Thousands of Ukrainians decided to flee war in their country and head to Israel after Russian forces invaded in 2022. But now those people are facing war conditions again as Israeli forces continue battling Hamas militants.
Tatyana Prima fled to southern Israel from the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol 18 months ago with her husband and young daughter. The 38-year-old was thankful to arrive safely to Israel and thought she and her family had finally left the bombs behind.
But Prima’s sense of safety and calmness disappeared when Hamas militants invaded Israel on October 7. “All these sounds of war that we hear now, they sometimes work as a trigger that brings back memories of what we've gone through in Mariupol,” she said.
The Israeli government estimates more than 45,000 Ukrainians have fled to Israel since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Most of the refugees were trying to deal with war trauma experienced back in Ukraine when conflict broke out in Israel.
Some have left Israel, but many remain and are refusing to again flee a war. Most have lost in-person support systems because of restrictions in Israel involving gatherings. Others have lost hope of reuniting with loved ones they left behind in Ukraine.
When Hamas militants attacked on October 7, they killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages. On that day, Prima awoke to the sound of alarms. She lives in the coastal city of Ashkelon, a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip. The crash of airstrikes and shelling has been continuous, as Israel pushes forward with its offensive against Hamas. Prima describes the situation as “deja vu,” bringing back similar memories from Ukraine.
Mariupol was one of Ukraine's hardest-hit cities in the war with Russia. The city was cut off and bombarded for weeks as people struggled for food, water and heat. During the war's early weeks, Prima cooked over an outdoor fire, used snow for drinking water and sheltered with other relatives just outside the city.
As the shelling intensified, rockets fell around where Prima and her family stayed. After an incident in which her husband's hand was blown off while he searched for water, she decided to leave. The family arrived in Ashkelon in April 2022 and joined relatives of her husband there.
Israeli defense systems block most incoming missiles from Hamas. But at least 80 have landed in populated areas or empty fields in Israel since the war began, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project reports.
Prima said the conflict has intensified her feelings of isolation. This is because her community support groups have moved most activities online because of government restrictions on gatherings in public.
Koen Sevenants is a mental health specialist who has worked with refugees and displaced people in several conflict areas. He told The Associated Press (AP) he finds such individuals often experience "hopelessness.” Experts warn that if people who have not fully recovered from one traumatic incident are victimized again by a new one, the event that caused the trauma can seem worse.
Refugee organizations have offered financial and food assistance to people in Israel who do not feel safe leaving their homes. But Olya Weinstein said these groups are not equipped to help all those in need. Her organization, Project Kesher, has been helping about 6,000 people who fled Ukraine, mostly with food.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said an unknown number of Ukrainians remain trapped in Gaza. Ukraine said at least 160 of them have been safely removed. Gaza’s Health Ministry has estimated more than 12,700 Palestinians – most of them women and minors – have been killed since the war began. That number includes both civilian and Hamas militant deaths.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
trigger – n. an event or situation that makes something else happen
trauma – n. severe shock caused by a bad experience
deja vu – n. a feeling that you have already experienced a particular thing at another time
isolate – v. to separate someone or something from other people or things