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  • Speaking to a very troubled Nataliya. Photo: C4I
SOS Ukraine

“I’m not a hero… I do what God asks me to do”

Sara van Oordt - 15 March 2022

The war has been raging in Ukraine for two weeks. On Tuesday evening, Mendel Cohen came to stay with us in Moldova. He is rabbi of Mariupol, a city very heavily affected by the war. The city is surrounded by the Russian army, completely cut off from electricity, water, food and medicine. The inhabitants are trapped like rats.

Mendel feels powerless. Day and night he tries to reach his Jewish community, but it is almost impossible. The situation there is – in a word – terrible. Several times a cease-fire was declared, and then broken again. Mendel traveled to Moldova with a fellow rabbi in desperation. He could not stand by passively without doing anything. Our base of operations is with a Danish couple in Moldova who are also working day and night to evacuate refugees and get relief supplies into Ukraine.


Mission accomplished
It’s Wednesday morning, seven o’clock. It is cold and it has been snowing. Together with the two rabbis, I travel to the Romanian border to pick up Koen. Koen and our volunteer Nick have spent the past 36 hours with 240 Jewish refugees who were in need of a safe shelter. ( There is hardly any shelter left in Moldova, which is why we have to divert to neighboring Romania with such large groups). They accomplished their mission, however the next mission was already there….

After crossing the border relatively quickly, Koen joins us safely in the car. We quickly drive on to the Moldovan-Ukrainian border, where we arrive 90 minutes later. A new group of Jewish refugees will soon be crossing the border here. For now it will be my last time at the border with Ukraine, because I will return to the Netherlands. My colleague Rita Quartel will come and relieve me in Moldova.

Refugee Crisis

Photo: C4I

Back to the border crossing. The place is crowded: many journalists, policemen, residents, refugees and aid workers are here. It is muddy and cold, and every now and then you can hear the air-raid alarm on the other side of the border. A terrible disaster is unfolding on the Ukrainian side of the border, and there is a refugee crisis developing rapidly in Moldova.

At the border crossing, dozens, hundreds, no, thousands of refugees cross the border every day via a bridge over the river (which forms the border between Moldova and Ukraine). Stumbling and exhausted, often carrying only a small suitcase. One woman drags a garbage bag with her, which contains a dirty blanket. Her only possession.

Another person slowly crosses the bridge. I take a closer look and discover that it is my Ukrainian colleague Nataliya. I had hardly recognized her. The normally so vigorous, cheerful and enthusiastic Christians for Israel Aliyah worker from Kiev is hoarse, pale and has a tear-stained face. She is exhausted from the stress and hectic situation.


Heartbreaking

She bursts into tears. Everything comes out: how she risked her life to pick up families in Kiev. The bombings near her home. The craters and devastation along the roads. The heartbreaking stories of those hundreds of refugees. The frustration as some cities are completely isolated. The uncertainty because so many people can’ t be reached. The panic, the worry, the hopelessness. A Dutch journalist that is with us says to Nataliya, “You are a hero,” but her response is, “I am not a hero, I am Nataliya. I do what God asks me to do”. There is silence, because words are out of place.

After a few hours, our Jewish refugees are all safely on the bus. Tonight they will spend the night in the same town where our operating base is. The local church converted a banquet hall into an emergency shelter. A room with mattresses, tables with good food, and some toilets and sinks. Very basic, but a warm and clean place. There are no showers, but no one complains, quite the contrary – because the most important thing right now is safety.

Among our refugees are Grigory and Zinaida, an elderly couple from Bela Tserkov. For years they have been in our sponsorship program for Jewish elderly people in Ukraine. You can see the uncertainty and fear in their eyes: “Where are we going and when? Are we really safe? What will happen to our children?” I decide to call my colleague Anemone, she speaks Russian and knows this couple well. I hand my phone to Grigory. His face brightens. A familiar voice of someone who really cares about him, who encourages and comforts him.

Grigory en Zinaida. Photo: C4I


Communicating with Google Translate
Using Google Translate, I later talk to his wife Zinaida. I say something in English, and my phone translates it into Russian. Hurray for technology! I can tell that they are getting calmer. A hug, a comforting word – these people really need that right now. On the news we read that a children’s hospital in Marioepol was bombed by the Russians. Again an unprecedented cruelty and again so much hurt… when will this stop?

Koen then explains to the group what the plan is for the next few days. If all goes well, these people will arrive in their new homeland, Israel, the day after tomorrow! It is tense time for them, but there is also hope!

The emergency shelter. Photo: C4I


Future
The Dutch journalist who travelled with us, says goodbye to the group of refugees. With tears in his eyes, he concludes, “I wish you ‘shalom’ in Israel. This is also our wish for these precious children of God. People that we as Christians for Israel have cared for for years thanks to your support, and whom we will not abandon in this difficult time.

The Mighty One of Israel will have mercy on His people. God promises in His Word: “I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.” Jeremiah 32:41

We thank you for your prayers and your support. Pray that our team on the ground can continue their work. Pray also for comfort for the thousands of refugees. Thank you for your involvement!

 

 

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