With United Hatzalah, 4 planes sponsored to bring Ukrainian refugees to Israel
When Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, it created one of the largest refugee crises in Europe in decades with more than 2 million refugees thus far. The Dallas Jewish community, including the Jewish Federation and private donors, has not remained silent in the wake of this developing humanitarian crisis and partnered together with United Hatzalah to bring more than 600 Ukrainian refugees to Israel.
At the onset of the war, United Hatzalah, who has a team in Ukraine all year round, immediately mobilized a mission, dubbed Operation Orange Wings, in order to provide medical care and humanitarian aid for refugees escaping the war in Ukraine. After connecting with local authorities and community leaders, the mission developed inside the neighboring country of Moldova, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees sought shelter. After a few days on the ground, the organization decided that it needed to expand its operation and therefore chartered a plane that carried an additional 40 medical personnel and 15 tons of medical supplies, food and humanitarian aid to Moldova from Ben-Gurion Airport. But instead of the plane returning to Israel empty, the decision was quickly made to load it with more than 150 Ukrainian refugees who wanted to flee to Israel. Many were Israeli citizens, while others sought the right-of-return, while others simply had relatives in Israel who would vouch for them.
As one of the first international relief teams to mobilize on the Ukrainian border and having teams inside Ukraine itself, United Hatzalah was uniquely poised to help. The mission was developed in collaboration with Israel’s Foreign Ministry and with the assistance of former Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Lion, as well as local authorities and officials on the ground in Moldova.
“We immediately saw the need to bring additional supplies to the refugees in Ukraine,” said President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer. “At the same time, we recognized the developing humanitarian crisis and knew that we needed to bring these people home to Israel. We had the supplies donated from companies in Israel who wanted to help, and the volunteers lined up to go. What we needed to pull this off was financial support in order to cover the costs of the planes and the medical supplies. Thankfully, the amazing community of Dallas helped out and supported our efforts. They saw how imperative it was to airlift as many Ukrainian refugees to Israel as they could and offered funding to cover more than four planes to make the round trip, bringing supplies to help the Ukrainian refugees in Moldova, while bringing more than 600 home to Israel. We couldn’t ask for better support from such a warm community as this.”
One of the missions, which was sponsored by philanthropists and community leaders Carol and Steve Aaron, brought back a newborn baby who had been born to a surrogate mother in a hospital in Kyiv. Kyiv at the time was being bombarded by Russian aircraft, and soon after delivering the baby, the mother fled for her life. The nurse caring for the baby also needed to flee, and United Hatzalah’s team in Moldova arranged for a dramatic rescue that took 36 hours to complete. When it was done, the baby was reunited with its biological parents, who had been flown in special by United Hatzalah in order to meet their new daughter at the Romanian airport of Iasi and fly back to Israel together as a family.
Carol Aaron spoke about her family’s part in the dramatic rescue. “Last week we heard that a newborn baby girl was in a hospital trapped in Kyiv,” she said. “Hearing that her Israeli parents needed to find a way to rescue their newborn baby and be united as soon as possible, Steve and I felt compelled to cover all the costs associated with the flight and transportation to bring the family together. We are grateful to have been presented with this life-saving opportunity by United Hatzalah and our dear friend Amy Korenvaes. The storm they were under has now turned into a rainbow.”
Korenvaes, a major supporter of the Dallas Jewish community and the United Hatzalah Global Board Development chair, also sponsored flights. For her there was a deep personal connection to the mission. “My grandfather was born in Odessa to a family of cantors and rabbis. As a child I heard many stories of the horrific pogroms which drove my family to move to America at the turn of the last century,” she said. “Seeing the horrific current situation in Ukraine inspired me and so many others in our Dallas Jewish community to want to do something. Through United Hatzalah, $500 covers the cost of getting one Ukrainian refugee to Israel. I am urging all of my fellow Dallas Jewish community members to help bring these people to Israel, where they can find sanctuary in their time of need.”
Bill Finkelstein, who serves as the chairman of the Board for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, which also sponsored one of the planes, spoke about the Federation’s support and said, “It is extremely gratifying to see our community join together to provide humanitarian aid to people under siege in Ukraine. It is humbling and impressive to see the willingness of so many who are offering to help others. As a result of our community’s collective generosity, The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas is able to partner with United Hatzalah to provide a full planeload of medicines and other needed supplies to be brought from Israel for Ukrainian humanitarian relief. Further, upon its return, that same plane will carry Ukrainian Jews home to Israel to begin a new life in freedom.”
Harold Gernsbacher, who serves as the chairman for Secure Community Networks, also sponsored a plane and added, “The time for responsibility is now. We hold each other as a collective people. United Hatzalah was ready to go and we needed to be ready to go with them, so we did. We are grateful for this opportunity to help the people of Ukraine.”
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