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Palestinian-Ukrainian student in Scotland ‘desperate’ to get sister out of Gaza

A Palestinian-Ukrainian student living in Scotland has said she is “desperate” to get her younger sister evacuated from Gaza as “every second and minute is a threat on her life”.

Laila Saliekh, 26, a PhD student studying physics at the University of Edinburgh, said her 24-year-old sister, Katrena Saleh, is currently sheltering in a tent in Rafah, southern Gaza, amid the conflict with Israel.

Ms Saliekh was born in Ukraine along with her siblings and said her family relocated to Gaza when they were children.

She said her parents decided to leave for safety reasons, first moving back to Ukraine in 2020, before settling in Sweden when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022.

Ms Saliekh moved to Edinburgh in 2022, while her sister decided to stay at their home in northern Gaza to continue studying medicine at the Islamic University of Gaza.

A photo of Katrena Saleh sitting on a bench and smiling at the camera
Katrena Saleh was studying medicine at the Islamic University of Gaza when the Israel-Hamas war began (Laila Saliekh/PA)

As Ms Saleh holds a both a Palestinian and Ukrainian passport, Ms Saliekh said her family were hoping the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine or the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel or Egypt would be able to help in evacuating her but she said her sister has been denied.

“Every second and minute is a threat on her life and we’re desperate to get her out as soon as possible,” Ms Saliekh told the PA news agency.

“She’s been displaced four times since this all started and now she’s not far from the (Rafah) border, she’s in the ‘safe zone’ but it’s not safe.”

It comes as the number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip has reached more than 30,000 since the war began nearly five months ago, with the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah looming.

Ms Saliekh said that she is “really scared” about the “threats of an invasion on Rafah” as her sister and other relatives are sheltering in the area.

A photo of Laila Saliekh with her sister Katrena Saleh standing on a bridge in front of some water smiling at the camera
Laila Saliekh and her sister Katrena Saleh, who is currently sheltering in Rafah, southern Gaza (Laila Saliekh/PA)

She said: “Our house is gone, everyone is living in tents, where is she supposed to go?

“I’ve lived through three wars but it seems like this one is horrible compared to the ones in the past – my friends told me this war is like the past three combined, that’s how horrible it is.”

She added: “I sometimes feel like she’s going crazy, like laughing hysterically and saying she doesn’t care anymore – you get used to all these horrible things and it becomes part of your day.”

A photo of Katrena Saleh smiling at the camera
Laila Saliekh said she will try and speak to her sister, Katrena Saleh (pictured), every morning and evening if she’s ‘lucky’ (Laila Saliekh/PA)

“I have seen a lot of pictures of her and she seems to have lost a lot of weight, but she’s distracting herself with some volunteer work at the medical aid points.

“She keeps telling me that she’s fine and she repeats the same thing everyday that she’s doing better than most of the people, that she’s grateful for what she has.

“I don’t know who is supposed to comfort who, but she’s comforting us and I don’t know how she does that.”

Ms Saliekh has started a GoFundMe page to help with the costs of paying an agency to secure her sister’s passage out of Gaza, which she said would cost between 5,000 dollars (£3,939) and 10,000 dollars (£7,878), with the hopes that Ms Saleh could go to Sweden to be with her relatives there.

A photo of Laila Saliekh and Katrena Saleh smiling at the camera
Laila Saliekh (right) has started a GoFundMe page to help with the costs of evacuating her sister, Katrena Saleh (left), from Gaza (Laila Saliekh/PA)

She added that her family were previously scammed out of paying 3,000 dollars (£2,363) to a different agency, who stopped responding to their calls and emails once they paid.

“10,000 dollars is a huge amount and it’s not only crossing the border, there’s additional costs like tickets or a car,” she said.

“We paid 3,000 dollars to an agency and they still haven’t replied to us and it’s been months.

“We didn’t have a choice and were desperately seeking anyone who could help.”

The PA news agency has contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel and Egypt for comment.

To find out more, visit: gofundme.com/f/help-katrena-evacuate-from-gaza?cdn-cache=0