Ukrainian Jews look to evacuate city as Jewish woman reportedly killed by shelling

Number of casualties mounting amidst shelling by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

January 25, 2015 16:21
2 minute read.
Mariupol ukraine

Remains of shelling by pro-Russian rebels in Mariupol, eastern Ukrain. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Jewish leaders in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are urging their constituents to flee as casualties mount amid shelling by Russian- backed separatists.

One member of the Jewish community has been killed by the shelling, Aaron Kaganovsky, the assistant to city Rabbi Mendel Cohen, told

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“There’s turmoil in the community, but we continue to function,” Kaganovsky said. “Additionally, we are trying to persuade everyone who is willing to leave the city for Zhitomir and other places where we may be received. The move will be organized with our help.”

While held by the Ukrainian army, the strategic port city of almost half a million, on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border, has experienced upheaval and violence, and has seesawed between rebel and government control over the course of the last year. It has again become a flashpoint as a shaky cease-fire between the sides collapsed last week.

The Jewish community of Zhitomir in central Ukraine is providing Mariupol’s Jews with a bus and will provide housing for the refugees, Kaganovsky added.

Until recently, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and the Chabad hassidic movement ran a transit center for refugees at a summer camp there.

Another camp in the city of Shpola currently serves a similar purpose.

People in Mariupol are panicking and several thousand residents of the city have already fled, but the city’s Jewish leadership “immediately took the Jewish community under control in this matter, to avoid hysteria,” Kaganovsky said.

“We want to organize a mass move. On Monday we’ll submit the final lists, but it’s practically impossible to prepare them in one day, especially as the tragedy happened on Shabbat. We already have around 70 people who wish to leave, only the ones who have already said ‘yes’ and have tried to leave themselves. But we also have elderly people who can’t leave; it is hard for them. Above all, we have called the families of all the children at the school and kindergarten.”

There are between 2,500 and 3,000 Jews living in the city, according to the local branch of Hesed, a project of the American Joint Distribution Committee which services elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union.

Out of that group, around 500 families attend the synagogue at least once a year, Cohen’s assistant Ludmilla Beyter told The Jerusalem Post last year.

Despite sporadic shelling throughout the fall, community leaders spoke defiantly of remaining in place, a stance at odds with their current plans.

Speaking to the Post in September, one communal figure said that while she kept bags packed and a car full of gas, she was “not going to leave this city and I am going to be here till the last moment.”

Around that time roughly 200 Jewish refugees arrived in Mariupol from the separatist stronghold of Donetsk. As pro-Russian forces advanced, however, the Jews moved on, fleeing further back into government- held territory.

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