Injured Ukrainian protesters airlifted to Israel for treatment

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 was left with 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.

A wounded Ukrainian being airlifted to Israel photo/jta-shimon briman

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 Yanu-kovych.

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 were 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 had undergone multiple surgeries locally. But care in Ukrainian hospitals is limited, said Tzvi Arieli, a coordinator of the 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,” he said.

The initiative stemmed from the desire of Ukrainian Jews to help their countrymen by 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 in 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, 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 will reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not higher.

For now, those involved in the project are thrilled.

“Our plane has taken off!” wrote one Kiev volunteer, exuberantly, on Facebook. “All the sleepless nights are worth it.”

For project volunteers in Israel, however, the work is just beginning.

Volunteers have helped arrange ambulances for the arriving wounded, according to Anna Zharova, who is coordinating the effort Israel. 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 those promises, Zharova said.

“This was all through private hands. There’s no time to waste,” she said. “People are dying from simple things because there are no medical supplies, no medicine, nothing.”

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.