My name is Vicky Tiferet, on Saturday I left behind my children, my husband, my clients, and I embarked on a journey into the unknown to help people who I don’t know in a land I have never been to. I journeyed with United Hatzalah volunteers to Moldova to assist Ukrainian refugees who are escaping the ravages of war. I didn’t know many of these fellow volunteers who came from all over the country. Some of them left very pregnant wives behind in order to go and help.
In a matter of minutes, we bonded over our joint cause and we became each other’s families for the next while. We don’t even know when we will be back, so we have to have each other’s backs.
We have slept very little since we landed and the work is tiring and filled with challenges, but we persevere because it is incredibly important. We try to keep each other’s spirits up and we have regular debrief sessions to check in with one another and make sure that we are okay, so that we can better help those who need us.
People have been incredibly thankful that we are here. We were the first international relief team to arrive in the area. Refugees who are staying in the community have opened their hearts to us and are constantly sharing their stories of what they have left behind.
I know a little bit about this as I myself left Kyiv 31 years ago, (1991) with little more than three suitcases and my parents. Most of these people have even less than that. For me, there is a sense of closure in being here and seeing these people. It brings back a lot of memories for me. When I left it wasn’t because of a war, but because we were immigrating to Israel after the Soviet Union dissolved. Still, it was an upheaval of sorts. I find that because of my experience I am throwing myself into helping these people with full force. No one should have to go through what they have experienced.
I spent the first day with our team assisting refugees near the Mogilev border crossing. One of the people we met and treated was a man who had been suffering from shock. He has a recurring condition that involves panic attacks. The man told us that he had driven for four days straight with his family to escape Ukraine and that they had a nine-month-old infant with them. They were scared because they weren’t sure whether they would make it out alive or whether they would be killed on the way. He told us that during the trip he was also scared that the baby wouldn’t be healthy or would not be able to have enough food. They thankfully made it to the border with Moldova and were staying near the border at Palanca.
When he heard that there was a medical and humanitarian team here he left the room that his family was staying in and came to see us in order to get a medical checkup. There wasn’t anywhere else that he could get checked out and he was worried that he may be suffering a heart attack. ‘Everyone is talking about you here,’ he told me. ‘The whole place knows about the orange medical team that has come from Israel to help.’
I was shocked to hear this. We have only been here for two days now and word has gotten out. We gave him a thorough exam including connecting him to a heart monitor and we found that he was thankfully in good health. He had been suffering from a prolonged panic attack. I utilized some techniques that we employ as part of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit and I got him to relax a bit. I taught him how to employ these techniques himself so that if he ever felt that his panic attack would come back he would be able to calm himself down.
Later in the day, as one of the families passed through the gates of the border crossing a young boy from the family ran up to me and gave me a big hug. We hadn’t even exchanged a word but he thanked me for being there for him and his family. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t cry.
On Monday night, we heard air raid sirens coming from the Ukrainian side of the border. People at the crossing were scared and we weren’t sure if it was because of a bombing or a curfew. We couldn’t know what was happening on the other side, but we were able to help those who were passing through the border to Moldova. We provided food, medical treatment, and a sense of humanity amid the chaos. War can cause people to forget their own worth and their own humanity. We are here to return to these people a small sense of that. We are here to tell them, that they are important to us and that traveled from a different country just to be here for them, to help them because they are important to us. They are important to me. That message is one that we are continuing to send as we treat now hundreds of refugees among the thousands who have come across the border in the two days since we have arrived.
Vicky Tiferet is a United Hatzalah volunteer EMT and a member of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, she lives in Moshav Yuval in northern Israel with he husband and four children. During normal times, she is a massage therapist and serves as the United Hatzalah chapter head of the Emek HaHula region of the country.
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