Ukrainian Refugee Irina Kozlova — One Family’s Miraculous Escape from Ukraine
It’s been more than a year since Irina Kozlova locked the door to her home and fled with her four children and mother as Russian bombs rained down on Ukraine. In what can only be described as a series of miracles, Irina and her family were able to secure seats on the very first rescue flight sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to help Ukrainian Jews flee from war. Today, Irina joins podcast host Yael Eckstein to share her family’s harrowing journey to a new life in their biblical homeland, Israel. Listen now for Irina’s inspirational and stirring story!
It was Feb. 24, 2022, and few people in Ukraine imagined that Russia would actually invade their country. Irina Kozlova, a mother of four, was in Kyiv to receive the 15th of eighteen cancer treatments she had been undergoing for more than a year when the bombs began falling. Only her older daughter, who was attending school in Kyiv, was near Irina at that time. Her son was with Irina’s ex-husband, and her two younger daughters were at home with Irina’s mother.
When Irina realized what was happening, she called her mother. “I didn’t want to inject panic, but I wanted to tell her not to let the children go to school. I told her to please have everyone stay at home,” Irina said.
For the next eight hours or so, Irina struggled to find a way home through a city that within hours of the invasion was paralyzed with traffic of frightened people fleeing the country. Irina and her daughter managed to find each other, and only because they took a route that was headed in the direction of Russian forces, were they able to make it home.
Irina’s son and her ex-husband, who as an Army veteran would be called into service, joined them, and for Irina, her first goal had been accomplished. “I had gathered everyone and we were all together. That was my first goal. My next goal was not to lose anyone and to figure out our next steps,” she said.
After two weeks of sleeping in the downstairs bathroom — the safest room in the house — Irina realized this was not sustainable. As she considered her options, Irina remembered seeing information on Facebook about a Jewish agency that was helping people flee the country. She called the number and began making arrangements with a woman who, as it turned out, was in Israel.
“It all happened so quickly,” she said. “I made the call to the Jewish agency in the morning, and that same day, I received a call saying that there was room on the plane and that we could leave the next day. It was at that moment that I decided we were going to live in Israel.”
The next morning, Irina locked the door of her house and she and her family boarded a bus heading to the Moldovan border. Thankfully, for families like Irina’s, the Israeli government had responded to the growing crisis in Ukraine by streamlining the process to immigrate to Israel. For Irina, this not only meant that she and her family were citizens upon arriving, but that she also was eligible immediately for insurance and the ability to continue her cancer treatments.
“No one can imagine what had happened to us. From the moment I made the decision to leave and then landed in Israel was five days! It’s incredible,” she said. “It was very emotional for us, but it was the beginning of a new challenge. Israel was so welcoming to us, and The Fellowship was there to support us from the beginning.
“I had thought that when I had to face cancer, it was the worst thing that could happen to me. But I couldn’t even imagine that within a year I would have to face war and that I would just lock up my house and leave my country,” Irina said. “It just shows to me and my children that anything could happen in this life. We just have to be strong and have to be ready without panicking.”