Hadassah’s Extraordinary Effort To Help a Ukrainian Family Find a New Home

March 22, 2022

Hadassah’s Extraordinary Effort To Help a Ukrainian Family Find a New Home

Holding onto her 14-year-old daughter, Ksenya, with one hand, and leaning on her cane with the other, Elena walked painfully into the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) clinic on the Polish-Ukrainian border in Przemyśl, Poland. She was welcomed by HMO’s Dr. Alex Gileles-Hillel, a pediatric pulmonologist and member of the Hadassah Humanitarian Mission that was there to help the Ukrainian refugees.

Dr. Gileles-Hillel asked how he could help. Elena shyly requested a pain killer, as she was in agony after travelling several days from Ukraine by train.

At the doctor’s urging, Elena slowly allowed her story to tumble from her lips.

Elena was a poor single mother living in Central Ukraine. Fifty years old, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer several years before. Because she was unable to afford the medical treatment she needed, the cancer had metastasized throughout her body. A few weeks before the war, she had been told that she had only a few weeks to live.

And then the Russian bombing started and her home and everything she had were decimated.

With no family to turn to, Elena knew that she had to flee to ensure her daughter’s safety before the cancer claimed her life. With a fear of human trafficking of young girls, she had to find a new home and a new family for her daughter in the midst of a brutal war. How this could be achieved, she had no idea, but she had to try.

Together, she and her daughter took that long train ride to the Polish border, and then a bus to the refugee center in Przemyśl. There they found Hadassah.

When Dr. Gileles-Hillel heard Elena’s story, he knew that simply prescribing a pain killer for her was not enough. He had to do something to help this incredibly brave woman find a home for her daughter.

He immediately called Jorge Diener, executive director of Hadassah International, and asked him if he could help. Mr. Diener had spent two weeks in Poland working with the Polish Red Cross and other Polish nongovernmental organizations, forming coalitions, establishing ways in which Hadassah could assist the massive effort in Poland to help the Ukrainian refugees, as well as finding new donors in Poland. One person he turned to was a new Polish supporter, Agata Mynarska. When she heard about the immediate need to find a home for Elena and her daughter, she called the former first lady of Poland, Jola Kwasniewska, who now runs a Foundation to help relocate refugees from Ukraine. She decided she would personally take care of Elena and Ksenya’s case.

Mrs. Kwasniewska found a couple in Poland who were willing to welcome Elena and Ksenya into their home. They will take care of both of them, hoping that Elena will still get a chance to heal, but also being ready to give Ksenya a new family, a new home and a new life.

With Elena’s pain under control, the Hadassah team arranged for mother and daughter to travel 600 miles to their new home, far from the Ukrainian war. Hadassah team members Dr. Meir Cherniak and Nurse Dana Ben-Bassat were by their side as they departed for their brighter future.

As they were saying their good-byes, Elena, with tears in her eyes, said that, in the last two days, she had met more good-hearted people than in her entire life.

“Hadassah is much more than a hospital in Israel,” Mr. Diener noted. “It is people with heart around the world, who are willing to go beyond the call of duty to help people in need.”

The Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) humanitarian mission in Poland has been co-coordinated between the HMO doctors on the ground and Hadassah International (HI). In an ongoing effort to build strategic partnerships, a coalition has been built between HMO and the Polish Red Cross, the World Health Organization, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief and the Polish health authorities. Hadassah’s (HWZOA) Ukraine Emergency Response campaign, kicked off in the beginning of the crisis, has successfully raised funds from donors across the US for HMO’s outreach to the Ukrainian refugees in Poland, as well as to provide care for those seeking refuge in Israel, both at Hadassah’s hospitals and our Hadassah Youth Villages.

HI has engaged Polish foundations and individuals in financially supporting HMO’s humanitarian mission. The HI team has assisted the doctors in organizing the logistics and administration of this medical operation—including transporting the HMO doctors during the mission and making sure that they have the necessary medical supplies. They also converse with the refugees that come to the HMO doctors for medical care, provide emotional support, and record their stories, while the HMO medical experts take care of their medical needs.