It started in November with peaceful protests against government actions to strengthen political ties with Russia instead of the European Union. It snowballed over the next few months into violent confrontations between police and protestors, resulting in dozens dead, hundreds injured, and scenes of destruction that have gripped the world. Fugitive ex-President Yanukovych has fled to Russia, avoiding mass murder charges.
Russia has invaded and annexed Crimea with armed squads of masked soldiers, who sealed off the province to Ukrainian forces. In mid-April, three pro-Russian militants were killed in a fight near a Black Sea military base. Many are concerned that Putin plans to invade and annex east Ukraine.
Although the estimated 300,000 Jewish residents in the capital city of Kiev and throughout Ukraine are not outright targets of violence, it has touched them like everyone else. Some Jews in Kiev live close to Independence Square, site of protest encampments and some of February’s deadliest clashes, and are afraid to leave their houses.
On February 23, the Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, 250 miles southeast of Kiev, was firebombed. A Holocaust memorial in Odessa was vandalized in early April. The National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia (NCSJ) confirms that a recent notice for Jews to register in the eastern city of Donetsk is false, yet still worrying.
The 17,000 Jews in Crimea are worried by Russian territorial incursions. There are concerns about deepening divisions in the country and the rise of the radical right.
Nearly 300 Jewish communal leaders joined a Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) conference call on the situation in Ukraine on Monday, March 3. Leaders from JFNA partner agencies JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), the Jewish Agency, World ORT and NCSJ summarized their organizations’ efforts to assist Ukraine’s Jews, stressing the dynamic nature of the situation and their commitment to the safety of the Jewish community and its institutions. They also discussed the integral role that JFNA core unrestricted giving plays in their ability to be ready for any type of emergency.
Here’s what JFNA’s partner agencies are doing:
- • JDC has activated its emergency response network to ensure continued home deliveries of food, medicine, heating and cooking fuel, and sustained life-saving care at home for the elderly. It has increased security at select Jewish communal institutions and Hesed social welfare centers. With heightened tensions in Crimea, JDC has also activitated special emergency plans for the region’s estimated 17,000 Jews.
- • The Jewish Agency has tapped its Emergency Assistance Fund, started in 2012, to bolster security at Ukraine’s many Jewish institutions, including synagogues, yeshivas and community centers. A total of 375 new immigrants have come to Israel from Ukraine in January-March of this year, on board Jewish Agency flights: 70 percent more than in the same months last year (221).
- • World ORT has launched a campaign to raise $200,000 to fund increased security at four of its schools in Ukraine. Each school has several hundred students, many of whom travel to class through now-dangerous areas. Programs have been canceled. The father of a student at the Chernovtsy school was killed during clashes in Kiev on February 20. Plans include hiring additional security guards and installing closed-circuit TV and alarm systems on school grounds.
- • Additionally, NCSJ is sending out frequent communication briefs informed by various governmental, non-governmental, and Jewish communal sources.
These efforts, and so many more, are being funded by Jewish Federation dollars. JFNA has opened a mailbox for donations to our overseas partners to support urgent relief efforts. To donate, go to https://secure-fedweb.jewishfederations.org/page/contribute/ukraine-assistance.