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Israeli doctors and medical organizations rally to help Ukrainian refugees

Ukrainian-born Israeli doctor’s attempt to get food and medicine to grandfather trapped in Kharkiv morphs into project to supply medical equipment to hospitals

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: Israeli doctors from LeMa'anam - For Their Sake: Physicians for Holocaust Survivors - give medical assistance to a Jewish Ukrainian who fled a war zone in Ukraine, at an emergency shelter in Chisinau, Moldova, March 13, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli doctors from LeMa'anam - For Their Sake: Physicians for Holocaust Survivors - give medical assistance to a Jewish Ukrainian who fled a war zone in Ukraine, at an emergency shelter in Chisinau, Moldova, March 13, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)

CHISINAU, Moldova — Determined to send food and medicine to her 87-year-old grandfather, who is stuck in the city of Kharkiv, an Israeli eye doctor from Ashdod has joined up with other volunteers to deliver sorely needed supplies to hospitals in Ukraine.

Dr. Katrina Kiroshka immigrated to Israel from Kharkiv in 2014, as part of the Masa Doctors program, a joint project of Rambam Hospital, Haifa, and Israel Experience, an educational subsidiary of the Jewish Agency. She is currently undergoing specialist training in the eye department of Barzilai Hospital in the southern city of Ashkelon.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been under a constant barrage of Russian bombs and shells.

Having failed to locate medicine in Kharkiv by herself, she turned to city hospitals, only to find that they too were running short. She asked the hospitals to send lists of what they needed and then raised funds from friends to buy the drugs in Poland.

These were transferred to volunteers on the Polish-Ukrainian border who took them on to Kharkiv.

“In the beginning of the war, most of the requests were for medicines that were missing,” said Roman Rosengurt, an Israeli who has lived in Ukraine for the past few years, and who, after getting his family out of the war-torn country, has been helping Kiroshka to get the drugs and other items to where they are needed.

Trainee eye specialist Dr. Katrina Kiroshka. (courtesy)

Rosengurt and others collect the medicine, food, and clothing at the border, close to Lviv, and load it onto buses returning to Kharkiv, after the refugees the buses have brought have disembarked.

The buses are driven by Sergei Gromov, an Israeli who arrived in Kharkiv just before Russia invaded the country.

This week, Kiroshka finally got the medicine and food to her grandfather, “in the hope that they will last him until the end of the war,” she said.

She and her friends have now set up a nonprofit organization called Israeli Friends of Ukraine.

Roman Rosengurt in Lviv, Ukraine, with some of the medical equipment. (courtesy)

“Our campaign to raise donations from friends will not be enough in the long run,” she said. “The drugs and other items cost money, transportation is very expensive and the pace of requests is only increasing, day by day.”

Kiroshka is one of many Israelis from the medical field who are trying to help Ukrainians caught in, or fleeing from, the war.

Dr. Yelena Katzman, who left the Ukrainian city of Sumy two decades ago, is a family doctor and director of a Clalit health fund clinic in the central Israeli town of Shoham. Katzman dropped everything to fly out to Moldova and is helping at a central hub in Chisinau to which refugee buses are brought as soon as they enter the city.

Katzman immigrated to Israel from Sumy 20 years ago and was helping to translate and talk to the newcomers. “It’s not just about medical care,” she said.  “People just want to talk. They just want you to look them in the eye.”

Katzman flew to Moldova with five members of Brothers for Life, an organization of former IDF soldiers injured during military service who reach out to others going through difficulties. “These are people suffering from post-traumatic syndrome who have come to help,” she said. “Each one has his own remarkable story.”

Ukrainians who want to go to Israel raise their hands at the hub in Chisinau, Moldova. The hub, established by the Moldova Jewish Community and the Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, is the first point to which refugees come after reaching the Moldovan capital. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

A Russian-born Israeli psychologist, who would not give his name, was also at the hub, dealing with “lots of psychotrauma,” he said.

“The people coming here have seen their homes destroyed, people being killed. They’ve been on the road for hours, if not days. The hub is the first place where they feel any measure of safety. But they feel like they’ve lost everything, are now homeless, and have become pathetic individuals to be cared for. There’s a loss of self-respect.”

Volunteers in Chisinau, Moldova, from United Hatzalah, a Jerusalem-based emergency medical services organization. From right: Dr. Lior Bracha, Idan James, Jacob Krygier, and translator Sofia Shevchenko.

Dr. Lior Bracha, from Kadima-Tzoran, near Netanya on the central coast, was one of two family doctors volunteering with Israel United Hatzalah, one of the first organizations to reach Moldova after the war broke out.

Among those with him were Idan James, a farmer from Kibbutz Sa’ad in the Negev Desert in Israel’s south, and Jacob Krygier, who immigrated to Israel from Canada four years ago.

The organization helped fly Israelis and Ukrainians with close relatives in Israel to the Jewish state.

Also in Moldova was a delegation of doctors who volunteer for the organization For Their Sake: Physicians for Holocaust Survivors, and one of medical clowns from Dream Doctors.

A list of other Israeli organizations helping Ukrainian refugees can be found here.

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