Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich.
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
A building housing a Jewish social welfare center in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, was hit by rockets on Tuesday during a barrage that killed at least seven people in the government- held city.
Two rockets hit the nine-story building housing the city’s Hesed branch but failed to explode, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs the network of community service centers in the former Soviet Union.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Hesed director Galina Gabinskaya recalled eating lunch when she heard the first rocket strike in the courtyard of the building. Looking out her first floor window she saw its tail sticking up out of the ground. Shortly afterward, she heard the second rocket hit the roof.
Hesed employees called emergency services and bundled the 12 elderly clients who were in the building at the time into taxi cabs, before leaving themselves.
At first “we were in shock and didn’t understand what was going on and that we were under shelling. The fear came later” as reality sank in, Gabinskaya said.
JDC CEO Alan Gill said, “This latest development is another stark reminder of the harsh conditions on the ground that impact the lives of the most vulnerable in Ukraine every day. As we mourn the loss of life, our staff on the ground are tending to the elderly and poor Jews we serve in the city to ensure their safety. We remain vigilant and dedicated to delivering humanitarian aid to the thousands in Ukraine who are facing violence, scarcity of food and medicine, and the harsh winter months.”
The center in Kramatorsk provides services to more than 560 elderly and poor Jews.
While the social service network usually deals with issues of poverty, especially among the elderly, during the course of the Russian-backed insurgency it has increased its operational tempo to provide services for more than 4,600 Jews in the war zone and to 2,400 internally displaced persons.
It appears that the rockets were fired from separatist-controlled Horlivka, Tamya Shapkovsky, a member of the local Jewish community, told the Post by telephone on Tuesday evening.
“I can’t say we are nervous or scared, but we all have our bags packed,” Shapkovsky said, explaining she was waiting for the results of talks between European and Russian leaders in Minsk on Wednesday before deciding on a course of action.
“If there will be any hot situation or more conflict, probably we all have to leave the city.”
In response to Tuesday’s violence, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich called on the separatists and their Russian backers to negotiate with Kiev and cease fighting.
“It is very unfortunate that lives are being lost and I cannot understand why the sides cannot get together and stop the killings. They are senseless.
The terrorists, the separatists are not gaining anything,” he told the Post.
“I don’t understand what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants. [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko offered an unconditional cease-fire if they stop shooting. Let’s stop the fighting and get to the table and see what we can do. People are losing their lives for no reason now,” Bleich said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman will travel to Ukraine on Wednesday, some three weeks after he went to Moscow.
Israel has walked a carefully balanced middle course during the Ukrainian crisis, not wanting to say anything that would antagonize the US, but also not wanting to do anything to antagonize Putin.
In Kiev, Liberman is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Arsenyi Yatsenyuk, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, chairman of the National Parliament Volodymyr Groysman and former president Leonid Kuchma.
He will also meet representatives of the Ukrainian Jewish community.
He will also take part in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by Israel, Canada and Ukraine regarding agricultural development.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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