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Wounded Ukrainian Protesters Airlifted to Israel for Medical Treatment

March 10, 2014 By:
Ben Sales, Talia Lavin and Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA
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A wounded individual is transported to a waiting plane, where he will be flown to Israel to receive medical care. Photo by Shimon Briman, via JTA.

TEL AVIV — For 17-year-old Bolodimir Bedyuk, a Ukrainian who was severely wounded in clashes with Ukrainian police 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 chest wounds and extensive liver damage — his brother Aleksei said Bolodimir’s liver “was torn practically in half.” In that confrontation, Ukrainian police forces advanced with automatic weapons on protesters, leaving dozens 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 operating on behalf of the country’s 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 on March 7, where they are scheduled to receive treatment at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot as well as at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Many of the wounded already have undergone multiple surgeries locally. But care in Ukrainian hospitals is deeply lacking, said Tzvi Arieli, a coordinator of the treatment effort 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 said.

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, an American Jewish 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 ambulances 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.

More than 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 said.

The Israeli government has been largely silent on the issue, despite the large population of Jews from Ukraine 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.”

Reported by Ben Sales  from Tel Aviv, Talia Lavin from New York and Cnaan Liphshiz from Amsterdam.

To watch a video clip of the airlift, click on the video icon at the top right of the screen.

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