Jewish refugees in Ukraine start building 'shtetl' - Tevye’s modern-day Anatevka

Seventy-six permanent apartments and 20 hotel-style rooms for transients will comprise the complex, says American volunteering on the project.

July 21, 2015 11:04
2 minute read.

A MODEL of the Anatevka Jewish refugee community being set up in Kiev for displaced persons from eastern Ukraine.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Just like Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof, some contemporary Ukrainian Jews will soon find themselves living in a “shtetl” called Anatevka. Currently being built by Kiev’s Jewish community to house refugees displaced by fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, the new Jewish refugee community will incorporate a Jewish school, synagogue and almost 80 apartments when it is completed this fall, according to its organizers.

Thousands of Ukrainian Jews have fled Ukraine’s eastern industrial regions, including more than three-quarters of the more than 10,000 Jews who until recently lived in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.

While more than 7,000 have immigrated to Israel since early 2014, many have remained internally displaced within Ukraine.

The brainchild of Rabbi Moshe Azman, the leader of one of the Ukrainian capital’s two Chabad congregations, the new complex will be located around a half-hour drive from downtown Kiev and is intended to house between 300 and 500 people, said Chaim Klimovitsky, an American volunteering on the project.

According to Klimovitsky, Azman purchased the land for the new shtetl around two-and-a-half months ago and almost immediately began construction, using Jewish refugees as labor as much as possible.

Refugees from eastern Ukraine find it hard to obtain housing and employment, with Western resentment against those viewed as holding rebel sympathies adding to the hardships of a stagnant economy and rampant inflation that they are already facing.

While Azman already runs a refugee camp in Shpola, and with another established by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in Zhitomir, both are converted summer camps and primarily serve as transit centers rather than as permanent homes for the displaced.

“Everyone thought it would be short term,” but since no resolution to the refugee crisis was at hand, the Jewish community felt that it had to search for a long-term solution, said Klimovitsky.

The wooden shells of several buildings can already be seen on the Jewish community’s Facebook page and the first of the two-story “townhouses” is expected to be finished by the beginning of September.

Seventy-six permanent apartments and 20 hotel-style rooms for transients will comprise the complex, Klimovitsky said.

According to the project’s website, “Located only 30 minutes from the Kiev city center, the community will serve as a basis for refugees to find work, receive medical and psychological rehabilitation and begin new lives. The community is currently under construction and will feature housing in small apartment blocks, a school, an orphanage, an old age home, a synagogue and community center.

“We also hope to build a small museum of Ukrainian Jewish history that will provide jobs and income for the community. We have made significant progress and the first families will move in in September. Join us in building a future for East Ukrainian Jewish refugees,” it added.

In May, the Israeli government upped its aid to help resettle Ukrainian Jews displaced by their country’s civil war, adding funds to the more than NIS 2 million it already gave since late 2014.

In October, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry inked a deal with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to create a common fund, three-quarters of which was endowed by the government, to resettle Jewish internally displaced persons within Ukraine. The money was used to subsidize food and rent costs for a period of two months for those fleeing the war.

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