I never wanted to become a refugee, not least owing to the personal story of my grandmother, the late Lydia Traktirshchik, who had a very big impact on me.
Grandma was born in Câmpulung — a small and picturesque town in Romania — in 1923. In 1941, when she was just 18, she was deported with her entire family to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, to the region between the Dniester River and the southern Bug River known as Transnistria, then controlled by the Romanians.
She met my grandfather in the Jewish town of Dzhuryn in the midst of the Holocaust's inferno. When the war ended, they got married and stayed in the Soviet Union.
During the decades to come, the Iron Curtain has created a rift between my grandmother and the rest of her family who immigrated to Israel with the establishment of the state. I too was born in that same town.
The story of my grandmother's displacement has haunted me since childhood as a repressed trauma.
After she passed away two years ago, I wrote: "You're born in your country and consider it your land, where you will spend the rest of your life. But destiny sometimes has something else stored for you. War shatters all your dreams and uproots you to a foreign land where you have to learn to live far away from your relatives. For 40 long years, letters become your only means of communication with them."
I hoped I'll never have to leave my home, and I stayed in Kyiv even when fierce fighting drew closer to the Ukrainian capital and foreign journalists fled to safety. However, following some very unusual events that threatened my personal security, I was forced to leave Kyiv with a heavy heart.
I am writing these lines from the safety of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, to which I arrived late last week at the end of an arduous journey.
I am here to stay close to the unfolding events, but even though I do not want to get too far, I am still a refugee.
I crossed the Dniester River, taking the opposite route grandma Lydia had to take 81 years ago. But unlike my grandmother, who was forced to leave her homeland in cattle cars, the rescue mission from heavily bombarded Ukraine organized by the Jewish community was conducted in exemplary order and with impressive efficiency. On the other side, Jews were waiting for us with open arms.
I signed up for the rescue mission through Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, the only chief rabbi who has stayed with his congregation through these perilous times and who has even saved my life before.
This is how it is done: You sign up on the phone, and then arrive at one of Kyiv's many synagogues at the appointed time. You sign up once more at the entrance and wait in the prayer hall until they call you by name to get on the bus with your luggage.
When the bus was full to capacity with passengers, a man carrying an AK-47, who presented himself as a member of parliament, told us: "You are the most well-organized group. We have evacuated over 1,000 people today. I bid Godspeed to you."
On board the bus there were Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and non-Israelis. True international unity sponsored by the synagogue.
We left Kyiv at 1:07pm on May 10. Ahead of us was a police car with its emergency lights flashing, which allowed us through every checkpoint without any fear.
In today's surrealistic Kyiv, every checkpoint is variegated with sandbags, concrete barricades and nervous armed guards. Passing through about ten such checkpoints without stopping once and without presenting documents, is not a matter of course.
It is hard to describe the pinch I felt in my heart at the sight of armored vehicles and war machines passing in front of us on the southern exit route from Kyiv.
I used to start my guided tours to Uman, back in more peaceful times.
This remains, for the time being, the last and only way out of Kyiv. The east and west exits lead straight to the battles with the Russians, who keep advancing slowly, gradually tightening their chokehold over the Ukrainian capital.
We drove in the opposite lane, we drove during curfew hours, we drove in the direction of Uman and then turned westward. We drove past Haysyn where my grandfather on my father's side was buried.
We passed through Nemyriv, which meant we were logically supposed to drive southwest toward Mohyliv along the Dniester River, through my native Dzhuryn where five generations of my family are buried, but the security coordination forced us to make a detour to Vinnytsia, where I grew up, and from there to Mohyliv-Podilskyi via Zhmerynka.
We didn’t have to wait at the border.
A Ukrainian border guard took a man in his fifties off the bus, probably a Ukrainian citizen who hoped to bribe his way out of the country.
We arrived in Chisinau around 4am. In the indoor tennis court, which was converted to a shelter for refugees, we were greeted by members of the local Jewish community and volunteers from Israel.
There I met the man arranged the evacuation of many thousands of people, most of them Jewish — Attorney Georgii Logvynskyi, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
"It is hard to imagine the hardships you were facing, he said. "There is no gasoline in Ukraine, all the buses are recruited for the army, and there are several dozen checkpoints on the way. In case of doubt — open fire. This is what happened to Roman Brodsky, who was killed when he was with me on the line," he told me.
"The traffic jams — hundreds of miles long, and in case of an attack, do not allow you to escape and survive. That is why I initiated this project in cooperation with the Ukrainian Police, the Ukrainian Border Service and the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which aims to rescue Israelis, Jews and others," he said.
Logvynskyi said that the Jewish Agency and Israeli fundraising group Keren Hayesod have promised to shoulder the financial burden entailed in a project of such proportions.
"Every day we rescue about a thousand people from all over Ukraine, which is about twenty buses a day. All the others focus on the transportation of troops and supplies while we focus on evacuating people. To this end, we also have the blessing of the Ukrainian security services, which provide us with armed police escort, allow us to travel without traffic jams in the opposite lane during curfews, and pass through checkpoints and border controls without waiting," he said.
"Today, we managed to rescue 24 Jews from the town of Nizhyn in Chernihiv Oblast. I think there is nothing more valuable than saving those who cannot save themselves. Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."
As I was profoundly touched by his words, I realize I had to leave, but I am still tormented by deep feelings of guilt. I was told this phenomenon is called "survivor's guilt" in the world of psychology.
Now I only pray that there will be a Kyiv I can come back to one day.