Valentina and Mariana Varshavky, both Kyiv-born, fled the war in Ukraine separately and decided to make Aliyah to Israel.
After safely crossing the border to Poland, they waited in a hotel in Warsaw to board a flight to Israel. A Jewish Agency representative read out loud passengers' names when Valentina and Mariana heard their surname being called out twice.
The two struck a friendly conversation during which they discovered they had the same father.
"Amid all this chaos, we found one another and found out we're sisters," Mariana told Ynet. The long-lost sisters boarded the flight to Israel together, along with another 150 Olim Hadashim (Jewish immigrants) from Ukraine.
Mariana (53) and Valentina (46) weren't aware of the other's existence prior to the war. Both abandoned their homes on the third day of the Russian invasion after they realized that staying put will endanger them and their families. They decided to pack up their things and advance toward the Polish border, from where they would board the next plane to Israel.
Both their sons immigrated to Israel separately four and five years ago, and the mothers wanted to join them.
Mariana is their father's eldest daughter. Her parents divorced when she was a child, after which her father remarried and lost touch with her and her mother. Aside from the fact he lived in Kyiv, Mariana knew nothing about her dad.
She was born and raised in Kyiv. She studied engineering and later became a psychologist. Her 26-year-old son, Pavel, felt a deep connection to Judaism and Israel and decided to immigrate to the Holy Land four years ago. He now lives in Ramat Gan.
Valentina was also born in Kyiv and worked as a banker before the war. She is married and has two children. Her eldest son Nikita, 23, made Aliyah five years ago and resides in Haifa. Her 13-year-old daughter Masha joined her with their cat as they made their way to Poland in hopes of reaching Israel.
Although they weren't far from each other, Valentina and Mariana never crossed paths until the war, which the sisters say has "bound them together forever."
"It's an amazing thing", said Valentina. "Who would've believed that we would find each other here of all places? I didn't even know I had another sister."
"The most amazing thing is that amid all this chaos of war we found one another. We thank the Jewish Agency, we thank Israel and love Israel even more after our reunion in Warsaw. We got on the plane together, like one big family, and we'll arrive in Israel. There we'll introduce our sons to each other. What joy, what a miracle," Mariana said ecstatically.
As they began to process their new family status, Valentina and Mariana expressed their uncertainty regarding the future after the war.
"It's hard to think what will come next, everything is still gray, especially in this new reality that both of us are trying to process. Our hearts are with our homeland Ukraine and with our beloved Kyiv. I hope that everything ends soon," Valentina said.
Mariana assured that the two had much catching up to do on the flight.
Along with Mariana and Valentina, another 150 Ukrainian Olim Hadashim were on board the flight from Warsaw to Israel that morning as part of Israel's rescue efforts led by the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Since the war broke out, Jewish communities all over the world have donated over NIS 60 million toward helping Ukraine's Jewry, including generous donations from the Jewish Federations of North America and fundraising group Keren Hayesod.
About 400 Olim Hadashim landed in Israel on Wednesday, most of them from Russia. Since the outset of the war, about 2,000 Olim Hadashim have arrived in Israel, and another 1,000 are expected to come this week.