Independence Day: Jewish Ukrainian to light Diaspora Torch at ceremony

Elizaveta Sherstuk heads the "Chesed Chaim” humanitarian aid center in Sumy, Ukraine, and has helped Ukrainian Jews cope with the effects of war.

 Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai.  (photo credit: ASI EFRATI)
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai.
(photo credit: ASI EFRATI)

Elizaveta Sherstuk from Ukraine has been selected to light the Diaspora Torch at this year’s Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony in May.

Born in 1971, Sherstuk is a member of the Jewish community of Sumy, Ukraine – where she still lives today – and has been a staple of the Jewish Diaspora in the besieged country and in other parts of Eastern Europe.

Sherstuk also heads the Chesed Chaim humanitarian aid center, a Jewish aid organization established in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, where she organizes traditional Jewish music activities and programs for Jews of all ages and across all backgrounds – though her role has shifted to providing humanitarian help in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Elizaveta [Sherstuk], her colleagues from Jewish and Israeli organizations, [and] volunteers and professionals, have been a ray of light that has broken through the darkness which has been cast over Ukraine,” said Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai. “They have provided help and assistance, under fire, in conditions of severe distress and at great risk, and have taught us all what human love is and what Jewish solidarity is.

“She is therefore very worthy of lighting the Diaspora torch at the upcoming Independence Day.”

NOA TISHBY hosts an event in Jerusalem for Diaspora Week. (credit: ASI EFRATI)NOA TISHBY hosts an event in Jerusalem for Diaspora Week. (credit: ASI EFRATI)

Sumy, near the Eastern border with Russia, was one of the first cities to be attacked by Russian forces. Sherstuk has worked to protect the lives of the city’s Jews since day one, leading efforts to purchase and deliver food to elderly and disabled members of the community through the Chesed Chaim center.

“In a terrible war, there are points of light such as the actions of Elizaveta,” Culture Minister Hili Tropper said.

 “Elizaveta, like many other Jews and Israelis, has not looked aside in the face of the atrocities taking place in her country, but instead chose to help and take action.”

 When a humanitarian corridor in Sumy was opened, Sherstuk organized a complex logistical operation to evacuate the elderly and disabled from the city and transport them to safe havens. She persuaded a number of drivers to take part in the dangerous operation and was able to ultimately help 150 people – some of whom were disabled – escape from the city.

“Elizaveta represents the values of mutual responsibility, of Zionism and of global Jewish brotherhood,” Shai said. “Elizaveta and her colleagues bring great honor to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”