A Walk in Their Shoes: In Moldova, One Refugee Worker Speaks
Liudmila Mechina discusses her lifesaving work with Jewish refugees in Moldova.
By Liudmila Mechina - Chief Administrator, JCC Kedem | December 16, 2022
Host. Therapist. Driver. These three terms, and more, described Liudmila Mechina when she was Logistics Coordinator at the JDC-supported Dacia Marin refugee center in Vadul lui Vodă, Moldova. When the Ukraine crisis began, Liudmila was inspired to join JDC’s humanitarian efforts on the Moldova-Ukraine border. We caught up with Liudmila during summertime in Vadul lui Vodă, where she discussed JDC’s refugee response, her own JDC story, and the values that power her life-saving mission.
The refugees arrive without a change of clothes. They are exhausted, angry, and terrified. But I welcome them, make them feel at home, and take care of logistics.
Almost all their stories are the same, aside from small differences. All of them escaped, some with their children and elderly parents. And everyone wants to return home. Like anyone would, they want to get back to a sense of normalcy.
My responsibilities are many: I welcome refugees, distribute food, provide accommodation, and coordinate logistics for people’s eventual departure. Me and my team also provide mental and physical support––some people aren’t mobile–––and entertain the children: Everyone gets individual attention.
We give all we can to ease their pain. I gather clothes and shoes for the children and elderly. And after a few days, they calm down. They see that people like me are here who help, to help process their documents, help purchase their tickets, help with whatever they need, emotional, physical, and spiritual.
We don’t just treat the whole person––we help their animals, too, if they have them. Many people bring pets, so we have to help transport them by air. We also give people the contacts of veterinary services who can microchip and vaccinate animals.
I bring more than 15 years of Jewish organizational experience to this work, and, in a strange, imperfect parallel to the people I help, my own pain brought me here.
It all began at the JDC-supported Kedem Jewish Cultural Center in Chișinău. When he was little, my son enjoyed the kids’ activities there, and I felt like I wanted to share a part of myself there, too.
Around that time, I had just turned 50, and I had needed cancer surgery. My surgery happened on almost the same day as my 50th. The doctors told me the operation had happened at just the right time. On top of that, my husband and I divorced when my son was four; I raised my little boy on my own, a single mother.
Alone and stressed, my Jewish life gave me strength and community. And throughout this time, JDC provided unceasing support. Eventually, I was invited to come work at Kedem. They knew my skillset, and thought I could contribute a lot. I worked my way up to become Kedem’s Chief Administrator. And since I studied developmental and child psychology, I know how to communicate with people of different ages. I still work there to this day: All’s well that ends well.
Alone and stressed, my Jewish life gave me strength and community––JDC provided unceasing support.
This experience has allowed me to give the people here the best possible assistance.
And here in Moldova, we’re seeing the results right in front of our eyes. Thanks to JDC, many people have already left to start new lives. Bit by bit, we have streamlined our system to meet everyone’s needs quickly and effectively. Moving countries is confusing and bureaucratic at the best of times. In the throes of crisis, it feels nearly impossible.
Luckily, JDC helps people every step of the way.
At night, my head is full of thoughts about whether people managed to get to their destinations, if they’re safe, if they’re happy. I am so glad when they call me with good news. Because of these worries, I can hardly sleep.
But still, I keep going.
Liudmila Mechina is the chief administrator at JCC Kedem in Chișinău, Moldova.