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‘Our families were refugees, now innocents suffer again’

‘These people have lost everything’: Israeli medics, supplies head to Ukraine border

40-strong team, 15 tons of aid arrive in Romania on 1st leg of journey to Moldovan field hospitals for refugees fleeing Russian invasion; plane will return to Israel with refugees

  • People fleeing the conflict in Ukraine after crossing the Moldova-Ukraine border checkpoint near the town of Palanca, on March 2, 2022, seven days after Russia's military invasion of Ukraine. (Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP)
    People fleeing the conflict in Ukraine after crossing the Moldova-Ukraine border checkpoint near the town of Palanca, on March 2, 2022, seven days after Russia's military invasion of Ukraine. (Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP)
  • Team from United Hatzalah en route to Moldova, March 3, 2022 (Times of Israel)
    Team from United Hatzalah en route to Moldova, March 3, 2022 (Times of Israel)
  • Humanitarian aid being sent for Ukrainian refugees from Ben Gurion Airport, March 2, 2022 (United Hatzalah of Israel)
    Humanitarian aid being sent for Ukrainian refugees from Ben Gurion Airport, March 2, 2022 (United Hatzalah of Israel)
  • A pile of aid being sent with United Hatzalah to the Moldova-Ukraine border. (Courtesy of United Hatzalah of Israel)
    A pile of aid being sent with United Hatzalah to the Moldova-Ukraine border. (Courtesy of United Hatzalah of Israel)

IASI, Romania — A 40-strong team of medical personnel from Israel’s United Hatzalah organization landed in Romania on Thursday morning on the first leg of their journey to staff three field hospitals on the Moldovan border for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

The team is made up of volunteer EMTs, paramedics and doctors, as well as members of the organization’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, which provides aid in the field for people who are undergoing trauma.

Dr. Einat Kaufman, who is heading up the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, said her team will help anyone who needs their assistance at the border, no matter their nationality.

“These people have lost everything all of a sudden. Their lives, their identities – all in one day,” she said.

“There are so many different layers of trauma that these people can be suffering, and the closer they are to a traumatic event, the more likely they are to suffer from PTSD,” she added, explaining that the psychotrauma team will often be the first volunteers encountered by those in need, sometimes even before they receive care for any physical injuries.

Many of the medics expect to be deployed for around two weeks, but the fast-moving crisis means that some could be away from home for longer.

“When you volunteer in this unit, you know that you always need to be ready with a suitcase,” Kaufman said.

The team from United Hatzalah en route to Moldova, March 3, 2022. (Times of Israel)

Kaufman has volunteered for emergency trauma work for a number of years, but this trip is the first time she is deploying with her daughter, 24-year-old Lynn Rogovski, a medic with the organization.

“For years [my mother] has done this, flying to different places,” Rogovski said. “And finally I can go with her. It’s exciting.”

Miri Shvimmer, another medic working with the trauma unit, said she feels a connection to the refugee crisis due to her own family history.

“Several decades ago it was us,” she said. “It’s disturbing to see it still happening, to innocent people, so it’s important to act.”

“My grandparents were in Auschwitz. We were always told that there were some people who helped, but so many didn’t,” she said. “And by going to help now, it demonstrates that we are a country and a people who come and want to help.”

Dr. Einat Kaufman and her daughter, Lynn Rogovski, part of a United Hatzalah delegation heading to aid Ukrainian refugees in Moldova on March 3, 2022. (Times of Israel)

Shvimmer said she believes that many of those they help will be dealing with emotional trauma after their lives were turned upside down.

“We can help them by giving them strength, help them to feel their feet on the ground again,” Shvimmer said.

Tens of thousands of refugees are crossing the borders from Ukraine on a daily basis into neighboring countries to the west — Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova.

Many arrive at the border with little more than their paperwork and bags they can carry. Some are wounded and others are sick, contributing to a growing humanitarian crisis made worse by the bitter cold.

The specially chartered plane that departed Israel on Thursday also carried 15 tons of humanitarian aid, much of it medical equipment for the field hospitals.

They also shipped food, warm clothing, blankets, heat pads, diapers, formula and feminine hygiene products.

“We’re taking anything we can think of that they could possibly need,” a spokesperson for the aid organization said.

In a move that distinguishes the team from other aid organizations, they are also transporting three Torah scrolls for use by the observant members of their teams on the ground.

One of the Torah scrolls being transported by United Hatzalah for its teams on the ground in Moldova, March 3, 2022. (Times of Israel)

The plane will return to Israel later in the day carrying some 160 refugees with Israeli citizenship back to Israel.

“The complexity of this operation is immense. It involves travel permits, diplomatic relations, and travel between three countries by land and by air,” said Eli Beer, president of United Hatzalah.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the international body’s refugee agency, said Thursday that more than a million people have been made refugees as a result of the fighting in Ukraine, with concerns that the figure could continue to climb exponentially.

The airlift is the latest in a number of deliveries sent from Israel this week to Ukraine and its neighboring countries to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis, with 100 tons sent by the government in three planes on Wednesday.

Officials have said the humanitarian assistance could be widened if necessary, while refusing to send military aid to Ukraine due to Israel’s delicate relationship with Russia over security operations in Syria.

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