Some 100 Ukrainian Jews recently made aliyah to Israel, including the bed-ridden who have waited months for the chance to leave their war-torn country behind.
“These 100 new olim, who arrived with the assistance of the IFCJ, the Joint and ZAKA, join the nearly 14,000 who have arrived in Israel with the assistance of the Jewish Agency since the beginning of the war. Immigrant absorption is at the very heart of Zionism... We will continue to care for all of their needs to ensure their successful acclimation into Israeli society,” Jewish Agency Chair Doron Almog commented.
Ella Smirnova, 76, said that she was forced to flee Odesa, the city she was born and grew up in. While preparing for Rosh Hashanah one year, she fell and broke her neck, leaving her completely paralyzed.
“I’m totally handicapped and confined to my bed, so this war has added to my feeling of helplessness and I didn’t see a way out. When the air raid sirens went off the only thing I could think to do was try and hide under the bed sheet and the only way I would be able to save myself is if someone came along to help me,” she said.
Pini Miretzki, director of Rescue and Evacuation Services for JDC in the Former Soviet Union, added that “we are seeing firsthand how these rescue missions out of danger zones are particularly challenging for the elderly with complex medical conditions and in increasingly severe winter weather conditions... In addition to the evacuation efforts, JDC’s teams and volunteers will continue to work on the ground to provide lifesaving support to tens of thousands in these frigid conditions – including medicine, food, warm clothing and other winter supplies, among many other services.”
Some immigrants had to leave army-age husbands behind, like Anna Shtepura, who brought her children Marina and Vladislav.
“This is lifesaving, even though we have to make this move without my husband,” she said. “I truly hope he can join us in Israel soon, but know that this is something we have to do for the safety and future of our family.”
Luckily, she will be joining her parents who live in Ramle.
“Even while these newest Israelis have had lives defined by pain and suffering for almost the entire past year, it is inspiring to see how they are so filled with hope,” said Yael Eckstein, President of IFCJ. “Hanukkah is a holiday of miracles and the spirit of overcoming immense challenges and darkness. Just like our ancestors turned that darkness into light, I am so hopeful and proud that this flight will allow them to begin new lives where that pain can be left far behind.”
ZAKA’s CEO Dovi Weissenstern said that “the sad reality is that most of the world has become complacent with the war in Ukraine, while our teams are still working in the field at all times in cooperation with other organizations. Every day we’re assisting Holocaust survivors, the elderly and people who have been injured in the shelling. This flight of 100 people evacuated from the war zone is very emotional particularly in these days of Hanukkah as it is a modern symbol of the heroism of the weak over the mighty.”