Humanitarian bridge between Romania and Ukraine

Humanitarian bridge between Romania and Ukraine

For the JC August 15 2022

The Israeli rescue contractor, Moti Kahana, renowned for his operations in saving refugees in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, has now begun a humanitarian “bridge” service, bringing vital supplies in and out of Ukraine.

Working with the American security company Constellis, Kahana’s NGO is based on the Romanian-Ukraine border and in the last week, working on the river between the two countries, has brought 1,000 tonnes of sunflower oil out of Ukraine, and transferred 1,000 tonnes of much-needed diesel into the country. The diesel goes to farmers to help them move their crops. He told the JC: “The goal is to move 25,000 tonnes each way every month. But the problem is that at the moment we only have 45 trucks, and we need many more”.

Speaking from Vienna, where he was negotiating to buy more trucks and also to discuss the potential for bringing cement into Ukraine if rebuilding some of its damaged cities were to begin, Kahana explained that the transfer operation currently ran on trucks, rail and riverboat ferries. A planned airlift is not yet functioning but is being worked on, he said.

“My parents were from Romania and as a Jewish guy, I feel very comfortable working here”, Kahana said. “Actually, I feel very proud. I feel that we [Jews] have returned as lions in the neighbourhood. I want to give a lot of credit to the Romanian government, because they have really helped us. We are trying to duplicate the Good Neighbour programme which I started between Syria and Israel. It’s really working — we are copying the small scale of Israel and Syria to the large scale of Romania and Ukraine.”

It’s hoped to move grain out of Ukraine, too, but everything depends on the progress of the war, Kahana said, noting that his operation could only move relatively small amounts of grain compared with the usual cargo shipments. His company, GDC, is in constant consultation with the US State Department as to how the supplies operation should continue.

“If the war and the blockade continues, we will get most of the supplies from Ukraine via Romania, as much as we can get out. If the war and the blockade stops, we will go the other way, taking material in for rebuilding. But I don’t think the war is going to stop any time soon”. The most immediate consideration was to raise the amount of transportation available, from diesel trucks — some of which Kahana was hoping to buy in Vienna — to river barges, some of which might even be sourced in the UK.

To a large extent, Kahana said, the refugee operation had stopped. He had previously run a refugee camp on the Romanian border with Ukraine, but said the human traffic had mainly stopped, and, in fact, many people were returning to Ukraine. “The war continues but people are very resilient and have ‘accommodated’ the bombing”, he said. All the NGOs waiting to receive refugees on the Romanian side had closed down, he said.

Nevertheless, as a result of the Romania/Ukraine initiative, Kahana is offering jobs to any Afghan citizen who can drive a truck and wants to leave Afghanistan. He is still getting people out of Afghanistan — at a much lower rate than previously — but because he now needs truck drivers to drive supplies in and out of Ukraine, he has decided to combine the two operations by employing ex-Afghans on this Romania-Ukraine supply route. The idea is that Kahana will get a man and his family out of Afghanistan and bring them to Romania. They must be able to show Romanian authorities that they can support themselves for the first six months after their arrival.

Kahana stressed that the humanitarian bridge was just that — “we do not take weapons and would not be allowed, by our agreement with the US State Department, to do so. This is purely a humanitarian supplies operation”.

The work is undertaken in co-operation with the Ukrainian ministries of transport and defence, while security is provided by Constellis. The transfers are not near the front line of Russian bombing, so are taking place relatively safely.

The entire venture, Kahana said, had made him realise that “it helps to be Jewish. There are so many Jews in the Ukrainian government, if not people who are 100 per cent Jewish, then many who are 50 per cent. And for me, that means it’s like working with family”.

  • 15 August, 2022