Dutch 'Bible belt' villagers help rescue Ukrainian Jewish refugees

Urk Christians partner with rabbi to support Ukrainian women and children.

Ukrainian refugees (photo credit: JAN BAKKER)
Ukrainian refugees
(photo credit: JAN BAKKER)

Residents of the small fishing village of Urk in the Netherlands have been traveling to the Moldovan-Ukrainian border to rescue Ukrainian Jewish refugees trying to escape from the war with Russia.

Urk, once considered an island, was first mentioned in 966. In Holland, it is referred to as the "Bible Belt" because many residents are religious Christians. Many of them are fishermen who speak their own dialect and are known for their connection with the sea.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, residents of the village have assembled teams to travel twice a week to Moldova, where a rabbi and lawyer from Chisinau helps arrange the operation.

A Jewish team assembles the refugees and tells the drivers where to pick them up and drive them. Once they make it across the border, they stop to eat and rest, then they continue to Chisinau or Riscani, Moldova, where there are shelters for the refugees, the majority of whom are women and children.

According to one of the volunteers, Jan, families are often torn apart because the men are forced to stay in Ukraine and fight.

"There are many harrowing situations and it’s very sad to watch," he said. "I’ve seen dozens of families torn apart because the men aren’t allowed to leave the country, and they’re forced to bid their wives and children goodbye on the bus without knowing if they’ll ever see each other again. We also see elderly folks clutching two small bags that contain everything of value. It’s really, really tough."

Nonetheless, the volunteers continue with their mission because they see it as immensely rewarding.

 Ukrainian refugees (credit: JAN BAKKER) Ukrainian refugees (credit: JAN BAKKER)

"We see so many instances of kindness, of people giving to others what they have and what they don’t have," said Fred, another volunteer who was with Jan on a mission last week.

"And through it all, we’re doing our part to give people hope and life, and they’re so grateful, he said. "We take them to a safe environment – a place where there are no air raid alarms, where no bombs fall, where they can finally sleep in peace knowing that they’re safe."