One woman, two wars by Romie Avivi Stuhl

By Romie Avivi Stuhl

On Oct. 7, Ana Sazonov awoke to messages from her family and friends asking if she was okay. She had just flown to the United States after volunteering on the front lines in Ukraine. Unaware of what had happened overnight, she quickly called her friend in Ukraine who was still on the front lines. “This time it’s not Ukraine,” her friend said. “This time it’s Israel.”

Andy Gitelson, executive director of Oregon Hillel, invited Sazonov to speak at Hillel on Feb. 1 as part of her “speaking tour” to raise funds for Ukrainian Patriot. Approximately 20 students attended the event.

“It is critical for us to share Ana’s experience as both a Ukranian and Israeli,” Gitelson said. “Ana’s work with Ukrainian Patriot is providing essential support and resources to people on the ground.”

Sazonov is a Ukrainian Israeli Jew. She grew up in Berezne, Ukraine, unaware of her Jewish identity. During World War II, her great-grandfather had changed the families’ documents, erasing their Jewish identity to ensure their safety during the Holocaust.

1986 brought Ukraine the Chernobyl disaster, an explosion at a nuclear power plant. “We were surrounded by an enemy that we could not see, we could not feel [and] we could not touch, but it’s literally eating you day by day,” Sazonov said.

One day as her mom listened to the radio she heard an advertisement from the Jewish Agency, inviting Jews to the “land of milk and honey.” At age six, for the first time, Sazonov learned about her Jewish identity as she packed her bags to move to Israel.

“One of the things that Israel did allow me and my family is to embrace the idea that we’re safe to be Jewish,” Sazonov said while reflecting on the first Hanukkah she celebrated in Israel.

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