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Meet Women Volunteers in Moldova on International Women’s Day
March 8th marks Women’s Day, a celebration of strong women throughout the world. This post is dedicated to United Hatzalah volunteers serving Operation Orange Wings and stationed in Moldova. Your friends in Israel are inspired by the dedication, passion, and risks taken to save lives around the world. To give more insight on the women leaving their spouses, children, and homes, we welcome you to read about their experiences with the war taking over news headlines.
Miri Shvimmer is a 33-year-old paramedic who is in medical school at Ariel University. Despite her having to miss a lot of classes (and she’ll need to make it all up when she returns to Israel), she decided to join the second group of volunteers who left for Moldova on March 3rd, 2022.
When she arrived in Moldova, the first thing she did was escort 170 refugees onto the plane she just walked off of to bring them to Israel. After sending them off, she was eager to start unpacking the 50 tons of luggage that were transported to Moldova from Israel with all the medical equipment and much-needed humanitarian aid. She soon found out there were issues with customs so the suitcases were delayed. In the meantime, she started walking around seeing who she could help.
She came across a mother and daughter who both seemed very distraught. The mother looked distant from her surroundings and was making it clear to people around her that she didn’t want help. But, Miri realized that she actually did need support and approached her gently. They could not communicate with one another, but somehow Miri figured out that the daughter was autistic and that they were not eating because they were unsure if the food was Kosher. Miri assured her that all the food was Kosher and that the volunteers were all from Israel. What was truly difficult for Miri to experience was that this mother was clearly not used to being in need. She is a very independent woman and felt uncomfortable being dependent on others for help. Miri was heartbroken to see distinguished and accomplished people having such a hard time. They are being forced into vulnerability and having to ask for the most basic human needs such as food, shelter, and warmth. Miri explained to the woman as best as she could that United Hatzalah was there to help and she had nothing to be embarrassed about or apologize for. This situation is no one’s fault.
Miri treated people with diabetes, heart failure, severe asthma attacks, and hypertension. In addition, she helped people who were having panic attacks and general weakness from lack of food and water, combined with exhaustion, and stress from extensive travel in freezing weather. Miri, however, quickly realized her skills as a paramedic were not as needed as much as she thought. The real need, she found, had to do with the emotional trauma people were experiencing. More than IVs and bandages, the refugees needed reassuring words and hugs. More than once, Miri stated the atmosphere was not so much the energy of charity but more of a feeling that mirrored “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh l’Zeh”– that Jews show up for each other when in need. Period.
Yesterday, she was at the northern border and treated two people who were injured in a missile strike; a 19-year-old boy and his mother, a 44-year-old woman. They were both on the 19th floor of a building when it was struck by a missile. The boy was severely hurt and had a spinal injury and the woman had a broken leg. Miri treated them both and mobilized them for transport.
Today, Miri witnessed a miracle with her own eyes. She met a young family on the border. Danny was trying to cross the border with his pregnant wife Malka and their two young children. According to the law, he should have been held in Ukraine to fight and to defend his country. However, United Hatzalah called the Israel consulate to help plead for his case. Danny had Israeli citizenship, but his Israeli passport was five years expired. With the help of the consulate, a little bribing of the guards, and a lot of sweet-talking, Danny was allowed to cross the border and headed onto an El-Al plane with United Hatzalah’s Operation Orange Wings on the way to his true home – Israel. Watching Danny walk away from the Ukrainian police was a moment that Miri will never forget!
Miri had to get special permission from Ariel University to be on this mission but she feels that it is so important, especially as a granddaughter of Hungarian Auschwitz survivors. She feels she is doing for others what she wishes people had done for her grandparents. Although it may seem small, she knows that she is part of something historical and monumental.
Dr. Einat Kaufman
Dr. Einat Kaufman has a Ph.D. in psychology and is an expert in anxiety, trauma, and bereavement. She has a private practice in Rishon Letzion and is also the head of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma Crisis and Response Unit.
Einat left for Moldova together with her daughter Lynn on March 3rd, 2022 to join the United Hatzalah delegation helping the Ukrainian refugees. Her first day was deeply emotional and incredibly exhausting, and her first thoughts were: this feels like the Holocaust.
The first thought that struck her was how these families had to leave everything behind in their homes and only take what they could carry over the border. And for those that were going to Israel, they could only take 20 kilos on the plane! That means that they had to leave so many of their possessions behind. Einat kept thinking what if she had to leave her home and only take 20 kilos in a suitcase- what would she grab? The thought was haunting.
Later on Einat’s first day, she was still at the airport when she saw a woman holding a 2-year-old toddler who came running up to her and said, “She is not my child!”. It was a terrifying experience for Einat to be responsible for a lost child. The two-year-old had fallen asleep and when she woke up, she was all alone. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and no one could communicate with her or calm her down. Luckily, hugs and the language of love (along with some chocolate and candies) helped relax her a bit. Einat was doing everything she could to locate this little girl’s family when her sister came running “There you are!”…and the child was reunited with her family!
“I felt like I stepped into the 1940’s,” said Einat. “It’s freezing cold, and when we got to our hotel that was built in the 40s (and has not been touched up since), there were no heaters, and the blankets hadn’t arrived yet from the shipment that was sent with us from Israel. Shivering, I realized how painful this situation was and how big of a story was unfolding in front of my eyes.”
Nevertheless, she continued helping where she could. Soon Einat met Rachel, with her 23-year-old daughter who has CP, and had run away together from Odessa. They had been spending their days in the Chabad house of Moldova without anything to do, then going back to the “hotel” at night to sleep. They arrived freezing, hungry, tired, traumatized, and felt simply lost; they had no idea what to do next. “Sitting with Rachel today, I just couldn’t believe the trials these people were facing about their unknown futures,” said Einat.
Yesterday, Einat met 3 sisters traveling without their husbands because they were not allowed over the border (men in Ukraine that are of age and eligible to fight in the army are not being allowed to leave the country. Most of the women and children crossing the border were arriving without their husbands and fathers). These 3 women arrived at United Hatzalah’s makeshift hospital center, cold, exhausted, and with soaking wet shoes. One sister held a 1-month-old baby who was crying because the mother had not eaten and therefore was not producing enough milk for her baby. The mother needed formula, diapers, and sanitary pads. All three sisters were dirty and hadn’t changed their clothes for days. A lot of their traveling had been walking in the snow in below zero degrees. Another sister had a 2-year-old that she had been carrying. They all needed food, socks, blankets, and they were in such deep physical and emotional pain. They arrived talking about how they needed to get to Romania because they have an aunt there who could help them. They had nothing, and Einat helped these sisters and the babies in every way possible.
In another situation, Einat was standing by the northern border when she came across a family with a 13-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy. The mother told Einat that she also has an 18-year-old son who was not allowed to cross the border and she had taken her younger two children and left her husband and son back in Ukraine. The 5-year-old looked so upset, and only when he was handed some candies and bubbles did he start to smile. The mother was distraught and Einat used all her psychotrauma skills to help the mother cope with this enormous challenge.
Einat has a full-time practice and needs to come back to Israel, but she is in touch with all her psychotrauma volunteers on the ground and is directing and supervising all the work that is being done in Moldova.
Linor Attias is 41-years-old, a single mother of two girls (12 and 10), and Director of Friends of United Hatzalah Fundraising in Israel.
She has been a medic for almost three years. Linor was in the first group of 15 medics to arrive in Moldova on February 24th, 2022. She did the initial assessments of what was needed to start the mission’s purpose: treat the emotional and physical needs of the refugees. She has been treating people around the clock for the past 13 days while also playing the role of official spokeswoman.
Linor has been one of the few people to have shown emotion of what she is experiencing- both on camera and with her written words. She has been one of the leaders of the operation and her work has given her great meaning and a strong sense of purpose in leading the delegation and liaising between governments for Operation Orange Wings.
One remarkable story that Linor shared was her special connection with a 90-year-old woman named Raisa. Raisa is a Holocaust survivor who has difficulty walking, and she was living on her own in Odessa. Her son passed away two years ago due to illness and her only remaining family was three granddaughters, all of whom live in Israel.
Linor soon heard her story. When the fighting broke out and people started to leave the city, Raisa’s granddaughters reached out to United Hatzalah and asked them to help save their grandmother’s life. Rabbi Hillel Cohen, Director of United Hatzalah in Ukraine, arranged for an ambulance to bring her to the Moldovan border where she met Linor. When Raisa told her story to Linor and explained how she had been traveling for days, Linor made sure all her needs were met, physically and emotionally.
Linor brought Raisa food and clothing and checked her medical status. The following day, she was brought to a shelter in Chisinau run by the local Jewish community. Early the next morning, together with 170 other Ukrainian refugees, she boarded a flight to come back home to Israel to be reunited with her granddaughters.
Linor also became friends with Shmulik, a 6-year-old boy. When Linor first met Shmulik, he had been holding on to his mother’s leg tightly for the past 2 days, struggling with extreme panic and anxiety. After quickly befriending Shmulik with gifts and treats, he agreed to be Linor’s “assistant,” and his mother was finally able to get some sleep after days of traveling.
Another story that caused Linor to get all choked up was when 72-year-old Yodmila told Linor that she was having chest pains, and it turned out she had a condition that required immediate treatment. With the help of a local ambulance, Linor began immediate treatment that prevented an impending heart attack.
It has not been easy for Linor to leave her kids at home and work around the clock doing three full-time jobs: being a medic in the hospital, organizing the operation while being a delegation leader, and being the official United Hatzalah spokesperson. She has barely slept and is truly exhausted – but there is still work to be done, so she is not ready to come back just yet.
These three extraordinary women are just a sampling of those stationed in Moldova and bring their strengths to support Israeli civilians as well. They are our fierce, woman warriors. There is no better way to honor them than with this special post on Women’s Day. We hope our readers will reach out to us with your special stories and how United Hatzalah has inspired you by hearing, reading, or witnessing our efforts.
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