Patricia Levinson
Board Member, Hadassah International

The Bravery of Ukrainian Women

Hadassah Medical Organization treating Ukrainian refugees in Poland; photo courtesy of Hadassah
Hadassah Medical Organization staff treating Ukrainian refugees in Poland; photo courtesy of Hadassah

It was International Women’s Day 2022, but the unfolding scene on March 8 was heartbreaking, not joyful. Thousands of women were bravely trying to save their families, now homeless and exhausted. Stepping off a train clutching their few possessions, their children and their babies in their arms, and forced to turn to total strangers for help.

This scene is being repeated day after day as Ukrainian refugees, primarily women and children, seek safety as they flee the Russian bombing of their cities and their homes.

The thousands streaming off every train arriving in Przemyśl, Poland, on the border of Ukraine are directed to a refugee center set up in a local mall. It is here that Hadassah International has arranged for doctors from the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem to provide medical aid for the refugees. Hadassah is witness to the untold bravery of the mothers again and again and again. As they work to help those in need, the Hadassah team is bringing a ray of hope into these devastated lives.

History is written by men. The stories of women during a war are rarely told so it is important that we recount the story of the exceptional bravery of the women of Ukraine in 2022.

In the unfolding grim saga of this war, Ukrainian men are taking on the enormous task of defending their homes and country. Their bravery and determination are the stuff of legends. They are facing death fearlessly alongside their comrades in arms. They are defending their hometowns and finding the resources needed to survive. The knowledge that their womenfolk and children are out of harm’s way, beyond the borders of Ukraine, is a source of strength.

For the 2.5 million women and children who have escaped to “safety,” the story is quite different. These women are unsung heroes. They face the grim nightmare of uncertainty – alone.

They have packed the few possessions they can carry into one bag, gathered their crying children, kissed their husband goodbye and launched themselves into an unknown future.

They know not where they are going, how they will survive or even if they will survive. They are exhausted. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs and they do not know where their next meal is coming from or even where they will find shelter from the freezing cold at night. Where can they get enough medications, diapers, formula? Everything is uncertain. Unknown.

They have assumed full responsibility for their children, and they are totally alone. They have nobody to support them emotionally, no one to talk to and share their fears and worries. They worry about everything. Their husbands, their homes their children and their future.

They must keep up a brave front for the sake of the children. Their texts to their husbands must be cheerful – “We are safe. Do not worry about us.”

However, the reality is that they have landed in an alien world, in a country where they do not speak the language and are totally dependent on the kindness of total strangers.

They must make decisions on the spur of the moment. They cannot stay for long in the crowded refugee centers. Which country should they go to? How will they get there? What will the impact be on their future and that of their whole family? If the unthinkable happens, and they can never return to Ukraine, this decision is crucially important. And there is nobody they can turn to for advice and help.

It is a terrifying predicament. They are the brave ones.

The nightmare that refugees face is deeply personal for me. In 1914, shortly before WWI broke out, my father’s father left Latvia to pave the way for moving the family to South Africa. When war broke out, my grandmother Rose Russon was left alone with her five little boys, all under the age of six. They became war refugees, seeking safety by moving from town to town, evading the fighting. The youngest child died of starvation. Somehow, Rose managed to keep the family together. Eventually, my grandfather found them in Moscow in 1919. The family returned to Latvia, only to have to flee to South Africa seven years later, in 1926.

Many Jews have such refugee stories in their family. We can all empathize with Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homeland today.

Today, as these brave Ukrainian women move forward into an uncertain future, Hadassah is providing them with much-needed help through the joint effort of its three sister organizations, Hadassah International; Hadassah, The Women’s Organization of America, the first Hadassah organization and founded 110 years ago; and the Hadassah Medical Organization, whose doctors and nurses are providing critically needed medical care for Ukrainian refugees in Poland and at the Hadassah hospitals in Israel.

You can honor the memory of the brave women in your families. Please support Hadassah’s humanitarian mission. You will save lives at risk. Learn more about Hadassah’s life-saving work with Ukrainian refugees here.

About the Author
Patricia Levinson, Chair of Hadassah International Communications, a member of the Honorary Council of the HWZOA Board of Directors, Hadassah International Communications Chair, and a member of the Hadassah International Board of Directors, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. A biochemist, she moved to Israel in 1966 with her husband, working at the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 1970, the Levinson family moved to Schenectady, New York. Patricia immediately became involved with Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc. (HWZOA), moving through the ranks with multiple leadership responsibilities, including working with Hadassah International in the communications area since 2002. She has served on the National Board of Directors/National Assembly of HWZOA for 32 years, and on the Board of Directors of Hadassah International for three years. In 1992, Patricia received her MBA from the State University of New York at Albany, majoring in Marketing and Communications. Patricia lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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