As Elena walked into Israel's medical clinic in Przemysl on the Ukraine-Poland border with her 14-year-old daughter Ksenia, it was clear to see the woman was exhausted not only from the tumultuous journey, but also from the terminal cancer she is battling.
The two were greeted by a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep physician Dr. Alex Gileles-Hillel, who is also a member of the Israeli delegation headed by Hadassah Medical Center, which runs, along with the Red Cross, the only active clinic in the refugee camp.
Upon entering, Elena - who suffers from terminal breast cancer - asked for painkillers to ease her condition, after spending days on the road.
Elena is an impoverished single mother who lived in central Ukraine with her daughter before the war with Russia broke out on Feb. 24. A few years before the Russian invasion, when she was 50, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she couldn't afford the medical care she needed, her condition deteriorated and cancer cells metastasized all over her body.
"A few weeks before the war started, I was told that I only had a few weeks to live," Elena said with tears in her eyes to the Israeli doctors. "I felt like the sky was falling on me, it was a tough situation and I realized that it was necessary to take care of my daughter Ksenia because every day only brings me closer to the end."
When the Russian bombing began, her house and everything inside it was destroyed. "My whole life disappeared, everything we had, and we didn't have much, was destroyed, and I didn't know what to do at that moment," she said.
With no relatives to lean on, Elena knew she had to escape to ensure the safety of her 14-year-old daughter before cancer takes her life. "I had no idea how I was going to do it, and I didn't even know where to start, but I had to try, and escaping the war was the first step."
Elana and Ksenia took a train to the Polish border, and then via a bus they arrived at the refugee camp in Przemysl. At the camp, the two found the Israeli medical team, and when Dr. Gileles-Hillel heard their story, he knew painkillers and prescriptions wouldn't be enough.
"I realized that something had to be done to help this brave woman find a new home for her daughter. Time is of the essence - every moment that passes brings her closer to the end, and I wanted her to know that her daughter is safe before that happens," Dr. Gileles-Hillel said.
"I took care of Elena and then asked her and her daughter to wait at the clinic because we decided to help her." Dr. Gileles-Hillel approached the CEO of Hadassah International Jorge Diener, who also accompanied the delegation personally. Diener, who had been in the refugee camp for weeks now, established working relations with the Polish Red Cross and other Polish organizations, including local donors who also decided to assist the refugees.
"I contacted a Polish woman named Agatha Minerska, who aids the refugees, and when she heard about the urgent need to find a home for Elena and Ksenia, she called the former Polish first lady Jolanta Kwaśniewska, who currently runs an aid fund that rescues refugees from Ukraine. And she decided that she would take care of their case personally," Diener said.
"Mrs. Kwaśniewska found a couple in Poland who was willing to welcome Elena and Ksenia to their home. They promised that they would take care of both of them, hoping that Elena would still get a chance to heal, but also made it clear that they were willing to give Ksenia a new family, a new home and a new life," Diener said with excitement.
When Elena and the doctors said goodbye to each other, the woman said that in the last couple of days she met more kind people than in her whole life. "You saved our future. From here, we can hope for a better future because of you, and I can't wait to meet the couple who are opening up their home and their hearts for us. It's not obvious, it's a chain of good things from the moment I met you in the clinic."
The delegation members were also excited and said: "We changed the trajectory, it's better than what she was expecting. We hope for the best."