A seemingly average family of four was among the 161 Ukrainian immigrants who landed in Ben Gurion Airport Monday night. Like many aboard the flight, truck driver Alex Krugolov (41), wife Anna (35) and their two sons, Daniel (12) and Michael (5) were fleeing eastern Ukraine, where, since the spring of 2014, they have suffered from clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian nationalist separatists that left over 6,400 dead.
And the clashes are ongoing. Earlier this week, Ukraine’s border guards service says it detained a Russian officer who was driving a truck near rebel-held Donetsk packed with weapons including rocket-propelled grenades, according to Associated Press reports.
Like many, Krugolov’s extended family in Kharkov experienced rocket fire firsthand, when a missile fell upon his parents’ home while his sister and her baby were inside. His sister, protecting the child with her body, suffered serious injuries.
Professionally as well, there were difficulties for Krugolov, a truck driver in Lugansk since 1994, and as his area in eastern Ukraine became increasingly unstable, his company found itself transporting humanitarian aid — and, in one case, humans.
The need for humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine is now dire. According to the Associated Press, Rinat Akmetov, the biggest supplier of aid to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine, says its mission could fold by Wednesday if the rebels’ almost two-week block of its convoys continues.
Early in the war, Krugolov’s trucking company continued working despite almost impossible road conditions to help the citizens in difficult times, he told The Times of Israel on Monday. After an area was bombed, the drivers would come to help transport the survivors and their belongings, and distribute humanitarian aid.
After an intensive rain of rocket fire, Lugansk was without electricity for several days and the city morgue’s vehicles were also out of commission. The dead, in many cases substantially maimed, started piling up. It was Krugolov’s shift when the call came for help.
He says he has witnessed a lot of death by rocket fire. “Being a driver I saw many dead people, many wounded. There was blood in the streets. I cannot tell you how many times I had just left a certain place and then seconds afterwards a bomb fell there,” he said.
But the sight of 137 corpses, covered in garbage bags to be taken for a mass burial, is now indelible for him.
“They were faceless, nameless, and we buried them in huge mass graves. I lost 15 kilograms just from the stress of seeing such things. My sister [from all the burns she suffered] became half a human being. This is what life is like in eastern Ukraine and no one can tell you any different,” he said.
Krugolov and his family are now in Ashdod, where, with the help of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews (IFCJ), which also organized their flight, they are staying in an absorption center and preparing the children for the start of the school year in September.
The IFCJ, largely funded through micro-donations by American evangelical Christians, gives each adult immigrant a $1,000 grant, and $500 for children. The organization says it has also recently created a special “Klitah Fund” to help immigrants with emergent needs.
Krugolov told The Times of Israel that he and his family, active members of the Jewish community, never felt anti-Semitism in Ukraine. His immigration was spurred by the increasing economic instability — he, like many others, including pensioners, hasn’t received a salary for several months, he said.
“The situation in Ukraine and in particular in Lugansk is very complicated, from a moral perspective, and a financial perspective,” he said.