Palanca Border Crossing – I arrived in Moldova last Thursday together with another 40 members of United Hatzalah of Israel’s humanitarian and medical relief mission. From the moment we arrived, we haven’t stopped working because we are trying to help each and every refugee who comes across the border into Moldova find the lodgings, food, medical care and supplies that they need to keep ongoing.
It’s a very emotional time for me and for many others around me, the refugees and the relief teams alike. So many people are coming here. These people, who only two weeks ago had a completely normal routine, just like all of us, were suddenly ripped from their reality and now need to find a safe place to stay until this is all over. That is if there is something for them to go back to. What is worse is that only some of them are making it here to the border crossings. Others, mainly the men, need to stay in Ukraine and fight, while others attempted to flee but were killed on the way.
Many times we watch as the refugees gain a sense of calm the moment they cross over the border, once they are finally out of danger. However, after a few steps, we see the feelings of fear and stress return to their eyes because they realize that they do not know where to go next. It is at these very moments that we rush over to them. We provide medical assistance, if necessary, and strive to provide emotional stabilization and resilience. We give them food, perhaps some toys if they have young children with them, and we guide them in the next few steps that they will need to take in order to continue their journey to safety. We help them find places to stay and connect them with others who can help. That is what they need most at this stage of their journey, to know that after all of the hardship that they just experienced, there is someone who cares and will keep them safe, even for just a few minutes while they regather their strength.
On our first day, as we arrived at the airport in Romania, the plane we brought into the country was also taking refugees back out, to Israel. Some of our fellow volunteers who had accompanied the refugees from Moldova to the airport in Romania approached me with a two-year-old girl. They explained to me that they found her on a bench where she had been sleeping for two hours. The whole time, no one came to look for her. As soon as she woke up she started crying and the volunteers ran over to help her find her family.
For the next 30 minutes, Dr. Einat Kaufman and I walked around with the girl and tried to figure out where her parents were. We finally found her older siblings who were supposed to take care of her while her parents spoke with embassy representatives and were busy filling out documents and dealing with the exhausting bureaucracy. The girl was overjoyed at being reconnected with her family.
This half-hour of searching made it clear to me how serious the situation is; well-intentioned parents are at such a loss of what to do next, that they leave the most precious thing to them in all the world, their own children so that they could figure out what to do next. How to proceed, all in order to build a better future for those same children, in the hope that their children will have an opportunity to live full lives, and not be blown up by a bomb falling from the sky. This is their new reality. This is something that we all need to save them from, together. I am here and I will stay and do my part to help save as many of them as I can, in as humane a fashion as I can, while providing each of these refugees, no matter how young or old, with the respect, dignity, and caring that I would want for my own family. This is my responsibility and I am here doing it.
Sandra Wexler is the Deputy Chapter Head of United Hatzalah in Ramat Gan-Givatayim. She is an EMT and currently stationed at the Palanca border crossing in Moldova assisting hundreds of Ukrainian refugees by providing medical care and humanitarian aid.