For the past several months a severe political and military conflict has plunged Ukraine into a crisis situation. With Russian and pro- Russian troops taking over the Crimea region, vast areas in Eastern Ukraine have been under fire. Over 3000 people were killed- including 3 Jews- and hundreds of thousands left their homes, leaving behind ghost towns. The weak Ukrainian economy has suffered additional blows. The value of the currency was significantly reduced, foreign investments came to a halt and Russia’s control over gas supplies bodes a very harsh winter for all Ukrainian citizens.
There are an estimated 300,000 Jews living in Ukraine with several tens of thousands in the Crimea region. During the past several months most of the Jews in Lugansk, Donetsk and the neighboring cities have left their homes. The majority left to safer cities in Ukraine, some to Russia, close to 3000 made Aliya to Israel and a small minority stayed. Our colleagues at JDC have been working tirelessly to provide emergency, welfare and recreational services. Interestingly, there is no official Jewish position on the conflict. The Jews in many ways represent the internal strife where one can find supporters of both sides. All along the JCCs and Hesed Centers (centers for the elderly) in Ukraine continued to provide programs to the local Jewish community and to refugees. During the summer, many children and youth participated in JCC summer camps and some attended the Szarvas camp in Hungary. We would like to share with you the work that has been done by the Mazal Tov JCC in Zaporizhzhya as told to us by Inessa Nosenko, the Director of the JCC and a Fellow in the JCC Global Amitim-Fellows Program:
“For the past few months the Mazal Tov JCC in Zaporizhzhya welcomed new friends. A large number of refugees from the Eastern region of Ukraine arrived in our city. Among them were 7 Jewish families who desperately needed help and support. One of them was Misha’s family. The father stayed in Donetsk in order to protect their apartment. The mother took 10 year old Misha, who needs constant medical and educational assistance, and fled. Misha and his mother were welcomed by our staff and enjoyed the programs at the JCC. Misha is a very friendly boy, eager to learn and soon found a home in our JCC.
Another family with two children, 7 year old Ksyusha and 4 year old Misha stayed with relatives in Zaporizhzhya for 3 months. The family fled from Alchevsk (in the Luhansk region) where the father stayed. At first, the mother tried to return to their home in Alchevsk in order not to lose her job, but when she was dismissed without any payment, she decided to leave and be with her children. The father suffers from atherosclerosis and the family is very worried about getting proper care with the recent situation. This is the situation now with many families from that region. The Mazal Tov JCC became a safe haven for the refugee families; welcoming families in need and trying to help them in every way possible.”