• Valeria left for Israel with her three-month-old daughter Sofia. There, she was reunited with her parents-in-law, who also fled. Her husband had to stay behind in Ukraine. | Photo: C4I

Update from Ukraine: A year of war

Koen Carlier - 24 February 2023

The date 24 February 2022 is etched in Ukraine’s collective memory. What no one actually thought possible happened anyway. ‘Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine early in the morning on Thursday 24 February, with which it had been at odds since 2014’.

Let me take you back to a year ago. On 21 February 2022, we gathered with all the staff of Christians for Israel Ukraine in our newly decorated large shelter. We had a time of prayer and went over all the dots again, just in case. After all, we had been making all kinds of preparations since November 2021. Our motto back then was: We pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.

A few days after our meeting, the nightmare became a reality. We were vigilant and on edge.The first panic phone calls, the first refugees pleading with us for help, the evacuation buses going day and night to pick up families on the run…. The 12 volunteers in the large kitchen worked day and night, and our three large shelters were soon completely full. Refugees could stay there for a day or two before being taken to Moldova and Romania (and eventually Israel).

Our main concern was eastern Ukraine, especially the city of Mariupol. We did what we could, in cooperation with Rabbi Mendel, with whom we have maintained good relations for years. However, the bombings were so intense and the devastation so great, that the situation became untenable and unsafe. Those who could get away fled, even on foot, but for many it was already too late by then. They took shelter in the huge basement of the large theatre building in the city centre, but that building too was razed to the ground. An elderly Jewish couple that was also hiding in that basement made it out alive and eventually ended up in our shelter via long diversions and shortcuts. Totally traumatised. Eventually, they too were flown to Israel via Moldova.

The war clearly left its mark in Ukraine.

We evacuated thousands of Jews – especially mothers, children, the elderly (blind and deaf) and Holocaust survivors – and brought them to Israel via neighbouring countries. It was a sad, terrible, but also historic year in terms of the return of Ukrainian Jews to Israel. In 2022, as many as 15,213 Jews from Ukraine literally experienced the Scripture ‘Flee from the land of the north, up to Zion’.

A sad but also special story
In April last year, Michael and his wife Elena fled Mariupol and arrived at our shelter. They had only two plastic bags with them. It was all they could have gathered in a few minutes. With our large evacuation bus, we brought them and many others to the border with Moldova. There, all the refugees crossed the border on foot over a long bridge before boarding another evacuation bus towards Kishenov, the capital of Moldova.

Michael and Elena just after they fled Mariupol, with all their belongings in two bags. | Photo: C4I

Valeria and her baby
On 1 February this year, we brought the young lady Valeria with her three-month-old baby Sofia from Kiev to Moldova. A few days ago, we received a special photo. What we did not know then is that Valeria had fled to Kiev from Mariupol with her husband, to await the birth of their first child. Valeria decided to make the long journey to Israel with three-month-old Sofia, where her parents-in-law had been since April. They begged their daughter-in-law to come too, before a second offensive would erupt, which would make it almost impossible to get out of Ukraine.

Valeria faced a difficult decision, as her husband is not allowed to leave the country because of the mobilisation law. But they didn’t want to experience a second ‘Mariupol’. Valeria took a good look at her few-month-old baby and thought: Am I going to raise my baby here or in Israel? The decision was then quickly made: Israel. The photo we now received from Israel was heart-warming! Family reunion in the Promised Land, where Rabbi Mendel Cohen now lives and tries to herd his fugitive flock from Mariupol as best he can.

Valeria with baby Sofia and her parents-in-law in Israel. | Photo: C4I

What’s next?
It is mostly guessing in which direction the war will develop. What we do know, is that the war has caused immense suffering and had a devastating impact on millions of Ukrainians. Tens of thousands of broken families, and powerlessness and hatred that will remain present for generations.

A few days ago, we were given Psalm 60:11 as encouragement: ‘Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless’. This verse is primarily meant for the enemies of Israel, of the Jewish people. We have mixed feelings looking back on a year of war in Ukraine. What prevails, is gratitude for God’s protection, His rescue of His People, and that we have so many faithful volunteers and financial supporters in times of need!

My daughter Eliana (9) made this painting (with the help of colleague Nastia): A bus from Christians for Israel bringing Jewish refugees through a parted sea. | Photo: C4I

Yesterday, another flight carrying Jewish refugees from Kishenov in Moldova landed safely in Israel. Another flight is planned for early March. Numerous trips are planned in the coming days to bring Jewish refugees to safety and prepare them for departure to Israel. After all, the ‘Red Sea’ is still open now, the obstacles can still be bypassed, and we continue to reach out to Jewish families in need, on their way to Israel. We hope to continue doing so in the time ahead!

In Isaiah 43:6 we find the command to bring God’s people home, to Israel. There are many promises in the Bible about the return of the Jews. As Christians for Israel, we are grateful to be actively involved in bringing the Jews home.

Would you like to help make this possible? For € 135 or US $ 150, we can help a Jew in Ukraine collect the necessary documents and bring him or her to the airport. Any amount is welcome.

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