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Federation’s Overseas Partners Care for Ukraine Jewish Community in Crisis

Over the summer, while all eyes were on Israel, the people of Ukraine continued to suffer through serious political instability. Ongoing fighting between Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels has imperiled tens of thousands of Jews in Ukraine who need urgent aid to survive. This area once boasted a thriving Jewish population, but as the regional crisis continues to unfold, many residents are seeking safety and assistance through the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's overseas partners — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and The Jewish Agency for Israel — who have been on the ground helping safeguard the displaced and most vulnerable, including the disabled, elderly and children at risk in the region, and providing support for aliyah where it is a possibility.

For the people in Ukraine, help from the North American Jewish community means the difference between life and death. Collectively, The Jewish Federations of North America have committed $2 million to address the critical needs of the Jewish community of Ukraine through October 2014, with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation contributing to this effort. As the situation has deteriorated, needs have increased.

The elderly, the infirm and the poor are in need of daily assistance as aliyah is not possible for many of them.

An estimated 20,000 Jews are living in active war zones. JDC has increased its relief activity, providing food and medicine to those in the conflict zone, as well as continuing delivery of services to clients in need. In Ukraine, many supermarkets are closed, most medications are unavailable, ATMs are out of order, and public transportation in and out of the city is restricted. Where food is available, food prices have increased.

Among those relying on Hesed welfare programs, 2,000 have been displaced and are living in refugee camps, in need of food, water and medicine. JDC is assisting these people with money for food and medicine, vouchers for housing in hostels/apartments, trauma relief, children’s programming, and employment assistance. Three members of the community were recently killed when caught in crossfire, including two JDC volunteers. JDC workers and volunteers are risking their lives to bring food and medicine to clients for whom they are a literal lifeline.

For the Endeberrya family, the recent escalation of violence in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk hit terrifyingly close to home. Two months into the violence there, a bomb ripped through their house, destroying its walls and roof, crushing their furniture and many of their belongings, and also killing their dog.

The family left the city immediately, taking with them only what they were wearing. Not knowing where to go, they traveled about two and a half hours northwest to Kharkov, where a family of volunteers from the local Jewish community took them in. In Kharkov, JDC has been working hard to provide those who have left their homes with material support, host family accommodations and more. But the future remains uncertain for the Endeberryas.

Being forced to flee from war to safety isn’t new to Aza Grigorenko, 88. As a teenager during World War II, she and her mother resettled in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. There, Aza met her husband and gave birth to her only son, Alexsandr. Years later, after Alexsandr moved to St. Petersburg, her husband died and she became increasingly frail, Aza stayed. JDC has cared for her for the last decade, sending healthcare workers from the local Hesed social welfare center to her home, but when the current crisis in Ukraine intensified, Alexsandr came back to Slavyansk to relocate his mother. Mother and son now share a tiny two-room apartment in St. Petersburg and receive food, medicine and healthcare from their new local Hesed. As a citizen of a foreign country (Ukraine), Aza is not eligible for state social support in her new home in St. Petersburg. Alexsandr is not sure what else he can do. JDC is their only lifeline – their only support.

The Jewish Agency is now seeing increased numbers of individuals and families seeking assistance with aliyah. From January to September of this year, 3,252 Jews had relocated to Israel from Ukraine, reflecting an increase of 150 percent over the same time period last year. The Jewish Agency projects that the aliyah will continue and is preparing those who want to make aliyah.

The programs The Jewish Agency are implementing are keeping the people active in Jewish life and letting them know that Israel is an option for them. Over 400 children and youth participated in summer camps in Odessa, Kiev, and Primorsk. They also operated summer camps in Israel for Russian-speaking children. In addition, The Jewish Agency is assisting organizations with enhancing their security.

Yuri Sohriansky is one of hundreds of olim who arrived in Israel from the crisis now raging in Ukraine. For him and his family, making aliyah was a blessing — if not for the help of The Jewish Agency for Israel, they would still be in Lugansk, fearing for their lives. He recalls: “The situation in Lugansk, where I was born, is terrible: shots heard everywhere, lack of food, lack of medicine and terrorism against young people throughout the city by mercenaries. The houses across from ours were constantly under falling shells and rockets.

“Roads are closed and in the nighttime, there is complete darkness. Separatist fighters roam the city. From the few phone calls I receive, I have learned of those who have remained. Their lives are difficult, and the elderly sit at home. Those without passports cannot get out. I thank The Jewish Agency for helping us arrive in Ashkelon in peace.”

For more information, contact Dahlia Bendavid, Director of Federation's Israel and Overseas Department, at 786.866.8445 or dbendavid@gmjf.org.

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