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Helping Ukrainian Refugees Through The Present Into An Uncertain Future
When you arrive on the border of a war zone, you expect to be doing a certain kind of work. Dealign with refugees, helping people who have lost everything cope at the border as they say goodbye to their homeland and family members who had to stay behind, etc… One could understand my personal frustration when on my second day there I was assigned to be the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit member in charge of the logistical headquarters of United Hatzalah in Chisinau, rather than being sent to one of the border crossings.
The headquarters is one of the four synagogues in the city and currently it is being used as a refugee center, where countless refugees, of all faiths and creeds, are being housed, fed, and cared for, by the local community and United Hatzalah volunteers. The refugees stay here until they either fly to Israel on one of United Hatzalah’s planes as part of Operation Orange Wings, or move on to their next destination on their own, or with another organized group. They are safe and free from bombings, but the conditions are not easy for anyone. They are tired, they are cramped, and they need a break.
So I decided to do what I do best, chat with people. Somewhere between my Hebrew and English and their Russian and Ukrainian, we find a way – because human is human.
I am a therapist by profession and that says two things about me, first, I often hear sad stories, and second I look for places where I can help repair or heal.
And yet… what do you say to a 15-year-old girl who has lost her home, said goodbye to her father, is living essentially on a random mattress in an overcrowded room with one small bag, waiting for a train to Germany? She wasn’t even sure if she was headed there or not. Her future was so uncertain. The girl is grateful for the “Jewish” who have given her where to be and yet she cries every time we offer her a blanket or food.
School? Friends? Home? These are things that belong to some other life that is no longer hers. Three weeks ago, these were part of her routine, like most other teenagers. Now they are gone.
The elderly? I don’t even know where to begin. They are fragile and frail and at a stage of life in which becoming a refugee overnight is still a reality they cannot contain. Eyes brim red with tears barely held at bay. Theirs is a grief that has nowhere to go. It’s hard for me to look into their eyes and begin to understand what they are going through, some of them for the second time in their lives, with echoes of the first bringing up horrific memories of the Holocaust and Second World War.
There is Lara with her son Kirrel, they are not Jewish and don’t want to go to Israel. They are trying to wait out the war so they can go home. They have little money. We have no idea how she got to the synagogue – but they are here and Lara volunteers in the kitchen “to pay her way” even though no one is required to pay anything, she feels that she needs to help out and do her part. Kirell is super cute and super bored – so the United Hatzalah team members try and play soccer with him and the inadequate ball that is here. Lara confides In me that she can’t find shoes for Kirell, even though we have a room full of donated clothes – nothing is his shoe size. He has blisters on his feet.
I slip her some cash, she refuses 3 times… only when I explain to her that she can pay it forward does she concede… She has difficulty making eye contact for the rest of the day.
And then there is Iryna – in the world of crazy Jewish Geography she is moving to my city, her uncle lives 3 streets away from my home. She is a doctor of psychology, comes from an upper-class family in Ukraine, and is traveling with her 10-year-old twin girls. She is unable to speak about her beloved husband whom she was forced to leave behind, like so many other refugees, just the women and children made it out as the men were forced to stay and fight.
She is so grateful that they have beds even if they are in the dining room. We become instant friends – she is funky as anything and a rockstar, by the end of the day she is using her English and Ukrainian to help almost everyone around. I message my Israeli friends – she cries when I tell her there is a tribe waiting to meet her. I see them onto the bus the next day, we hug and cry… “I’ll see you in Israel, your people are waiting for you,” I tell her during our tearful departure.
I didn’t realize that the border here is just a mid-way point through the story of life the likes of which should not befall any human being.
Yesterday, my second day here, wasn’t something to be angry about, but rather it was a privilege. A privilege that I have been given wherein I could offer some help to people going through the worst that life has to throw at them. Yesterday, a smile or a warm word from me – was met with such gratitude from those who need kindness so much. Yet I was keenly aware of my endless tears and the frustration that I couldn’t repair or heal all of their wounds. I barely touched the tip of the iceberg of the tragedy which these people are facing. But it was something.
To support United Hatzalah’s efforts in Moldova for Ukrainian refugees please click here.