What’s It Like To Be a Ukrainian Refugee in Israel?

“The Russians dropped a bomb 500 meters from our house. I had to flee to Israel without my husband”

By Rachel Avraham | | Topics: Ukraine, Russia
Refugees from Ukraine wait to make their final trip home to Israel.
Refugees from Ukraine wait to make their final trip home to Israel. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

As we speak, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in the Ukraine, as Russia’s invasion of the country continues unabated. More than 10 million people have fled Ukraine, with 4.3 million fleeing for neighboring countries and another 6.5 million displaced within Ukraine. Since the crisis began, former Israeli MK Dov Lipman and his organization Yad L’Olim have been doing everything to assist Ukrainian refugees who have arrived recently in the State of Israel.

In an exclusive interview with Israel Today, Lipman proclaimed: “When the war started in Ukraine, we started to get messages about family members coming here fleeing the war with nothing who needed assistance. We started to study the situation. The people coming from Ukraine did not feel comfortable speaking English, let alone Hebrew. We hired people who spoke their language.”

“Our team goes to their hotels, finds out their needs and we realized that they have many needs,” he added. “They need clothes, means for how to live, how to work, how to go to the bank and open a bank account, how go to the Ministry of Interior and so forth. We started a database so someone who speaks Ukrainian can help them with everything and assist them in finding employment. We are helping them to find work. Some of them work in hi-tech. Others in a beauty salon. Others as cleaners. But, we help them find work, which is key to their long-term success.”

Lipman added that he has also been working to help the Ukrainian refugee children: “The children needed something to cheer them up. We brought them to the Ramat Gan Safari. We find other ways to find positive activities for the children. We need to provide them with everything that they need to make their Aliyah successful. Yad L’Olim’s number one focus is olim. We pressured the government to change policies for olim and their families. The olim were not getting their laundry done in the hotel. We pressured the ministries to make that happen. Nobody knew that they could stay in hotels, even after one month.” Yad L’Olim sent people who speak Ukrainian to their hotels to tell the refugees this crucial piece of information.

Yad L’Olim introduced Israel Today to Marina, a Ukrainian Jewish refugee. She told us: “After Russia started bombing Kyiv, my husband, my 2-year-old daughter and I (I am 7 months pregnant) left for western Ukraine. Mom stayed at home in Kyiv. She did not want to leave four cats alone. We hoped that everything would end quickly, but this did not happen. Bombings became more frequent, and sirens sounded. Mom and dad constantly went down to the bomb shelter.”

According to her, “There’s nothing there. It is a room 25 meters, no heating, food or water. To eat and drink, you have to go upstairs to the apartment – this is very dangerous. When my mother went to clean up after the cats, the Russians dropped a bomb 500 meters from our house. There was such a noise that she thought our house would fall too.”

“As a result, my husband was not allowed to leave Ukraine,” Marina recounted. “He has severe asthma and he walks with an inhaler all the time. Nevertheless, he went to serve in the Territorial Defense Forces. I couldn’t go to Israel alone. I asked my mother to go with me. Mom took the evacuation train to western Ukraine (it took 17 hours because of the bombing). Mom never went anywhere. She spent her whole life in Kyiv, went to work, and fed the cats.”

Marina and her mother arrived in Budapest, called the consulate, prepared all the necessary documents and waited to fly to Israel. Marina claims that this was very difficult: “We dragged everything on ourselves. The child weighed 12 kilos and I am pregnant. No one could help me. It was only women with children and old people on the evacuation train.” This is because the men were all drafted: “It’s physically very difficult. We were helped to get to the hotel when we arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport.”

In the eyes of Marina, she is happy to be in Israel: “We are fed here. We can live in a hotel while we are dealing with the bureaucracy. We feel that people take care of us. It is very painful to think about people who were left in Poland without the right to come to Israel. I saw photos of friends and how they sleep on the floor. They also get help of course, but it is not like here.”

Marina told Israel Today: “Now, we feel physically safe, but morally it’s difficult. Mom wants to return to her husband and her cats. It is very difficult for her. Our daughter no longer recognizes dad via video call. This causes my husband a lot of pain. He needs to return to Kyiv for a medical examination. He wants to get a military exemption on health grounds, so he can leave the country. But it is very dangerous to go there. They shoot. But he says there is nothing left and he will go. He wants to try to come before I give birth, yet this is completely unrealistic, as I give birth in two months.”

According to Marina, “We have no one here. No relatives and no friends. We almost didn’t have money with us. We had to try to come up with something.” So, she found Yad L’Olim: “Hanna (the absorption advisor) immediately answered me. I asked for a stroller, at least for a while. And Yad L’Olim found me one. It is good for two children. They also brought things to the hotel in Hof Ha-Galil and left everything under the door as we were still in isolation. I couldn’t believe that this kind of help is being provided. When I filled out the questionnaire, I did not think that anyone would even answer.”

Marina concluded, “I try to be calm and optimistic. Otherwise, my mother will completely fall apart. I can’t let that happen. Thanks to the organization Yad L’Olim, mom is very happy and filled with hope when she sees that people care!”

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