Israelis of Ukrainian origin are selling their belongings in order to be able to send money to their brethren in Ukraine, according to an active member of the community.
“I have friends in Israel who have started to sell their paintings to make money to send to orphanages there, and are asking others to sell their belongings to raise money,” said Sonja, who asked to speak to The Times of Israel under an assumed name.
“Everyone in my circle is doing something. Some are writing about it. There are lots of initiatives to collect money to send for medicines, clothes for children — all sorts of basic things to help people there who can’t leave because of lots of reasons.”
Sonja, who immigrated to Israel from Odesa in the late 1980s, went on, “Everyone that I speak to is on the Ukrainian side. We feel it physically. I feel as if they’ve taken one of my arms. I’m crying. I’m remembering my childhood and all the places I knew. It’s as if I can smell them.”
She continued, “In Israel, we all went to the army. We understand what military activity is. There, it’s different. Many of the women, certainly, have no experience.”
“In Israel, there are bomb shelters and everything is organized,” she added. “It’s part of your life. In Ukraine, they haven’t been building bomb shelters since 1945. You don’t understand where to flee to.”
“People go down to basements which are usually not organized. Or they go into the metro,” she continued. “I have friends who just left their home and found a piece of ground, having calculated where buildings were most unlikely to fall on them. Nobody was ready.”
Sonja described the war as “a biblical tragedy. It’s Cain and Abel. It’s one brother with more strength against a brother with less. I cannot believe that I’m living in a world where this sort of thing can happen.”
“My heart is there not only because I was born in Odesa,” Sonja said. “I think Ukrainians are fighting for the whole of Europe, with great heroism.”
She noted that you cannot “compare the Russian capability with the Ukrainian one. But who would have believed that the Maccabees could triumph [Jewish rebels who overcame the ancient Greeks to establish the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 167 BCE to 37 BCE] or that Israel could win the War of Independence or the Six Day War?”
Sonja, who took part in a protest against the invasion in Tel Aviv on Saturday, is in constant contact with friends under fire.
“I know families who have stayed there because their menfolk have gone to fight,” she said. “I’m so proud of my Jewish friends who are ready to take action and protect their homes. I hear and sense the patriotism. Without going into politics, there’s a moment in which people there really feel that they are responsible for defending their independent country, no less than that.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, too, is a source of pride, she added. “In the moment of truth, he has seized the opportunity that history has given him in a very heroic way.”
Except for a third cousin, who has gone to fight, Sonja only has distant family remaining in Ukraine, with whom she had not been in touch. Now, she has reached out to tell them that they can use her address if they want to come to Israel.
“I feel that I’m talking with Odesa. I see pictures. I’m almost physically feeling pain,” she said. “But there’s national pride, there is a feeling of justice, and I believe we will see the sun rising again.”