War in Ukraine Emma Igual, the Spanish granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor victim of a Russian attack in Ukraine

Emma's grandmother was Jewish

War in Ukraine Emma Igual, the Spanish granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor victim of a Russian attack in Ukraine

Emma's grandmother was Jewish. She was born in Austria, in the 1930s, and was a victim of the Holocaust. She lost her parents, her twin brothers and her aunt in concentration camps; She was alone. A Catalan couple adopted her and she moved to Barcelona, ​​where she put down roots and started her own family. Emma used to turn to her grandmother when she was asked where her altruistic streak came from, why she dedicated herself body and soul to humanitarian aid. "I grew up with that background, feeling what it must be like to be a refugee or an orphan, so I decided to help people in a situation similar to hers," she said last July 6 in an interview with The JC. -The Jewish Chronicle-, the oldest Jewish publication in the world that continues to be published, born in 1841.

Her grandmother, Emma told the journalist Paul Cainer, who was interviewing her about the dangerous humanitarian work she was doing in Ukraine, "watched" and "protected from above." That's how she felt.

Emma Igual was 32 years old, she had founded the NGO Road To Relief in March 2022 to help the Ukrainian population during the war and died last Saturday when the vehicle in which she was traveling was hit by a projectile, as announced yesterday by the minister. of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, after having received "verbal notification" of the death of the Spanish aid worker and awaiting official confirmation from the Ukrainian authorities.

The NGO run by Emma Igual recounted on its Instagram account what happened last Saturday around 10:00 a.m. The Spanish aid worker, along with three other Road To Relief colleagues - the German doctor Ruben Mawick, the Swedish volunteer Johan Mathias Thyr and the Canadian volunteer Anthony Tonko Ihnat - were traveling in a vehicle from their base in Sloviansk to Bakhmut "to evaluate the needs of civilians caught in the crossfire of the city of Ivanivske. About five kilometers from Bakhmut, when they were traveling through Chasiv Yar, "the vehicle was attacked by the Russians," the publication states. The Attorney General's Office of Ukraine, Javier Espinosa reports, also assesses the events as an attack by Russian forces, who fired an anti-tank guided missile at the car.

After receiving the impact, the vehicle overturned and caught fire. The NGO, according to its Instagram post on Saturday, was able to immediately confirm the death of the Canadian Tonko and recover his body, but did not know at the time about the fate of the Spanish woman. "Emma's current condition is still unknown," they conveyed. The other two aid workers, Ruben Mawich and Johan Mathias Thyr, seriously injured, were transferred to a field hospital.

The Spanish photojournalist María Senovilla was there, who has published images of the condition of the two volunteers on her X account (formerly Twitter). In them they are seen with their faces completely bandaged, as well as their hands and legs, affected by significant burns. "They arrived at 10:25 a.m. at this field hospital, they were transferred very quickly," Senovilla said. «Emma Igual did not arrive with them, but there was no evidence that she was dead either: she had disappeared. At the time of the evacuation, her companions claim that they did not find her body," she added.

Born in Barcelona on October 9, 1990, a polyglot - bilingual in Spanish, Catalan and English, she also spoke Arabic, French, Greek and Italian -, Emma Igual had a professional profile completely focused on cooperation, to which she has been dedicated since I was 20 years old. "I have collaborated with several NGOs in Greece, Myanmar, Kenya and Morocco, among other places," she said on her Linkedin profile. She headed the Amnesty International Youth Delegation for three years and also worked as a research associate for the United Nations.

The Jewish grandmother, who died of Covid at the age of 90 during the pandemic, did not know about the War in Ukraine nor that her granddaughter was going to leave to help those affected on the ground with what she had at the beginning of March 2022. The Emma herself told it in an episode of the Diario de Ukraine podcast, on RTVE, last March. The presenter asked her how she had founded Road To Relief, with what resources. She responded that she simply crossed the border with a van with two friends, co-founders of the NGO, to see what they found. "Without any type of plan, no resources, no money, without having done any prior fundraising," she said.

They started in Lviv, in Western Ukraine and gradually advanced towards the East, where the front was and their presence was most necessary. «When I first arrived, I was very surprised by the brutality of this conflict. It was like something out of World War I. The soldiers here even stand at the foot of the trench and the barbarism we see is also terribly disturbing,” the young woman narrated her first impressions of the war to The JC.

Emma and her two friends, who were joined by volunteers until there were about 25 people, were initially in charge exclusively of evacuating civilians, of helping people who were living among bombs get out. Within a year of their arrival, they had already saved 1,300 people, 650 of them children, about 300 with disabilities.

They later expanded their work to deliver humanitarian materials to those who had decided to stay despite being in the middle of the front. "People who feel very rooted in their land and who prefer to die rather than leave," Emma said. People to whom he delivered water, food, hygiene products and between 500 and 600 wood stoves so they could survive the winter, among other things.

“There are people who have lived without access to any type of food or water for months. They tell us stories of entire families, even with children, who have literally been eating grass for nine months and are now in a state of malnutrition or have diseases related to malnutrition," the Ukrainian Diary recounted the deficiencies of the population.

The next step that Road To Relief took with Emma was to launch a medical program. It included the evacuation and assistance of wounded at the front and also the creation of a mobile clinic. A team with doctors and nurses that traveled to the most dangerous places, to the towns near the bombs, to assist chronic patients who had been without access to any type of healthcare since the beginning of the war. The specialists examined them and Emma tried to get them the medicine they needed.

Attest to this, Lexuri Olabarriaga, who moved from Bilbao to Krakow (Poland) a year ago to help Ukraine from there. He works for JCC Krakow, a Jewish cultural organization that assists about 300 people a day with clothing and food. Emma contacted her, her account, through Instagram. «We only talk when she urgently needs something that she cannot get there, especially medicine, since she is always in contact with very elderly people from the areas near the front line who need to evacuate. He sends me the medical prescriptions and I buy at the pharmacies in Poland and send them to kyiv. And a friend takes him from kyiv to where she is. Sometimes she also asks me for medical supplies that I can't always get, but I send her humanitarian aid whenever I can," she says. «Emma is a person who goes out of her way to help those who are in a vulnerable situation. She doesn't care about working 24 hours a day without resting even on Christmas. She is an extraordinary person without a doubt », he says of her.

Working 24 hours a day is practically literal. In the 18 months that he had been in Ukraine he had not rested even once and only slept four hours a day. «We have been doing this for a year without stopping for even half a minute, because I am not exaggerating, we have not stopped for even half a minute. Even at Christmas or birthdays, we spend Christmas giving toys to hundreds of children who write from the front," she said in Diario de Ukraine, where she asked for donations and explained the enormous financial effort that she and the rest of the collaborators were making.

«We have had to put in a lot of money from our own savings, from our family's savings. I have family responsibilities with children that I adopted a while ago and a lot of the money that I have put in was money that I had saved for these children that I adopted”.

Emma was aware of the danger she was exposing herself to. She had seen how a friend, the British Chris Parry, 28, also a cooperator, died last January in circumstances similar to hers, hit by a projectile while trying to evacuate a woman by car. «The moment you stop being afraid is the day you must return home. Otherwise, you will make the wrong decision. It will mean that you are a danger to yourself and you will also start making the wrong decisions for those you are trying to rescue," she said.