Editor’s note: Chana and her husband Rabbi Shalom Gopin were Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Lugansk, far-eastern Ukraine, until the war began in 2014 and their city was occupied by rebels. In the aftermath they relocated to the Obolon neighborhood of Kiev, where they began building a new Jewish community, which included many of their fellow refugees from the occupied east. Forced to leave their home all over again, the Gopins and their children are currently staying in Iasi, Romania, where they are assisting refugees.

While we were on the road, I had no time to think nor to ask questions. We were on high alert throughout the entire trip. There was heavy traffic and at times we drove at a speed of 5 km per hour. I told Shalom that if I was in the driver’s seat I would not be able to handle it. It was an exhausting and stressful trip. Once in a while Shalom tried to overtake another car, or to drive on dirt roads and even in the opposite lanes with the hazard lights on, and I held my breath.

Several times when we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic Shalom asked me if we were driving or idling. He wasn’t joking. At some point after traveling for so long you are not even sure if you are seeing right. The lights, particularly those of the massive trucks on the road as well as those of the cars around us, were blinding. It was all a blur. All we wanted to do was close our eyes for five consecutive minutes, to be able to rest and refresh them. To open our eyes and realize that this is all only a nightmare … .

We arrived in Khmelnytskyi very late at night and fell asleep as we were, in our clothes, planning to leave early in the morning. The trip from Khmelnytskyi to Chernivtsi is not long, however, it was Friday and given our experience during the first long leg of our trip, we were not going to take chances. At 6 a.m. we were up and organized. Some time after seven, we left with the children, hoping for a calm trip. I thought it would be best to arrive at our destination early so that we would have time to prepare and hopefully avoid getting stuck on the roads G‑d forbid on Shabbat. The trip went well. We had to stop at various checkpoints of course, but there was no traffic. For several hours we traveled smoothly, we even found a gas station with a short line so we stopped to replenish our reserve tanks, to have a backup. Who knows what to expect in the future … .

Today we were debating what to do. Should we travel to Israel? Should we continue driving to Romania? Who would have believed that we would end up in this situation.
G‑d Almighty can still perform a miracle for all of us.

We continued to talk about our plans once we’d arrive in Chernivtsi. We did not plan on resting. We did not leave the inferno to go touring. We are here for a purpose and have to utilize the opportunity to assist those in need from the other side of the border.

We spoke with our sweet daughter, Fradi, who within minutes had prepared an online questionnaire for our Kiev community. This would help us distribute funds to assist those in need, even before Shabbat. My daughter Chaya and her husband, Mendy Chavkin, are Chabad shluchim in Yaffo, outside Tel Aviv, and Fradi would be spending Shabbat with them. It was the first time that Fradi was there. I was so happy, for me it was very reassuring to know that she was safe and in a home—how important a home is to one who has one and how difficult it is when it’s gone. So Chaya and Mendy, with our sweet grandson Levik, have already organized everything in Yaffo. They found a mattress for Fradi. I was very relieved that we’d be together with all of the other children for Shabbat. It was comforting to know that we’d be able to talk things through and share our feelings and thoughts with each other.

While we drove in the car and I was talking to Shalom, my son Yisroelik shouted from the back seat with pure innocence, that he has his own money with him (apparently the children decided to take all their treasures with them, in the same vein as the adults who took their documents and jewelry), and he wants to donate his own money to help the community. We teared up. We are so sensitive now, we feel injured. Although thank G‑d, only lightly so.

While we were traveling, another son, Yossi, messaged me a picture of a building full of smoke and asked me if that was Obolon, our neighborhood in Kiev. I could not look at the picture. I started to cry. No, it’s not Obolon. But what’s the difference? It is a picture from Kiev. Only half a day ago the city was at its most beautiful, and now it’s filled with clouds of smoke and bombs.

I asked Yossi where he found that photo, he told me that he is following Russian news sites to keep abreast of events. That’s how it is when you are here and some of your children are in Israel. Of course I would not want them to be with us through this madness. They have already gone through something similar recently; yet when we are all together we all feel calmer, and when we are far from each other it is so scary. That’s certainly the case when your father and mother, sisters and brothers, your home, when they’re all in danger.

This year there are two months of Adar, sixty days of joy. We have already lost the first 30 but we are not giving up hope and are praying that the situation will be reversed this very week, and the aggressor stopped.

When we arrived in Chernivtsi we went to the kosher restaurant where we ate a light and filling breakfast, we then went to a hotel downtown to settle and refresh ourselves. The Glitzenshtein family, the Chabad emissaries in the city, invited us for Shabbat, but we were so exhausted, both physically and emotionally that we could not even imagine having a regular Friday night meal when all around us there is so much sadness. So we stayed in the hotel. We laid out a Shabbat table in one of our two rooms and Shalom bought some food and necessities. I am lucky to have a practical husband who takes responsibility even when his spirits are low, otherwise that Shabbat would have been a Shabbat only in name. The dear shluchim also sent us food and we had everything we needed.

Initially Shalom thought he’d pray in the hotel as opposed to going to the synagogue. He was exhausted and spent. I told him that we have to find it within ourselves to regroup and get back to our routine not only for us, but also for the children. And so Shalom and the boys went. They breathed fresh air, had a change of scenery, met fellow Jews and came back. At the time Chernivtsi was relatively calm, and it felt as if we had arrived in a different country.

Human nature is interesting, until the danger does not actually come to your backyard, you don’t worry and go about life as usual.

Shalom started singing Shalom Aleichem, and my son Yeshayahu signaled that he wanted to speak to him privately. Not in the room, but in the hall. Shalom followed him out and Yeshayahu started to cry. “Abba, I am so sad that we are having such a sad Shabbat meal in the hotel, alone. Last Shabbat we were at home, we had lots of guests and it was so nice.” Shalom gave him a big hug and told him that we will try to be happy here, too. And so it was. We tried not to speak about the war. Although it was not completely possible to do so as it’s obviously a burning topic now. Young Zev is angry that the aggressor is sending missiles on Victoria, our housekeeper (whom he loves), yet we did our best and sang happy songs and made an effort to speak about positive topics.

Shabbat morning the children woke up early to say Tehillim and went to synagogue. Miriam and I stayed behind. We ate Shabbat lunch at the shluchim’s home. They welcome us so nicely.

It feels very strange to me. I love hosting people and do not like being hosted. All the more so since this unwelcome reality was foisted upon me and I am not comfortable with it at all. I am trying to go with the flow and even to smile and not to wallow in self-pity. But it is hard for me. We had a very nice meal. More refugees from Kiev and surrounding towns were there and while we were eating someone knocked at the door and another four people joined us. A family from Dnipro had gotten this address from someone and simply showed up.

The shluchim are well aware that they have a lot of hard work ahead of them, assisting the many refugees that are making their way to the city, and they are ready for it.

After Shabbat, Shalom met with Rabbi Glitzenstein to brainstorm for ideas on how best to assist the Jewish refugees in the city. Already this evening fifteen people arrived from Kiev and Shalom helped arrange for a place to sleep and eat for them.

It is known that when you are going through a hard time helping others eases the pain and so we decided to join the effort ….

That’s it for now. Writing all of this has tired me, perhaps I’ll finally be able to sleep.
I hope there will be good news tomorrow, that we will awake in the morning and hear that the situation has been reversed for the good.

This is the second installment of Chana Gopin’s diary of the current war.

You can support the continued work of Chabad of the Obolon district, Kiev, here.

Click here for a prayer you can say and a list of good deeds you can do in the merit of the protection of all those in harm’s way.