For 19 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF, the lead up to the holidays was made a whole lot sweeter with a special reunion.
The soldiers, all immigrants from Ukraine living without their families in Israel were brought to Moldova to be reunited with their families in advance of the High Holidays.
With the emotional reunion taking place in the city of Chisinau, the soldiers were provided with flights from Israel, accommodations, meals and activities by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which operates several support programs on a budget of $4 million annually for immigrant soldiers and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Utilizing their support network on the ground in Ukraine which has been providing humanitarian aid to those who stayed behind, IFCJ provided transport and accommodations for the family members to reunite in Moldova.
While most of the lone soldiers’ parents and families remain behind in Ukraine citing personal reasons and professional responsibilities, others say they continue to feel a sense of patriotism and a sincere optimism that the war will be end in the near future.
For one mother, the worry for her sons are in two places with one serving in the IDF and another as a reservist officer in the Ukrainian army. “I’m anxious all the time,” she said. “Every morning begins with waiting for a text message to know that they are both ok. Only when I receive the text can I calm down knowing that everything is fine, for now. I have one son defending my homeland and the other defending the Holy Land. These two wonderful days spent together is the perfect gift for Rosh Hashana thanks to the IFCJ and we hope to be able to all celebrate together next year in Jerusalem.”
“We are proud to be able to provide for our soldiers year round with both practical and emotional support and to show them how much we appreciate their commitment to their service of our country,” said Yael Eckstein, President of IFCJ. “Rosh Hashana represents new beginnings and hope for a better and brighter future, despite the shadow of war and danger. Bringing these families together, even for just a few days, was an incredible scene of emotion, courage, comfort and honor and a wonderful way to start the new year.”
Kirill Sokolinsky moved to Israel after finishing high school in Ukraine where he completed his BA degree before enlisting in the Israeli army. Having not seen his parents for more than a year and his grandmother for three years, Kirill was able to reunite with his grandmother at the gathering in Moldova where his grandmother shared, “This is a gift from heaven. I missed him so much.”
An only child, Aleksandr Chimbolenko made aliya to Israel last January and immediately enlisted into the IDF. His mother Liudmila stayed behind in Ukraine to take care of her elderly parents. “I can’t believe that there are such good people who are taking care of arranging this reunion of our family,” she said of the IFCJ. “Since the war broke out, our reality has changed. It’s very difficult mentally and emotionally to be in such a situation.”
Liza and the Kudriavtzeva family moved to Israel in 2014 and lived there for a year before returning to Ukraine to take care of her elderly grandmother who was diagnosed with cancer. “I understood that my parents had to stay in Ukraine. But when I turned 15, I told them that I was going back to Israel,” said Liza, whose father is an officer in the Ukrainian military. “I felt it was the right place for me to follow in my father’s footsteps and serve in the IDF.”
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought that I would be sitting here with Liza today,” her mother Elena said. “It is impossible to describe how hard it is for a mother to be away from her daughter.”
“I say to everyone that the army is my family,” Liza continued. “But every family needs a mother.”
Victoria Rudenko was “bursting with happiness” upon being reunited with her son Mark, who made aliya five years ago at age 16. A sniper in the Israeli army, Mark worries about his family in Ukraine and things about them all the time. “Seeing my mother sitting next to me gives me strength,” he said.
“The last seven months have been full of sadness and darkness,” said Victoria. “Thank you for making me believe once again in kindness and bringing the forgotten feelings of joy and happiness to my life.”