Leia, 83 years old, has not left Kyiv for many years. Since her husband died 20 years ago, she has been living alone in her home in Ukraine. In recent years her health condition has become bad, she suffers from blood pressure and other health issues. In her complicated situation, she chooses not to leave her home in Kyiv despite the war and bombing. Also Ema 70-year-old preferred to stay in Kyiv despite the danger. She arrived in Kyiv in 2014 from Donetsk, which was occupied by the Russians.
In the last week, Ema and Leia, along with dozens of other elderly people, were rescued by the Jewish community JCC Chabad in Kyiv and transferred to Lodz, Poland. "The cold is already reaching minus 10 degrees, and most of the houses in the city are without heating. The long power outages make it impossible to heat the houses. When you add to that the water outages, and the food prices that became very expensive, it leads to a situation where many elderly people who are in their homes are freezing cold and hungry for bread" explains Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch, Rabbi of Kyiv. "We came to the decision that we should take an unusual step and take them to a safe place at least for the winter".
Like Ema and Leia, most of the group that was rescued from the frozen and dark Kyiv, are elderly and sick people who remained in the city due to lack of ability to move to Israel and go through the long journey and the bureaucracy. "I live on the eighth floor, I had a heart attack a few years ago, even with a walking stick it is very difficult for me to walk," says the 82-year-old Naum. Before the war, he was helped by his son who lived close to him, but when the war begin the son was drafted, and he was left alone, almost unable to move from the house or go down to a safe shelter.
"We listed about 400 elderly and sick people whose lives are in danger if they stay in their homes, and we are evacuating them to Poland. In this risk group are people over 65 or younger patients who are free from being drafted into the army. We realized that staying in an apartment without water, electricity and heating during the winter, may be more dangerous than the missiles. If we don't find a solution to them, it may endanger lives". explains Rabbi Markovich.
About two weeks ago, the first group was rescued, including dozens of elderly people. A team of volunteers for medical assistance and support for the elderly accompanied the group. "The journey was very difficult, but now I am no longer afraid of dying of hunger, cold or bombs" Leia says. Over twenty hours of dangerous driving, partly on bombed-out roads the elderly went through, until they were welcomed at the guest house of the Jewish community in Lodz.
The last Thursday morning, another bus left with a group of about 30 people and arrived in Lodz for Saturday. The people in Lodz are already waiting and excited to meet their friends from the community in Kyiv.
"Everyone already wants the war to end so we can return home" says Naom. "But here we are together with our friends, much safer, and the people of the Jewish community in Kiev and Lodz take care of everything we need".
The rescue operation was launched in cooperation with the Jewish community in South Hampstead, London and the Jewish community in Poland led by Rabbi Michael Shudrich.