Yesterday’s Fellowship Freedom Flights brought another 235 new olim (immigrants) to Israel, most of them refugees from war-torn eastern Ukraine. Though they were tired from their journey, they were happy to finally leave the fighting and confusion of their homeland behind.
Fellowship staff and volunteers greeted the olim at the airport, handing out Israeli flags, balloons, and sandwiches. They helped them get their Israel ID and telephone numbers and provided transportation to the homes where they will begin their new lives as Israelis.
The story of one family on this flight underscores how important these Fellowship Freedom Flights are.
Denys and Olena: Escaping Ukraine’s Chaos
Denys and Olena can’t remember all of the places they've had to live since they left their hometown of Lugansk, Ukraine, due to the war. When they were living in Lugansk, the family felt they were in danger as they witnessed all the damage caused by the war.
At the start of the conflict, the family relocated to a town near Lugansk. "We couldn’t completely escape from hostilities," says Denys. "We constantly heard gunshots and we got used to falling asleep to the sound of bombs falling. Our two sons, Nikita, who’s six, and Tymur, who is eight, thought it was fireworks. At least they pretended to believe that's what it was."
After the summer of 2014, the family returned to Lugansk. "Neighbors told us there was quiet in the city,” says Denys. "However, it wasn't as quiet as it was before the so-called ‘Lugansk People's Republic’ came. Frankly, it's impossible to live an ordinary life there when you see heavy military equipment in front of your eyes. You never know where the fire might come from.
“We had special rules in our family: If there was sudden shelling, we met in the bathroom. Then we closed the door and sat there until the shelling ended."
Now, two years after the fact, the family can laugh about those tense days. However, they don't laugh at all about the winter of 2015. Denys remembers that once the temperature fell to 22 degrees below zero, it became too cold inside their apartment to sleep. "It turns out that the heat had simply been cut off."
Preparing the Way
While they were contemplating their move to Israel, Olena moved there and took part in a program to help her prepare the way for the entire family to move. Her husband and their two sons moved to Kiev, where Denys found work and was able to support her financially from Ukraine.
Olena spent nine months in Israel, learning valuable information to help her family make this big transition. During that time she also got certified to work as a dentist in Israel.
The time that Olena spent in Israel made her understand it is the right place for her family. "We want our children to live in a civil and modern world. We don’t want them to stay in the quagmire of Ukraine,” Olena says. “We love the city we were born in, but people always ask questions: ‘Where are you from? Whom do you support?’ If they don't like your answer, they won't even talk to you. We're tired of all that. That's not the attitude in Israel – you just live and that's all.
“A normal person can’t deal with the things that are happening in Lugansk these days. Your nervous system just can’t handle all this madness. We have to devote our life to our children. That’s what we’re doing by moving here."
A Hopeful Future, a Rich Past
The family sees Israel as an opportunity for the future with the ability to explore the past. "My relatives experienced oppression and deportation because they were Jews," says Olena. "Therefore, moving to Israel will allow us to better understand the history of our own family."
The family decided to take the Fellowship Freedom Flight to Israel because it was recommended by their relatives. Some of them also moved to Israel with the help of The Fellowship.
"Everything about the move has been well organized," says Olena. "Whenever we went to the Fellowship office, we always got all the necessary information. Of course, we were also happy to find out about the financial help it provides. This is really important. I haven’t worked lately and Denys hasn't had any sustainable employment.
“The Fellowship is taking care of us. They're making the move easier for us and we're grateful for it. Thank you!"