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When Elena was telling me her story, her eyes were moist with tears. Memories about the events back in 2014, when the war in Ukraine broke out, are still extremely vivid for her.
But the story of the Gerashenko family starts long before, 30 years ago in Donetsk (Eastern Ukraine) - with the marriage between Sergei and Elena. It was a beautiful young Jewish family – he was a teacher of history and she just finished her medical studies and was looking for a job as a physician. Then followed the birth of their first child, a cute curly-headed girl Ira. But when Ira was three years old, after she went through a complex neurological disease, she became disabled for the rest of her life. Twenty-five years after this disease she still couldn't walk, speak and eat alone. But life went on, three more children were born, Sergei was a consultant of a famous politician, Elena worked as a physician in the airport hospital. Until in January 2015 the airport tower of Donetsk where the hospital was located became the most famous tower in Ukraine. In a matter of hours the modern building turned into a ruin after the heavy bombing from both fighting sides.
The tower in Donetsk before
The hospital didn't exist anymore, the political system changed drastically, and the only thing that still bound Sergei and Elena to their native city was the fact that their eldest child, Ira, was in the special institution in a village some kilometres away, now these few kilometres had a great impact because this village is on the other side of the newly established border.
Elena on her working place in the airport tower before 2014
Sergei and Elena decided to flee and to make aliyah. First of all they sent the young children to their relatives to Kiev and then went to the boarding school to get Ira back. Sixteen check points, sixteen times the same questions, sixteen times their story could come to an end just before the aliyah to Israel… When Sergei and Elena were already close to the institution, the school was bombed, almost all the staff left trying to save their own lives and the disabled young adults were abandoned. The parents found Ira, extremely weak, she had no food and only access to water from a nearby mine for some days. Her weight was 40 kg, she could barely look at Sergei and Elena. They wrapped up their daughter in a blanket, it was winter and, you remember, the girl couldn't walk. The parents carried Ira from the village for three kilometres through the check points where cars were not allowed.
Ira Gerashenko as she was found by her parents in 2014, weak and exhausted
Meanwhile in Kiev the young members the Gerashenko family were listening to the news over and over hoping not to hear their surname in the list of fallen in the war. The Mighty G-d saved this family for the new life in the Holy Land. "We got our fee airplane tickets from the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI), collected all our modest belongings, but on the very moment of aliyah we had to pass one more ordeal. When we were about to enter a plane, Ira got an epileptic seizure – tells Elena - I'm an airport physician myself so I know that such a case would mean that the passenger should be removed from the flight. We had nothing more to do in Ukraine, we didn't want to stay not even a minute. We started to pray from the bottom of our hearts to arrive safely to Israel – now or never. And a miracle happened! The crew of the plane looked at us as if they looked through something transparent, as if they didn't see us at all. We passed to the plane! "
Next three hours of flight Elena called most terrible time of her life. The darkest time before sunrise. And next morning they found themselves in kibbutz Merhavia in the North of Israel. Merhavia is a unique kibbutz which runs a special First Home in the Homeland program for physicians with more than 14 years of working experience.
Physicians' Hebrew class in Merhavia
"As if we arrived to another dimension, –added Sergei. – Nature, calmness, friendly people around". Some days after the Gerashenko family's arrival tutors from the First Home in the Homeland led everyone to their path in Israel. The youngest children started school, the middle boy went to the course before army service and the parents went to the Ulpan, the Hebrew school.
How about Ira? – you will probably ask. In two months Israeli experts managed to do more than the educational system did for Ira for 25 years – she learned to walk!
Elena showed me a picture of Ira during a family trip through the parks of Israel – "I could never even dream about it" – she confesses.
Last month the youngest girl of the Gerashenko family received a task in school – to write the story of her relatives in the Catastrophe. Every child in Israel knows that the Catastrophe – Shoa – is another name of Holocaust. Every child born in Israel would know that, but not necessarily a child of Oleh Hadash, newcomers. So the girl wrote a text about her family, about her brothers and sister, about her heroic parents and about their aliyah to Israel. In her ten years she already experienced her own Catastrophe which is, thank G-d, behind her.
Sergei and Elena Gerashenko
Happy to be at home
On the way to the army service
Now the Gerashenko family lives in Nahariya, in the very North of Israel, Elena passed a doctors' exam (all in Hebrew!) and received a license, which means she is now recognized in Israel as a certified physician.
To pass the exam was not easy!
"All the days of my life I will pray for the people that helped us on our way home" – says Elena Gerashenko and I see tears in her eyes…
Thanks to the support of Christians for Israel and the JAFI program "First Home in the Homeland" this Jewish family from the war zone is safe now in Israel building their new life. Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine we expect more Jewish families to flee from Ukraine to Israel. Battles in the East of Ukraine don't stop – see the actual situation in the picture.
In 2016 more than five hundred Jews made aliyah via "First Home".
We still have a long waiting list of families all over the world. The program is expanding now – in February 2017 one more kibbutz joins "First Home in the Homeland"! But you will read about it in the next article…
'First Home in the Homeland'
Projectmanager Jewish Agency for Israel
Please support the First Home in the Homeland - Project. Any amount is welcome!
Assisting a family in the "First Home" program costs € 230 euro / US $ 250 a month.
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