Wounded Ukrainian protesters airlifted to Israel for medical treatment
TEL AVIV – For 17-year-old Bolodimir Bedyuk, a Ukrainian who was severely wounded in clashes with Ukrainian forces on Feb. 18, Israeli medical care may be his only hope.
After a pitched battle with Ukrainian police forces on Institutskaya Street in Kiev, Bedyuk suffered extensive liver damage — his brother, Aleksei, said Bolodimir’s liver “was torn practically in half” — and wounds to the chest. In that confrontation, Ukrainian police forces advanced on protesters with automatic weapons, leaving dozens of protesters dead.
While Kiev and its environs have been relatively peaceful since the chaos of Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, hundreds are still suffering from wounds incurred during clashes with riot police under the command of then-President Victor Yanukovych.
But thanks to the effort of volunteers in both Kiev and Israel, Bolodimir and six other severely wounded patients were airlifted to Israel March 7, where they are scheduled to receive treatment at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot as well as at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Many of the wounded have already undergone multiple surgeries locally. But care in Ukrainian hospitals is deeply lacking, said Tzvi Arieli, a project coordinator who has lived in both Ukraine and Israel.
“When you go into a public hospital in Ukraine, you don’t know if you will leave dead,” Arieli told JTA.
The initiative stemmed from the desire of Ukrainian Jews to help their countrymen, using the advanced medical capacities of Israeli hospitals, Arieli wrote in an open letter to supporters.
“We are a group of Jews from Ukraine,” Arieli wrote. “What binds us together is our Jewish identity and our deep desire to do something to alleviate the suffering of those who have been injured during recent events.”
“We love our fellow Ukrainians,” he continued, “and we are proud of the Jewish state, Israel, whose first-class medical treatment will give our countrymen the best chance at resuming a normal life.”
The project faced initial obstacles in terms of both hospital access within Israel and funding. Dr. Valeriya Babchik, a physician at Kaplan, helped to organize the project, along with Arieli and Marina Lysak, a Kiev resident.
Alexander Levin, a Jewish-American businessman with extensive ties to Ukraine, donated $50,000 to the initiative, which covered the initial costs of transporting the first group. But Arieli and others estimate the cost of transportation and medical care for 20-30 severely wounded individuals to reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not higher.
For now, those involved in the project are feeling thrilled.
“Our plane has taken off!” wrote one Kiev volunteer, exuberantly, on her Facebook page. “All the sleepless nights are worth it.”
For project volunteers in Israel, however, the work is just beginning.
According to Anna Zharova, who is coordinating volunteer help in Israel, volunteers have helped arrange ambulance care for the arriving wounded. A request for translation of medical documents from Russian or Ukrainian into Hebrew or English went viral, arranged through a Gmail account.
Over 100 volunteers have been recruited through a Facebook group, “Israel Help Maidan Wounded.”
“Every injured person will have a volunteer to get everything he needs: food, a place to stay for his family that’s coming with him,” Zharova said. “My vision is that there won’t be politics here. There are different sides and opinions, but we’re careful to come from a place of assistance. It’s a matter of life and death. Over there, they’re volunteering 24 hours a day.”
Zharova and others interviewed expressed frustration that government sources have been largely unresponsive to the group’s efforts. Hennadii Nadolenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, pledged support but has not fulfilled initial promises, Zharova said.
“This was all through private hands. There’s no time to waste. People are dying from simple things because there are no medical supplies, no medicine, nothing,” she told JTA.
The Israeli government has been largely silent on the issue, despite the large population of Ukrainian emigres living in Israel.
“We want to reach the government. There’s no shortage of Ukrainians here with family or friends there, and it’s important to them. This isn’t coming from a political standpoint. It’s humanitarian, to help people,” Zharova said. “It’s important for us to connect to Hebrew speakers. We want Israelis to know about this initiative, anyone who can help, because that’s our way of doing tikkun olam.”