Ukrainians who fled their country to Israel once again find themselves living in the shadow of war

Ashkelon (Israel) – Tatiana Prima thought she had left bombs behind her when she fled Ukraine more than a year and a half ago, after Russia destroyed her city. Mariupol. The 38-year-old woman fled with her injured husband and young daughter, taking the family to safety in southern Israel.

The calm she had been slowly regaining was shattered again on October 7. When Hamas fighters invaded.

“All these sounds of war that we hear now, sometimes act as a trigger that brings back memories of what we went through In MariupolShe said. “It’s hard to feel like you’re the one responsible for your child, the one who wants what’s best for them, and somehow you’ve let them down.”

since Russia invaded Ukraine In February 2022, more than 45,000 Ukrainians sought citizenship Refuge In Israel, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics and relief organizations. Like Prima, most of them were slowly getting their lives together and finding ways to cope The war in Israel And now they are reliving their shock. Some have left Israel, but many have stayed – refusing to flee war again. Most have lost personal support systems due to restrictions on gatherings. Others have lost hope of being reunited with loved ones they left behind.

On October 7, when Hamas militants launched an attack, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostage, Brima was awakened by the sound of alarms. She lives in the coastal city of Ashkelon, a few kilometers from the city Gaza strip. The sound of air strikes and shelling continues as Israel presses ahead with its offensive. She describes it as “déjà vu” to remind her of her Morning in Mariupol That changed her life forever.

Mariupol was one of The most affected cities in UkraineIt was besieged and bombed for weeks While people were searching for food, Water and heat And it was Cut off from the world With no telecommunications. Prima said that during the first weeks of the war, she cooked over an outdoor fire, used ice for drinking water, and took shelter with dozens of her relatives on the outskirts of the city.

But the bombing intensified and rockets fell around them. After she cut off her husband’s hand to fetch water, she decided to leave.

“That day was like a descent into hell,” she said.

The family joined a convoy of cars fleeing the city, passing bodies as black ash fell from airstrikes. They passed through countless Russian checkpoints, and by April 2022, they had arrived in Israel, where her husband’s relatives live in Ashkelon. Many Ukrainians live in the south of the country. There is a large Russian-speaking community, and rent is often lower than in larger central cities.

Ashkelon residents became accustomed to rocket fire from Gaza from time to time, but the attacks increased during the war. Air raid sirens are a constant sound. While most rockets are intercepted, about 80 of them since the war have landed in populated areas or empty fields, accounting for nearly a third of all Hamas-fired rocket incidents in Israel, according to the IDF report. Armed Conflict Location and Incident Data Project.

The sounds of bombing remind Prima of her suffering in Ukraine, but she remains steadfast when she talks about the Israeli war, convinced Army And the country Iron Dome Defense System He will protect his family.

She added that the war exacerbated feelings of isolation. Its community support groups have moved online — with in-person gatherings limited to buildings with bomb shelters because of the threat of attacks.

“There is tremendous desperation that these people face,” said Dr. Quinn Sevenants, a mental health specialist with experience in conflict zones. Sevenants and other experts warn that when people who have not fully recovered from a traumatic incident are again victimized, the triggering event can often be worse, with the risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Refugee organizations have modified some of their programs, providing financial assistance and bringing food to people who do not feel safe leaving their homes. But they can’t do it all, Rabbi Olya Weinstein of the Kesher Foundation, which helps about 6,000 people who have fled war in Ukraine, bringing groceries or providing food vouchers to families.

“With rockets, it’s very difficult to be accessible to everyone,” said Weinstein, who listens to people’s concerns about the future. “They wonder what will happen…what will happen with Israel, will we stay here forever, will we survive, and what will happen to our children?”

Some Ukrainians have been forced to move inside Israel since the start of the war. About 100 children who were sheltering in a Jewish home in Ashkelon fled shortly after the Hamas attack on the center of the country, said Yael Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charitable organization that supports children.

This was the second time they were forced to leave their home in less than two years. They fled to a city near the Ukrainian capital and were evacuated to Israel during the first weeks of that war. Eckstein said they were struggling to process everything, with one person asking: “Now that he’s living in a war zone, why can’t he go back to Ukraine?”

There are other Ukrainians trapped in Gaza, and 160 of them have been evacuated so far, according to the Ukrainian president. Volodymyr Zelensky. It is unclear how many people remain in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where more than 12,700 Palestinians, most of them women and minors, have been killed since the war began, according to estimates. Ministry of Health in GazaWhich does not differentiate between deaths of civilians and militants.

In Israel, Veronica Schottari thought she would see her 18-year-old daughter, Teresa, during the holiday. Her daughter remained in Ukraine last year when Shutari sought cancer treatment in Israel for her youngest child, and moved to the quiet city of Petah Tikva in the center of the country. Until October, she said, she had not heard sirens there.

Now, instead of planning to see each other, we spent the two hours texting from shelters to make sure the other was alive.

“I’m worried about you mom, I know this is impossible, but let’s find you somewhere else,” Teresa wrote. “I’m tired of all this. I hate these wars.”


Associated Press reporter Felipe Dana contributed from Kiev, Ukraine.

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