Israeli aid worker in Ukraine: ‘Refugees arrive with hypothermia, malnutrition’

“They turn around the moment after crossing the border and start to cry. They cry for those who they had to leave behind.”

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

A first aid station established by the Israeli SSF (Sauveteurs Sans Frontières) -Rescuers Without Borders organization has become a focal point for refugees fleeing the battle zones in Ukraine to the border.

“We give everything we have,” Aryeh Levy, the head of the delegation, shared. “After nearly 20 expeditions around the world, there’s something new here that I have not encountered to date. People arrive destitute, sometimes after three days in the cold of -3 or -4 degrees. Women with babies in their arms.”

He recounted the excitement with which the Israeli delegation was received, and noted the prominence of the organization’s logo with the Star of David that has become familiar in the area.

“Soldiers clear a path for us and allow us to reach the border crossing and set up the command center there, and a swarm of people who need medical help arrives. In most cases, it is hypothermia. There is also dysentery and malnutrition after not eating for a few days. Anyone who has a previous medical problem is noticeable,” he said.

In one case, a woman lost consciousness a few meters from the delegation and they immediately began resuscitation. She was taken to the hospital while back to breathing.

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Another case involved an old woman who had a heart attack at the aid station. During the treatment, her husband recognized the Star of David on the staff’s vest and asked if they were from Israel. When they answered in the affirmative, he said he was Jewish and received a warm hug.

Netanel Nissim Nagar, a United Hatzalah volunteer who was deployed earlier this week to Moldova to assist the refugees, said that when his team reached the border they found people “who left everything behind, children and their mothers without their husbands and fathers, and older parents without their sons because men between the ages of 18-60 were recruited for the war.”

“We saw mothers holding their babies with freezing hands, without strollers, without enough food and diapers and other necessities to last more than a day or two, if at all. Their main concern was just running far away and escaping the war, their main concern was to keep the members of their families safe, whoever they could.”

“They turn around a moment after crossing the border out of Ukraine and start to cry. They cry for those who they had to leave behind. They cry because they had to leave everything to survive, and journey into the unknown. They don’t know where to go, where they will sleep, what they will eat, and who will take care of them,” he shared.

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“At this very moment, we enter the picture, we engulf the refugees in warm, comforting hugs, we give toys to the children, children who don’t understand why they ran away from their homes, why their mothers are crying, and why their fathers did not come with them,” he recounted.

His team provides psychotrauma support and emotional stabilization, and medical treatment to those who need it.

“Some of them have been walking for days on end and waiting for hours in the freezing cold at the border until they were given entry to Moldova, so naturally, it takes a toll on their physical and mental wellbeing,” he noted.

He said that the story that was most difficult for him was of a family that they met at the border who told them that when they had started to run away, the mother’s parents were a bit delayed and told them to hurry on ahead. After half an hour, a missile hit the area where they used to live, and they do not know if her parents survived or not.