‘The Russians are blowing up all the airports in the whole country’ - Ukraine chief rabbi

Communities relocating to West, other countries pitching in

(Left to right) President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, BYHMC Supervisory Board member and President of World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder, and Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine, standing at the new Babyn Yar Memorial. Rabbi Bleich is holding the memorandum of understandi (photo credit: EVGENIY BORISOVSKIY)
(Left to right) President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, BYHMC Supervisory Board member and President of World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder, and Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine, standing at the new Babyn Yar Memorial. Rabbi Bleich is holding the memorandum of understandi
(photo credit: EVGENIY BORISOVSKIY)

In the face of the outbreak of the war, the rabbis of 160 Jewish communities in Ukraine issued special instructions to the leaders of communities asking them to keep all the guidelines, take care of all the Jews in their cities, and stressing that “we are staying here, in the country.”

The rabbis have been repeating that they aren’t going anywhere, in contrast to Jewish Agency personnel who have left the country and created panic.

Nevertheless, the Jewish Federation said in a statement that “those who can leave Ukraine safely should do so through land crossings.”

Furthermore, it said, “It should be emphasized that most of the rabbis and Chabad emissaries in the country, who have Israeli or American citizenship, remained in Ukraine in order to be with their congregations in these difficult moments, out of heavy responsibility and leadership. In the coming hours, the rabbis of the Federation will hold an emergency meeting during which they will discuss whether to send women and children from the Jewish communities in the east to a place of safety in the west of the country.”

In a message sent last week to the rabbis by the Federation, instructions written by security personnel as well as by the Federation’s chief of staff emphasized safety and security measures: “In case of massive fire toward the houses – turn off the light, lie down and hide in rooms or halls without windows. Be prepared to take in community members who may choose to flee to your community home/synagogue/school – in such situations, the first priority is to go down to the basement with everyone.”

Read more on the Ukraine-Russia War:

The instructions included a call to prepare for a long time of crisis. 

 People evacuated from separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine walk at a tent camp set up by the Russian Emergencies Ministry near the Matveyev Kurgan border checkpoint in the Rostov region, Russia February 19, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/SERGEY PIVOVAROV) People evacuated from separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine walk at a tent camp set up by the Russian Emergencies Ministry near the Matveyev Kurgan border checkpoint in the Rostov region, Russia February 19, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/SERGEY PIVOVAROV)

“Be prepared with a quantity of water and dry food for several days. The ingredients should be in an accessible place without obstacles in access, in order to avoid panic and injury.”

The Jewish Federation heads further warned their constituents that “cellular communications may be disrupted in addition to electricity, water and lack of fuel at gas stations.”

They also reminded members of Jewish communities to “prepare a file with all the documents or equipment for a few days in case an evacuation takes place.”

The Federation also asked for world Jewry to pray for its safety. “We call on the Jews of the world to pray for peace and hope that this war will end without any casualties.”

ASHKENAZI CHIEF RABBI of Israel David Lau spoke with Rabbi Moshe Asman and Rabbi Yaakov Bleich of Ukraine.

“The chief rabbi heard from them about the feelings of the communities at the moment following the war that broke out this morning, and the difficult struggle they are going through during these difficult hours,” a spokesman said. “The chief rabbi strengthened the rabbis in Ukraine, and said that during these hours all the people of Israel are by your side, praying for you and longing for the end of the war without further losses.”

The chief rabbi informed the Ukrainian rabbis that he and his staff would be available for anything needed in the coming days for the communities in Ukraine.

Kyiv Jewish community members said that thousands of Jewish families have left the city, and are living in temporary campsites in different areas in the west of Ukraine.

One of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, said that “the Russians are blowing up all the airports in the whole country and also all the military bases, military warehouses and more.”

As for the situation in Ukraine’s Jewish communities, “those who managed to get out of town to our campsite are fine, but not everyone got out,” said Bleich. “We’re trying to get buses that can help about 200 Jewish community members from Kyiv to our campsite, which is located 100 kilometers west of Kyiv.”

Speaking from his home in the US, Bleich said that he was not able to enter Ukraine even before the war broke out since he was “on the Russians’ list.”

“The problem is that there is a war going on now, so it isn’t easy to drive on the highways,” Bleich said. He noted that about 150 of his community members already left Kyiv a few days ago and are living at a summer campsite that was quickly turned into a place suitable for living in the cold Ukrainian winter.

“Many community members got out of Kyiv in private vehicles this morning,” he said. “We are now installing generators and heating at the campsite that is usually in use only in the summer.”

Bleich’s community’s campsite can host 320 people. However “if we need more space, we have agreements with other campsites that have room for another 400 people,” he said. “The question is whether it will be safe enough to stay there or rather move west. There is another place near the border with Hungary that is suitable for several hundred people. We have agreements with four hotels that are located next to each other. The problem is that this location is very far from the current campsite.”

When asked if there was any scenario that involved leaving Ukraine and crossing the border, Bleich answered, “There is a problem because not everyone has the necessary documents or passports. Those who had the opportunity to cross the border came to Israel already. I have had offers from Jewish communities in Europe such as Slovakia or Hungary to host our community members, but it wasn’t relevant since whoever leaves Ukraine from our communities asked to go to Israel.”

One of Russia’s chief rabbis, Berl Lazar, called upon all the Jews in his country to take advantage of this coming Shabbat and add prayers for the peace of citizens and Jews of all communities, out of love for Israel.

“Peace is one of the names of God, and to Him we pray every day that He will bring peace between all people, and it is also His will that we do everything in our power for a life of peace between all,” Lazar said in a message that was sent to the Russian Jewish communities. “We call on you to pray that blood will not be shed, God forbid, and of course to provide any support to those who are now having a hard time, including those who have had to leave their homes who now need physical help along with mental assistance. God is for peace and quiet.”

The World Mizrachi Movement is initiating a plan for hosting Jewish communities from Ukraine in Poland.

“We have been in contact with our representatives in Ukraine, and we understand that there are many Jews who are making their way west,” said Rabbi Doron Peretz, chairman of the World Mizrachi Organization. “Mizrachi, as a global movement and as mutual guarantor of the people of Israel, turned to Chief Rabbi of Poland Mordechai Schudrich, to the heads of communities, and together are preparing for the absorption of Jews before this upcoming Saturday.”

Co-president Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman added: “In the next few days we will connect the communities from which Jewish citizens of Ukraine are being evacuated to the Jewish communities in neighboring countries.”

In recent weeks, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Salzman, the leader of Moldova’s Jewish community, has made extensive preparations anticipating military development between Ukraine and Russia, with the aim of absorbing thousands of Israelis and Jews fleeing the war zones in Ukraine.

“As part of the deployment, we are ready with a fleet of buses to transport people from Ukraine to Moldova, with food supplies, pre-rented hotels along with additional shelters for the absorption of hundreds of people, and emergency medical teams,” said a member of the Moldavian Jewish community.