The Jews of Ukraine need our support

The country faces a humanitarian crisis which requires the world’s attention. But it isn’t getting it.

March 11, 2015 21:42
3 minute read.
JEWS ATTEND the morning prayer

JEWS ATTEND the morning prayer at a synagogue in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, earlier this year. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Bombs now form part of the school curriculum in Ukraine. Unexploded rockets pose a real threat to life so children learn how to recognize different types to understand what they can’t touch on the playground.

This is exactly what happened last month in Kramatorsk, when a rocket struck the roof of a building housing a Jewish community center and a second landed in the yard. Fortunately, neither went off.

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Children running to bomb shelters is sadly not a new concept for readers of The Jerusalem Post. For the citizens of Ukraine, it has come as a huge shock.

The country faces a humanitarian crisis which requires the world’s attention. But it isn’t getting it.

More than a million people have been forced from their homes due to the fighting. Thousands of Jews are affected. The Ukrainian currency, the hryvna, has plummeted. Food prices have soared. Pensions have fallen to just $50. Elderly Jews cannot even afford even basic foodstuffs: an occasional apple is now considered a luxury. At a Jewish community event, guests were seen putting food in bags to take home. Colleagues told me they have never seen the Jewish community like this.

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Yet unlike to other humanitarian crises worldwide, this is not on our TV screens. Superpower politics, gun-toting men in balaclavas and very limited access for journalists means there is little awareness of or emotional sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of victims of this war right on Europe’s doorstep.

While political efforts have to be focused on stopping the conflict, greater effort needs to be made to assist with the enormous humanitarian needs that will only compound Ukraine’s problems unless addressed urgently.

My organization, World Jewish Relief, has worked across eastern Europe since before the fall of the Iron Curtain. We’ve supported the world’s most vulnerable Jews through earth-shattering events. We’ve repaired dilapidated homes and provided food and medicines.

We’ve brought dignity to people living with disabilities and trained single mothers so that they can lift their own families out of poverty.

I sense it is another critical moment in our organization’s 82-year history as we once again do all we can to assist a community under immense pressure.

A courageous history of leading the Kindertransport rescue before the Holocaust, when World Jewish Relief assisted almost 10,000 Jewish children to come to the UK, sets the standard of what we must expect of ourselves.

In Kharkov I met with 15 older Jewish people. They had fled to the city because of the fighting. Their stories were devastating. With our assistance, they had found accommodation, clothing and food, together with medical and psychological support. Nevertheless, they remain unsure of their future.

Some people have chosen to move to Israel and we have signposted them to the Jewish Agency. The rest want to remain, fiercely proud of their country and eager to see life return to normal.

Last September, we helped evacuate members of the Jewish community of Mariupol following fighting there. Jews who remain are living nervously once more after shelling has returned to the region.

The UN agencies have been grateful for our desire to support Ukraine’s most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and people with disabilities. We are exploring how to expand our efforts to provide additional, crucial, humanitarian support.

We can and must do more. The Jews of Ukraine need our support.

The author is chief executive of World Jewish Relief –

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