After two and a half months of fighting, the war continues in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians, including tens of thousands of Jews, have fled the country, many to Israel. Jewish Federations and our partners continue to work together to ensure that urgent relief reaches the neediest.
(For background on the crisis, as well as for information on the Jewish community in Ukraine, see here).
- The mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv said that he had no doubt his city was still Russia's main target, as he warned residents returning that they should exercise caution. As long as the war continued, “we can't guarantee your safety,” he said.
- The US Ambassador to Russia held meetings with Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow “to discuss bilateral issues.” No further details of the meeting have been released.
- Meanwhile Ukraine has offered to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the evacuation of injured Ukrainian soldiers from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, which is under siege by Russian forces. No response to the offer has so far been received.
- A Jewish cemetery in Hlukhiv in northeastern Ukraine was bombed last Sunday by Russian forces, according to Ukraine's Minister of Culture and Information Oleksander Tkacjenko. Large numbers of Jews killed in a 1918 pogrom are buried in the cemetery, including prominent rabbis.
- The Kyiv Independent newspaper is reporting that as of late April, the Russian military has destroyed 30% of Ukraine’s infrastructure, causing $100 billion worth of damage. The newspaper says that total losses to the economy, both direct and indirect, have already reached over $560 billion, and that around 60% of small- and medium-sized businesses are currently closed or suspended. According to World Bank estimates, Ukraine’s economy will contract by 45% in 2022.
- According to the UN Human Rights Council, some 5.98 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the beginning of fighting. More than 1.59 million refugees who initially fled Ukraine have since returned. See here for an overall mapping of the situation of Ukrainian refugees in the neighboring countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has apologized to Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks that Hitler had Jewish blood. The comments were made during call by Putin to Bennett to congratulate him on Israel’s 74th Independence Day. According to Bennett’s office “the Prime Minister accepted President Putin’s apology for Lavrov’s remarks and thanked him for clarifying his attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust.”
The London Jewish Chronicle published this opinion piece on how Lavrov’s original claim that “Hitler was a Jew,” is part of a long-running history of Russian anti-Semitism (a similarly-themed article appeared in the times of Israel). Meanwhile the Jerusalem Post’s Amotz Asa-El argues here that “when Russian leaders turn to antisemitism, it means things are going bad, and are set to get worse,” and this article discusses whether Lavrov’s comments could change Israel’s stance on the war.
Meanwhile Bennett has partially begun again to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. Putin’s Independence Day call to Israel’s Prime Minister, came the day after Bennett spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Following that conversation, Zelensky tweeted that he and Bennett spoke about “countering the aggressor and about the critical situation in Mariupol.” According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Bennett asked Putin to examine a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol, Ukraine.
In a related development, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that numerous Israeli citizens are fighting with Azov, a Ukrainian military battalion with neo-Nazi roots. Russian spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated, “I’ll say something that the politicians in Israel who are now inflating their information campaign are unlikely to want to hear. Perhaps they will be interested. In Ukraine, Israeli mercenaries are actually shoulder-to-shoulder with the Azov militants.” While the Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment, last week, a video of what appeared to be Israelis fighting for Ukraine appeared on social media. Speaking in Russian-accented Hebrew, a soldier thanked “the government of Israel for helping us while we fight against the Russians.” Some 2,000 Israelis remain in Ukraine, most of whom are Israeli-Ukrainian dual citizens, and it is not unlikely that some have joined Ukrainians defending their country.
Also last week, a social media app linked to the Russian Government accused 10 Israelis who had worked on humanitarian efforts at the Ukraine-Poland border, of being mercenaries. The post also published their names and passport details. The list mainly comprised Israeli diplomats and embassy security, but also included Rishon Lezion Deputy Mayor Maksim Babitzky, who led a humanitarian aid delegation to the border in early March.
Separately, a group of Ukraine’s top teenage math geniuses have landed in Israel, to begin a specially-created program at Bar-Ilan University's International School. Over the past few weeks the school has arranged visas and housing, and prepared an interdisciplinary academic curriculum tailored to the students’ needs.
See here for an opinion piece published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security on why Israel needs to adjust its Ukrainian policy.
REFUGEES, FEDERATIONS, AND PARTNERS ON THE GROUND
Jewish Federations continue to raise money for Ukraine relief efforts, and have collectively raised more than $60 million since the fighting began, that is triple the amount of the initial goal of the Ukraine emergency campaign, launched on February 24th, 2022, the day that war broke out. Click here to see a presentation about the allocations process for these funds. Funds have been allocated to over 46 NGO’s that are operating on the ground in Ukraine and neighboring countries, including Jewish Federation partners, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and World ORT; as well as United Hatzalah, Hillel International, Nefesh B'Nefesh, HIAS, the Israel Trauma Coalition, Hadassah Medical Organization, Chabad, Shma Yisrael, Project Kesher, JCC Krakow, Jewish Community Vienna, the Emergency Volunteer Program and others.
Federations continue to run the volunteer hub in support of refugees fleeing Ukraine. The initiative is being run in partnership with the Jewish Agency, the JDC and IsraAID. To volunteer for this program (please note that only those who speak Russian and/or Ukrainian are being selected at this time), click here. Ukrainian-born Ana Sazanov is now the head of the Jewish Federation in Columbia, South Carolina, and is taking part in the volunteer program. Read more here.
Jewish Federations host half-hour webinars twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, to update audiences about the rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine. Click to register.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) continues to help Jews in need across Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, JDC has:
- Evacuated over 12,500 Jews from Ukraine including 84 medical evacuees.
- Provided more than 35,500 refugees with vital necessities, such as food, medicine, and psychosocial aid as they crossed from Ukraine into Romania, Moldova, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia – places where JDC is often their first line of support.
- Received over 16,600 incoming calls and made over 35,900 outgoing calls on emergency hotlines.
- Delivered over 314 tons of humanitarian aid, including food, medicine, soap, and other crucial supplies to Jews sheltering in Ukraine and those who have fled to Moldova.
- Accommodated over 20,000 people.
The Jewish Agency for Israel continues to coordinate mass relief efforts and enable Aliyah for the Jewish community in Ukraine. Read here about Max Szepka, who has been volunteering at a Jewish Agency Aliyah center in Budapest and aiding Jewish refugees alongside his friends from Ukraine. “Until I make Aliyah, I want to do everything I can to help both refugees and my own family so everyone can come to Israel,” he says.
World ORT says that is continuing to act as a lifeline for Ukrainian students and their families. To date, ORT has provided more than half a million dollars of financial aid, with more to come to provide for the delivery of essential items including medicine, food, water and ambulance services. ORT schools and educational programs in the country remain closed, but online classes are being offered to students and a number of Seders took place virtually during the Passover holidays. Some small events took place in person in some locations. Around 40% of ORT school families have left their homes, either moving abroad or to Western Ukraine. Of those now abroad, around 30% of ORT students are attending online lessons while others are enrolling in ORT schools across Europe, including in Spain, Bulgaria, Italy and the Baltic states.
Of all the ORT schools in Ukraine, those in the cities of Zaporozhe and Odessa are under the greatest stress. ORT in Zaporozhe has welcomed refugees from nearby areas such as Mariupol and has built up stocks of drinking water as well as some food and medical supplies.
Read here an article about the former dissident who now heads Ukraine’s Jewish community. And in this piece, CNN describes how Poland, once a place from where Jews escaped, is now welcoming thousands of Jewish refugees.
Jewish Federations have activated our emergency protocols and are working closely with the Government of Israel and our partners to do everything in our power to support efforts that ensure the safety and well-being of the entire Jewish community in Ukraine, as well as to provide as much general humanitarian aid as we can.
For more information, please contact: Dani Wassner