A Letter from Julia Herzog
I thought I would give you an update on the journey of Congregation Emanu El’s donation of humanitarian aid supplies to Ukrainian journalists at the Romanian border (and my journey carrying the supplies). Needless to say this is a terrible time, and I feel humbled to be writing this narrative right now.
My nephew Andrew’s partner, Emine Ziyatdinova, is a Ukrainian photo-journalist and also, importantly, the mother of my great-niece, Susanna. Just as the war broke out, I had been planning a trip to Israel and Romania—researching my family, having
discovered long-lost cousins—but that is a story for another time. I heard that Emine
had been traveling to Poland, delivering first-aid supplies to the border. When I asked Emine if she thought it would be helpful for me to do the same in Romania, she sent me the current list of needed supplies. I reached out to all of you, and Congregation Emanu-El came through with almost $7,000.00 of donations in three days! Thank-you all! Emine connected me with her friends who are distributing supplies to those who need them. Our supplies were distributed by 2404.org (Ukrainian journalism emergency fund which is organised by Emine and Andrew’s friends Roman and Katya (Zaborona.com media) to Ukrainian journalists working on the frontlines.
I soon found out what a iFAK kit was (compact emergency trauma kits usually distributed to police or military), and had to google “Celox” (a coagulant for dressing major wounds). We are all grateful to you, because when the donations poured in, my
family and I scoured the internet and were able to fill two large bags with needed supplies which we sent to Seattle. I was able to bring the large bags into France and from there I traveled to Romania. When I arrived in France I added large amounts of
ibuprofen, acetaminophen and some personal supplies the journalists requested (power packs for phones, new underwear and socks (items that are preferable to receive new rather than used). A Ukrainian family staying with my sister had Ukrainian currency (hryvnia) which they were unable to change, so I traded the remaining dollars for Ukrainian cash so that I could provide the journalists with transportation money.
The bulk of our donation went to a non-profit supporting journalists (2404.org) in Ukraine, many of whom are reporting from the front-line. At the time of the donation, tragically, a friend and colleague of Emine, Maks Levin, was killed and another lost a leg. (Click here to read the NYT article) Part of the cash was ultimately sent to Maks Levin’s young family—his wife and their four young children.
Taking the supplies to the border
My flight went from Paris to Iasi (also known as Jassy) in the Northeast part of Romania. This is where my grandmother was born. I have a photo of my great-great grandfather, “Morris Marcovici” who was a Shoichet in Iasi (kosher butcher).
When I arrived at the airport in Iasi, which is a rather small airport, it was really quite heart-breaking, so different from the last time I was there in 2019. It had been a sleepy little airport with only a few business travelers. The airport was packed with Ukrainian families, small children running around, and also some boisterous US young guys (who I presume are US military). When I picked up my rental car, the counter was full of donated food, diapers, bottles of water for the refugees. They had only one car left—a standard shift Renault, and my feet hardly reached the pedals. It was already late in the day, so the next morning I set out for Suceava, a town about 45 minutes south of Ukraine, so that I would have a quick drive the following day to the border.
I arrived in the late afternoon in Suceava. It is a bustling small city and I managed to get through traffic to a fading resort on the outside of town. Rusty showers, a comfortable bed and a great sauna were my reward. I find driving in Romania difficult as the roads are narrow and eager drivers like to speed on their way to wherever. However, the Romanians are extremely courteous and any time I have asked for directions or help they have gone to great lengths for me. On the way to the hotel I stopped at “Kaufland” a major department store. First, I bought some pillows so that I could reach the pedals in my rental car! Then, I filled my grocery cart with an assortment of snacks, fruit, baby food, water and juice bottles to bring to the border. My grocery cart was overflowing and one of the store clerks helped me to the car with all of the groceries. I had been checking in with Ery, who is with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on duty daily at the border assisting refugees, who told me what they needed. Albert, who teaches B’nei Mitzvah in Iasi, had given me the name of Ery as a contact at the border. It turns out, by the way, that Ery knows my newly found cousin, Emil Nadler, quite well, whom I was to meet for the first time later that week in Piatra Neamt, Romania. Emil is the president of the Jewish community in Piatra Neamt, but that is also a story for another time…
Early the next morning, following Google maps on fairly empty roads, I set out with my car full of groceries and medical supplies to the border crossing at Siret, Romania. I first found myself approaching a series of exhibition-style tents lining a narrow road. I pulled over and realized this must be the border with Ukraine. Everyone was just opening up their tents and there were many police around. The tents belonged to international aid agencies from all around the world. I sent a text to Ery who sent me a photo of their tent so that I could find them. I actually didn’t even realize until I arrived that I was providing the food directly to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s tent. They have a large tent and are providing aid to all Ukrainians (not only Jews). Ery explained to me that approximately 2,000 people are streaming across the border daily.
At the tent I met two ladies, both named “Lydia,” and three teens who were helping them. The two “Lydias” were busy cooking soup, pasta and serving hot food and drinks to people as they approached the tent. (It was very cold, at one point,
Lydia grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around me with a big hug). One of the boys, Jakob, helped translate and I obtained permission to bring my car up to the tent. The boys then brought in all of the food items and safely stowed the medical supplies in the back of the tent.
I was in touch via “Signal” (a communication app) with the journalists from Ukraine who were traveling from Chernivtsi (formerly Chernowitz) to Siret, Romania, to meet me. I had to wait a couple of hours and Lydia had me bringing chocolate, snacks and drinks to the little kids as they arrived. People were walking over the border carrying small bags, holding children. Mostly women, children and old people (‘old’ like me, haha). One young woman was walking with two tiny kids one on each hand, approximately 3 and 4 years, and just as I handed each one a treat, their grandparents arrived and swooped them up. I can’t imagine the emotions of the little family at that moment, knowing also, that they must have left the young father behind to fight. Most people were not greeted by relatives, but were greeted by the different aid agencies and bused to a variety of locations where, Ery told me, they could rest and obtain help and make decisions about their relocation plans.
Meanwhile, I was waiting and worrying about Olha and Angelina who were on their way to pick up the supplies. Olha describes herself as a “media trainer and human rights defender.” Angelina is a chamber music vocalist turned “driver” as she was in charge of driving across the border with Olha. Angelina’s husband works for the non-profit organization supporting Roma in Ukraine that has been helping coordinate getting the supplies to the journalists on the front line. Olha is an old friend and colleague of Emine, who recently published this article: “A safe house in Poland offers LGBTQ Ukrainians sanctuary from Russian bombs” One of Emine’s colleagues, Alexander Chekmenev, (whom we are helping by sending these supplies) recently had a piece which filled the entirety of the New York Times magazine (NYT in Photos “Citizens of Kyiv”)
Finally, Olha and Angelina arrived and we sat down in the tent to eat some of Lydia’s soup, warm up and take some photos. I gave them a bag of snacks, drinks and coffee and we fit all of the stuff into the trunk of their car. I have to admit that I snuck in three bottles of Romanian wine (which pleased Olha and Angelina!), as I heard that martial law in Ukraine currently forbids wine to be sold in stores. Olha then wanted to organize some photographs, in particular, one holding Olha’s Ukrainian flag, which is a kind of talisman for her as she has been keeping that flag through the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas where, I believe, Olha is from. Olha handed me a gift, a signed copy of “Apricots of Donbas”, by Emmy award winning poet, Lyuba Yakimchuk. This book had traveled throughout the war from Kyiv to Chernivtsi into Olha’s hands. I’ve included one of the poems below. Emine, by the way, is from Crimea originally. Before the Pandemic, we had a wonderful family party at my sister’s house in France, celebrating the birth of Susanna, and all the relatives came (including Emine’s parents and brother), who are now trapped in Crimea.
Later, Olha sent the below photo as a tweet and said in her tweet:
“The donations came from Congregation Emanu El Synagogue in Victoria British Columbia #Canada Julia Herzog (in the center at photo) brought to #Romanian #Ukrainian border. Everything organize with dear @emineziyatdin #StandWithUkraine #ProtectJournalism.” April 4, 2022
After visiting with Olha and Angelina, they were then on their way back to Ukraine to arrange transport of the supplies to Kyiv, and to continue their fight. Later, they sent me a photo the journalists took in Lviv when they received the supplies:
Here is a screen shot using google translate of a text I received from our journalist
friends when they heard about our donation:
Here is a poem by Lyuba Yakimchuk:
we want back home, where we got our first grays
where the sky pours into windows in blue rays
where we planted a tree and raised a son
where we built a home that grew moldy without us
but the road back home blossoms with mines
needle grass and fog cover the open pits
we come back bitter, guilt-ridden, reticent
we just want our home back and a little peace
if only to go there, to breath the scent of mold
pulling yellowed photographs out of the family albums
we’re going home where we won’t grow old
parents and graves and walls waiting for us
we will walk back, even with bare feet
if we don’t find our home in the place where we left it
we will build another one in an apricot tree
out of luscious clouds, out of azure ether
Lyuba Yakimchuk, 2015