The wife of Chabad's former emissary to Kyiv recounted the story of her family's life in the Ukrainian capital and their escape from the besieged capital.
"We had a flourishing community. Before arriving in Kyiv, my husband spent 12 years in the Israeli air force," recounted the rabbi's wife during a speech at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem.
"In Israel we're used to (bombing) sirens and running to air shelters," she continued, pointing out that Kyiv had not experienced this type of attack since WWII and that people were caught completely unprepared for the events of the past week.
"The mayor of Kyiv told residents to use the metro for protection from the bombings," she said. "But we live within 20 minutes of the closest station so getting there during a raid was not practical."
The rabbi's wife said the couple had chosen to remain in Kyiv despite the Russian offensive until finally returning to Israel because of their desire to "be with the people of their community, many of whom were terrified of what was going on..."
She discussed the fact that many in Ukraine were caught completely by surprise with the local government unable to step in and help civilians deal with the crisis. "In Israel, you can hear the sirens reverberating throughout the entire country. In Ukraine, they're hardly audible, so people are afraid to miss getting shot at. In Israel, you get concrete instructions of what to do during a raid. In Ukraine, no one knew what to do in case of an attack," with her husband pointing out that, "In Kyiv you hear the sirens after the bombing has already taken place."
The rabbi's wife expressed her gratitude to people from all over the world who wrote letters asking what they could do to help - "people whom they had never met and would likely never encounter." She said her and her husband had urged anyone who could leave the country to do so but that there were "many reasons many simply couldn't make the trip." She said that while they had returned to Israel, her heart remained in Kyiv.
Asked about the rescue operation, she said it was a mixture of a "Hollywood production and a Chasidic tale."
After meeting the emissaries, former Vice President Mike Pence said he was reminded "why Israel is here and why it is so important for us to stand with freedom and with the people of this beloved country."