MCDI helping Ukrainian refugees at the Moldovian border

A personal perspective of my journey to the Ukrainian-Moldovan border

Daniel Yacoby, CEO MCDI

I just returned from a week-long journey with our youngest son, Lavee (18), joining a United Hatzalah rescue mission at the Ukrainian-Moldavian border, with the goal of assisting refugees escaping for their lives from the war and violence imposed upon them.

When I returned about a week ago and told some Mini-Circuits and other colleagues about some of my experiences, they asked me to record my personal perspective and share them with Mini-Circuits members as it may also touch some on them on a personal level too.

Some Facts About the Journey

* About United Hatzalah

United Hatzalah of Israel is the largest independent, non-profit, fully volunteer Emergency Medical Service organization that provides the fastest and free emergency medical first response throughout Israel. United Hatzalah’s service is available to all people regardless of race, religion, or national origin. United Hatzalah has more than 6,200 volunteers around the country, available around the clock – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. With the help of our unique GPS technology and our iconic ambucycles, our average response time is less than 3 minutes across the country and 90 seconds in metropolitan areas. Our mission is to arrive at the scene of medical emergencies as soon as possible and provide the patient with professional and appropriate medical aid until an ambulance arrives, resulting in many more lives saved.

To learn more about the organization visit

*  The Connection to Mini-Circuits

Eli Beer, Founder and President of UH, established the organization in 2006. At that time, in the very beginning, Eli’s search for benefactors in Israel and overseas led him to meet Harvey Kaylie. Harvey immediately recognized the potential of his innovative approach as a game changer towards saving lives and immediately became his mentor and supporter. Alicia and I became involved during the past decade, as supporters and members of the Board of Directors. Several years ago, we learned from Eli that our children also started supporting them and have become active, each in their own way.

The second group leaving Israel.
The second group leaving Israel.

* From Israel to Ukraine

Although the organization’s primary activities are in Israel (it also assists in the development of creating similar groups in other countries), it was evident to all of us that we could not sit on the sidelines of the war in Ukraine, and must actively contribute in any manner we could.
A global UH board meeting took place a couple of weeks ago. It was then that UH defined its additional goal to be among the first non-profit humanitarian aid respondents at the border, providing medical care and support for the continuous flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine.
The following day UH sent volunteer medical teams together with 10 tons of supplies on a chartered plane, which then returned to Israel the same day, packed with rescued refugees interested in coming to Israel. The medical and logistics center was established in Kishinev, within the Jewish community complex. The local community immediately offered space to establish the makeshift UH center.

* On a Personal Level

I am second-generation Holocaust survivors; both of my parents lost their parents and most of their family in the Holocaust; my mother survived Auschwitz death camp, until the Russian army liberated her from there in 1945; my father worked in forced labor camps. They became refugees after the war. Most of our family was killed, and I was robbed of having grandparents. My parents could not return to their hometowns in Czechoslovakia and became refugees in Manchester, England for three years, until 1948, when they moved to Israel.

* Interesting Background Fact

We live in Israel, a 74-year-old country, built by immigrants and refugees from all over the globe. After the Soviet Union’s borders were opened in the 1990s, more than a million Soviet immigrants moved to Israel. Many of them still have relatives in Russia and Ukraine.

Our Experience

I expected writing a brief travel diary to be a quick task, but every time I sat down to write, I struggled to begin describing the journey.

The wild battle raging in Ukraine sparked strong reactions among Israelis, with many believing it impossible to remain neutral. Many began to assist in any way they could. An ancient Talmud proverb goes, “whoever saves one life saves the entire universe.” The public perception is a humanitarian obligation to actively help. To support the rescue mission, many individuals, and organizations, donated money, food, medicine, toys, blankets, and  clothing.

Each plane brings in 10 tons of equipment (medical, food, etc.) together with dozens of fresh additional volunteers. The team of new volunteers unloads the fresh supplies while another crew of volunteers assists and escorts the 150 refugees from our facility in Kishinev to board the same plane (that landed just 2 -3 hours prior), bringing them to safety in Israel.

The emergency military restrictions in Ukraine prohibit men aged 18-60 from leaving the nation, therefore almost all refugees are children, women, and elderly in various states of health, most of whom after fleeing their homes towards safety, are mentally and physically exhausted.

For me it started with a phone call from Eli (UH’s president) on a Wednesday evening while on my way to an event in the north of Israel. Eli informed me that UH desperately requires volunteers to depart in the middle of the night (Thursday early morning) to assist in loading and unloading the 10 tons of equipment in Romania and on the return, boarding the 150 refugees coming to Israel; I would return the following evening, he said. As this was about saving lives I immediately agreed and had to send a copy of my passport right away. I called Lavee, our youngest son, right away. He was at home and had access to send my passport picture. When Lavee asked where I was flying, he adamantly asked to join too. Although he had school, we would only be gone for less than 24 hours. I knew this would be real-life education, so he was quickly added to the list of volunteers.

Danny and Lavee after landing in Romania together with the volunteer team.
Danny and Lavee after landing in Romania together with the volunteer team.

Everything happened so quickly. On the flight, Lavee understood fully the importance and meaning of helping, requested that we stay with the crews in Moldova for the week to assist even more. He’s in 12th grade, and I didn’t need to explain to him that he had important matriculation exams (like the NYS Regents exams), and that he needed to return. He insisted that it was more important to support the refugees, and that was his priority. I obviously couldn’t disagree with him, so we decided to stay in Moldova. We had the bare minimum of personal items with us, just a small backpack with a change of clothes in case we got wet from the snow and rain during our original planned stay. We didn’t even have a toothbrush.

Lavee and I were on the second UH plane to land in Romania. The airports in Moldova were closed due to their proximity to the Ukrainian border and fear of projectiles landing there. It was a gloomy and snowy day. We were unable to unload the equipment as planned because Romanian customs didn’t clear the supplies – as it turned out, for a few days. We assisted in boarding 150 refugees with their personal possessions within two hours of arrival. This was our first interaction with refugees, people like you and me who in an instant became refugees, losing everything they owned except for one or two suitcases they packed in a hurry prior to escaping.

We drove together with all the volunteers from the Bias airport in Romania to the operations center in Kishinev, Moldova. After a three-hour drive, we arrived at one of the Jewish community centers, which provided us with space for our logistical and medical organization, as well as a communication center that served as a refugee information call center and a medical center to receive refugees in need of physical and psychological medical care. As part of the medical activity, we used telemedicine, enabling us to perform ultrasound scans on the spot and upload the data to an Israeli hospital; doctors then interpreted the scan and sent the diagnosis with recommendations for treatment back.

Many refugees did not bring personal prescriptions, particularly the elderly, who suffered from chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Their health deteriorated within a few days, leading to them collapsing. But our teams were able to provide them the needed medical assistance as well as lifesaving prescription drugs. Most people were exhausted, both physically and mentally, following harrowing days of driving, walking, and standing in the bitter cold before reaching and crossing the border.

All of us volunteers were housed in a very old hotel that was closed for years and reopened for our use. We appreciated having an indoor place to sleep, which was not as cold as the tents outside, especially for us, coming from a much warmer climate and not acclimated to the bitter cold weather.

The volunteers were divided into four duty groups: the call center, the medical center, the kitchen, and assisting at border crossings. The two main border crossings where we operated were the southern border approximately 40 kilometers from Odessa, and the northern border. Both borders were a three-hour journey from Kishinev.
Lavee and I greeted the refugees at the border checkpoints. Each team included a Russian or Ukrainian speaker; most of the refugees did not speak or understand English. Having a volunteer in each team who spoke Ukrainian was essential.
We learned a few basic phrases in Ukrainian and used Google Translate to facilitate communication.
On our first morning we stopped at a toy store on the way to the border crossing and bought a lot of toys to distribute to the children, as well as local delicacies from several petrol stations, since the supplies were still stuck in Romanian customs.

Lavee buying toys for the children.
Lavee buying toys for the children.
10 tons of supplies finally arrive in Moldova.
10 tons of supplies finally arrive in Moldova.

The drive to the border took around three hours on very bumpy roads, which made trying to look through my emails during that time an adventure in and of itself. Near the border, on the sides of the road, dozens of cars of Moldavian locals volunteered to pick up migrants and transport them to cities, alongside organized shuttle buses.

The weather was bitterly cold, occasionally raining or snowing lightly. The Moldovan government and the UN set up tents at the border crossing to distribute hot drinks and basic food (primarily sandwiches) to refugees, as well as a dedicated tent for women with babies (for breastfeeding, changing diapers).

As part of the medical team, we donned orange jackets covered with orange vests, enabling us to walk freely near both sides of the Moldavian and Ukrainian borders, without border police stopping us. We learned that we were referred to there as the “Angels in Orange.”

Although we read and heard a lot about the refugee crisis, our first real life encounter was difficult. As we approached the border crossing, we encountered a steady stream of people, mostly babies, children, women, and the elderly, walking with bags in their hands, seeking help and guidance, many apathetic and all exhausted.

Danny and Lavee at the border crossing.
Danny and Lavee at the border crossing.

The language barriers were an early impediment, but with the use of improvised sign language and Google, a tiny percentage of the refugees understanding English, and some members of the staff speaking Russian, we were able to have quick, to-the-point discussions.

One of the first requests of the refugees we met was assistance in obtaining a SIM card for their cell phones so they could connect with relatives and friends, and ultimately determine their next steps. Access to SIM cards at the border crossings was quite difficult, so many people continued to one of the surrounding cities.

Fortunately, there were not many complex medical cases to treat in the many encounters we had at the various border crossings. Most were cases of loss of consciousness due to physical and mental exhaustion, minor injuries, and complications from medical conditions. Most of the cases were handled on the field, with some being treated in the UH Medical center in Kishinev.

The bigger issue, though, was the psychological damage, or trauma, that will likely remain with refugees for many years. People became destitute overnight; they witnessed horrors of war, lost family, and friends, homes, possessions… most refugees had to leave their husbands and fathers behind. They didn’t have anyone to provide or share physical and psychological support. Women had to care for babies and toddlers, as well as elderly parents, some of whom arrived in wheelchairs or on walkers, leaving behind relatives and friends whom they had no way of knowing if they’d ever see again.

Treating a refugee who fainted while waiting in line at the border crossing.
Treating a refugee who fainted while waiting in line at the border crossing.
Many arrived in wheel chairs and on walkers after waiting in line for hours.
Many arrived in wheel chairs and on walkers after waiting in line for hours.

The medical staff included a team that specialized in trauma cases, mainly psychologists. All the volunteers received training to manage initial contact with the refugees. For example, when handing a gift to a child of any age (candy or a toy), you crouch down to eye level of the child, wearing a smile (without a facemask so they could see our faces) and let them choose their preferred gift. Some were in shock or scared, and the parent was the one who persuaded the child to agree to receive an item. We distributed games to the children and played with them.

We were prepared with certain fundamental conversation techniques to utilize, such as never asking the migrants “How are you?” or “How do you feel?” but instead saying “Welcome,” “Glad you arrived,” and “You are not alone from now on.” Everyone had the few sentences memorized.

Staff from the UN and other organizations waited for refugees further away from the border crossing, in tents, offering hot drinks and light food. They met the refugees as they moved on from the border crossing. We on the other hand, mostly walked among the refugees while they stood for hours in long lines, prior to entering the final border crossing. We offered them assistance, sweets and toys for the children (it’s difficult to comprehend how much candy or a small doll can improve a child’s mood), food and bottles of water for the hungry and thirsty adults; blankets, and socks for the disabled in wheelchairs who were particularly affected by the bitter cold. Some of us just assisted in carrying bags, particularly for the elderly, and pushing wheelchairs until they finally crossed the border.

The magic of a simple sweet
The magic of a simple sweet



Danny greeting mother and toddler with a friendly lollypop and a warm blanket.
Danny greeting mother and toddler with a friendly lollypop and a warm blanket.

The psychologists noted that the children were particularly affected because they did not understand what was going on and had no control over the events. They, like the adults, walked for a long time, in freezing cold, sometimes passing through battle zones, and experiencing disturbing scenes, so we focused on them. We shared sweets and toys with the kids, as well as fluffy dolls that they loved to hold near their faces. We also played balloon games with them and watched as they enjoyed playing with each other. These were all stress-relieving activities. It was amazing to see the difference it made with the children and to the whole waiting process.

Some were guided to the shuttles and others were sent to our center in Kishinev, where they were given a place to sleep, hot food, medical exams, clothing, and the possibility to fly to Israel at no charge to them, but at the expense of United Hatzalah.

In some circumstances, we were able to assist in the transfer of refugees across the border.
One of the incidents reported in the media included a surrogate Ukrainian mother for an Israeli couple who gave birth in Kiev but had to leave the baby alone in the hospital. The following day we received a request to assist with the infant’s transfer to Israel and hired a local doctor and an ambulance to transport the baby to the border, from which we organized the transfer to Israel.

A baby just a few days old united with his Israeli parents, after the surrogate mother gave birth in war-torn Kiev.
A baby just a few days old united with his Israeli parents, after the surrogate mother gave birth in war-torn Kiev.
Lavee making a new friend.
Lavee making a new friend.
Danny and Lavee with Moldovan border police.
Danny and Lavee with Moldovan border police.

One day the Prime Minister of Moldova came to the southern border to see what was going on. During the tour, she noticed Lavee aiding the refugees and approached him, even speaking to him; I have no doubt that following this conversation, the border police were more kind to us.

Typically, our activities lasted until the evening hours, when we returned late to the Kishinev center. A hot dinner awaited us, and we prepared for the next day.

The staff at the headquarters in Kishinev were responsible for the medical treatment of the refugees, the majority of whom arrived as a stopover on their route to another destination, while others were preparing for their journey to Israel.

Every day, an unknown number of refugees arrived, needing a place to sleep (in tents, community center rooms, hotel rooms) and, of course, food during their stay. We provided around 2000 hot meals during our stay. The kitchen we had was too small, so right away we rented a local pub, providing plenty of seating and a huge kitchen.

There was no time to ponder the situation during the day, only at night, before falling asleep, absorbing our experiences. On a personal level, what we saw was distressing, and I couldn’t help but think about my parents, who lived through the Holocaust and were refugees after World War II. Their horrible experiences took on new weight and immediacy.

Lavee, relatively young (18 years old) and less experienced in stressful situations, performed admirably during our journey, completing all chores allocated to him and even going above and beyond to see what extra might be done. This shared experience, with the two of us being together 24 hours a day, every day, in such unusual conditions, will be memorable for us both. I am confident he is now stronger and more mature, and better understands the plight of refugees.

As a citizen of Israel, I grew up with and continue to live through years of conflict, war, and terrorism. But I never experienced a steady flow of refugees, mostly with blank looks, like I saw on the Ukrainian border.
At the time of writing, (mid-March), the number of refugees rose to about three million, and unfortunately continues to rise.

We embarked on a journey without fully comprehending the scope of work required; the situation was dynamic, with processes determined as we went along.
As of today, UH landed 14 flights, with a total of around 2500 refugees arriving with them in Israel. Dozens of tons of equipment were transported, and while everyone tried their best and continues to better the lives of the refugees, the feeling in the end is that it is a “drop in the ocean” and the lives of millions of people remain in jeopardy.

On our flight back to Israel I asked Lavee to define his experience in one sentence. He chose one word: “Inexcusable!!!” And to that, he asked when he can return to assist more.

Today, my daughters Adi and Shira will be on their way to Moldova to provide assistance to more refugees with another United Hatzalah flight.

Watch a moving summary of the UH operation in Moldova

A smile that says it all after arriving in Israel.
A smile that says it all after arriving in Israel.

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