Ukraine is home to 200,000 Jews—and a lot of turmoil. According to Federation partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel, the political crisis of 2013 has “evolved into war and near humanitarian catastrophe in Eastern Ukraine. The Jews of Ukraine, the world’s fifth largest Jewish population, are not immune. They face a crumbling economy, terrifying war reality, political instability, ethnic tensions, and anti- Semitism.”
But amidst it all, they celebrate.
Between our global partner agencies, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel, Jews in Ukraine are taken care of—whether they need protection or simply community. This is thanks in part to your support of Federation, which funds these programs through the Community Campaign.
2016 was a relatively calm year in Eastern Ukraine, but this year, the fighting has escalated. Ceasefire violations are on the rise, and dozens of civilians are injured daily.
The people of Ukraine were just beginning to have hope. Since the crisis began, Federation’s global partners have remained on the ground, providing assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons, and those who choose to stay.
The Jewish Agency’s Mayak Center for Displaced Persons is a lifesaver for many Ukrainians—if they can get there. Getting from the zones controlled by Separatists to the Ukrainian zone (where the Center is located) costs 500 hryvnia ($20), which is more than 10% of the average local monthly salary. The border crossing is only open eight hours a day, when it isn’t closed due to fighting.
But the trip is worth it.
Once they arrive at the Mayak Center, refugees stay an average 20 days as they await aliyah visas. While there, they attend seminars to prepare for life in Israel and receive top-of-the-line mental health support. Since 2013, more than 21,000 people have made aliyah from Ukraine.
Support for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Across Ukraine, JDC has assisted more than 2,000 IDPs with rent, winter relief, and more. Many, like Valeriya, left their close-knit communities only to be discriminated against in their new homes.
“You’ll steal my furniture,” Valeriya remembers hearing. Landlord after landlord, biased against IDPs, refused to rent an apartment to her.
When Valeriya and her family finally found an apartment, JDC stocked their new home with household supplies, clothes, and toiletries. But even as they continue to receive psychosocial support and rent assistance from JDC, the family can’t help but long for a past that no longer exists. “We had a car, an apartment, a country house,” says Valeriya. “We live with a new reality now.”
Those Who Stay
Banks are closed. Food is hard to get. Medicine is limited. Anti-Semitism is almost expected; swastika graffiti is not uncommon; Jewish gathering places are often targets of attacks. Not many choose to stay, but some are unable to leave. Dedicated volunteers risk their lives to deliver food to elderly couples stuck in the conflict zone. In times of conflict, this support is one constant source of comfort in an otherwise nightmarish situation.
The fact that Odessa’s Migdal JCC exists—much less that it has been open for twenty-five years—is worthy of celebration. 600 people gathered to celebrate the JCC’s 25th anniversary. The center was the first in the former Soviet Union, starting out small with a handful of programs offered on Sundays. “We started from scratch,” says Kira Verkhovskaya, chair of the board. “We now have over 100 programs offered in three locations.” But the main achievement, she says, is that the center has become a Jewish family that offers a home forever. “You come here as a kid; you grow up, meet your future spouse, create a family, and then bring your own child here again.”