Since the war in Ukraine began almost a year ago, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) has assisted in bringing over 382 Ukrainian refugee new immigrants to Israel who were victims of Nazi occupation during the war. For these survivors, the horrors of encroaching bombs and being forced into hiding revive traumas that they had prayed were left behind with the end of World War II.
Among them is Yosif Hitrik, who was born in the Ukrainian city of Kherson in 1939 and was less than three years old when the war reached his home. He says that despite his age, he remembers fleeing his house and the fear that he would get separated from his parents. Yosif’s family made it to the banks of the Dniepr river, where they were able to escape on a raft. “Until today, I remember the sound of German airplanes above, which I knew were bringing horror and death,” he said. “I can distinctly remember the feeling of my mother’s heartbeat when she lay down on top of me, covering me with her body and trying to save me from the bombs.”
His family was able to escape the war-torn regions, and he lived in relative peace for the next eight decades in Kharkiv until the Russian attack in February of 2022. “When the war broke out, all those horrific visions from my childhood came back into my head. The sirens, the bombings, and exploding rockets and buildings. We were once again living without heat, electricity, or even drinking water, and for the second time in my life, I remembered what it felt like to be completely helpless.”
Along with his children, including a son-in-law suffering from cancer, Yosif fled for his survival escaping towards the Moldovan border while desperately trying to avoid areas that were being bombed. Eventually, they would reach a camp set up by IFCJ for Jewish refugees, where they would await their aliyah to Israel.
On March 16th, they arrived in Israel on a flight arranged by the Fellowship. Together with his family, he spent his first two months in a hotel in Jerusalem before an apartment was secured for them in Bat Yam. “Of course, adjusting to the new place and daily life isn’t easy, but at least we are in a safe place with a wonderful welcome from the Israeli people. My heart goes to all the blessed work and dedication to helping the Jewish people survive and get to Israel, the Jewish Homeland. After my long life journey, I can say what it means to be a Jew and how blessed I am that I was born this way.”
“Ensuring that survivors live out their lives in safety, dignity, and fellowship is a race against time,” explains IFCJ President Yael Eckstein. “As a society, we need to enhance our efforts to ensure they are receiving the support they need. They suffered far too much early in their lives and deserved to know they are being cared for and should never have to worry about paying their bills or purchasing food or clothing. Together, with our 600,000 supporters all over the world, we stand together in providing the light in the darkness and the warmth in the cold.”
Since the outbreak of the war, the IFCJ has been involved in the evacuation of members of the Jewish community, including the elderly and survivors, providing food, medicine, and supplies as well as establishing a support and aid hotline. The FSU emergency and aliya plan of the IFCJ has distributed $23 million dollars to date via those working on the ground in Ukraine and surrounding areas, including supplies, heaters, water, and food to those struggling to survive the harsh winter among the constant shortages. The funding has also helped 4,500 new immigrants from Ukraine reach Israel since the outbreak of the war.