center on behalf of the Jewish community of Chisinau who had been working to try to get Olena and Mykola permission to travel to Israel was shocked at the turn of events.
“What happened here was nothing short of a miracle, just one of the many that have taken place since Operation Orange Wings began three weeks ago,” Shai said after the family had received all of the appropriate permits.
Daniella Markizano, a doctor (family physician) who volunteers with United Hatzalah provided a full checkup to Mykola at the center and verified that he was able to fly. She then asked about his family and found out that Mykola has a daughter who is currently serving in the Israeli military. In order to make sure that she would be released from her base in time to meet her father at the airport on Thursday afternoon, the team put in a call to a high-ranking IDF officer and made sure that she would be granted leave for the weekend.
“It was truly moving for me to have had a hand in making this happen, and when I spoke to Mykola’s daughter on the phone, we both broke out into tears,” Daniella said. “There is no choice during moments like this, you either cry, or you cry. A family will be made whole again thanks to the efforts that took place here today, where so many others have been broken up because of the war. We have taken part in a miracle today. I am proud to be here and helping these people at this dire time.”
The meeting at the airport which took place on Thursday evening was filled with tears of joy for all involved. A member from United Hatzalah, as well as Yael, Meital, and Michal herself accompanied Mykola and Olena throughout the plane ride and up until the exit gate of the airport where they met with Mykola’s daughter Marina. The family shared hugs, smiles, and tears with the team who helped Mykolan and Olena leave a refugee camp and bring them home to be reunited with Marina. Mk Rozin and her office arranged for a taxi to take Mykola and Olena to a hotel where they will be staying for the next few weeks while they get their lives in order here in Israel.