Jewish community efforts continue during Russia-Ukraine conflict
Our staff in the region have been working around the clock offering support for Jews in Ukraine and to those who are now refugees in other countries. We are in daily, almost hourly, contact with our Jewish community representatives in Ukraine (Vaad of Ukraine and the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine (JCU)) and are also coordinating closely with our affiliated communities, and other Jewish and Israeli organizations, in the bordering countries. The situation is extremely chaotic, but nevertheless we have been able to make some progress in helping those in need.
Our President Ronald S. Lauder is continuing to be actively engaged and supportive, for which we are all extremely grateful.
Situation in Ukraine
Access into Ukraine for humanitarian aid is very difficult. Most trucks do manage to enter and then leave their aid in cities such as Lyviv, Mukachevo and Uzhgorod, but cannot go any further. As a result, the whole of western Ukraine is packed with tons of humanitarian aid, but those in need in central and eastern Ukraine can’t receive the goods. WJC staff found a way to deliver smaller amounts of humanitarian aid and medicine by smaller vans to get it to the most vulnerable. We are also working with Vaad to arrange bus transports for refugees from Kyiv to the western borders, and then to use those busses to bring aid directly back to Kyiv, which may help the flow of needed provisions.
We are also in touch with numerous organizations on the ground and around the world to find the best way to have as much aid as needed.
Residents of the Jewish old age home in Kyiv - many of whom are Holocaust survivors – were successfully evacuated at the request of the JCU. WJC contributed funds to help cover the costs of food and accommodation in their new country of residence.
WJC staff were also able to deliver sorely needed insulin supplies for diabetics to Kyiv and other cities close to the war zone.
Communities in Neighboring Countries
The second week of the war brought the Jewish communities even closer to each other on the national, regional and international levels. After the first shock, communities started to professionalize their process and crisis management teams and recruited a relatively large number of volunteers to help at the arrival points and accommodation centers. By now most communities have also managed to develop a communication strategy, both internal and external, so that sustainable help can be maintained. Some communities have also started to get in touch with non-bordering communities to find longer-term solutions for refugees.
Jewish communities in Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia continue to communicate and share information concerning humanitarian resources via a working group we developed at the onset of the confrontation. In coordination with local and international organizations, humanitarian aid has been transported to border crossings, railway stations, and other areas; care for refugees arriving in their respective countries is also being provided. This care includes food packages, accommodation, medical treatments, legal and psychological support.
Refugees are continuing to arrive, now in larger numbers then the week before - which was expected. As an example, in the first week Moldova received 2,000 Jewish refugees, and then in one day of this week they have received 1,000 more, with many more arriving daily.
Other communities don't have such a big number of Jewish refugees arriving, except Hungary.
The Hungarian Jewish community is providing humanitarian aid, including, food, medical and psychological assistance to refugees. The level of cooperation between Jewish organizations working in the country --MAZSIHISZ, JCC, JDC, the Jewish Agency (JAFI) and WJC -- is unprecedented. In addition to the aforementioned humanitarian aid, the organizations have established multiple welcome locations for refugees to provide helpful information at the central train station. In addition, the organization created a website to better coordinate support for Ukrainian refugees and provide information and referral services: https://jewsforukraine.hu/
The Moldovan Jewish community is currently the main destination for Jewish refugees. The situation is becoming more complicated because of the increasing number of people fleeing Ukraine coming to Moldova. The waiting time for those Jews who need assistance (Aliyah, flights to Israel, passport etc.) is becoming longer. One of the current challenges is that temporary accommodation has to become longer term, both in Kishinev and outside of Kishinev. Older refugees do not only need accommodation, but also medical services. It is difficult to determine how best to help the new refugees – whether to organize a logistical chain to Israel, or to other EU countries.
The community has 11 temporary accommodations and is cooperating with all Jewish and humanitarian organizations on the ground. Busses are arriving on a daily basis. Moldova would appreciate more support from other communities, because although Moldova is a transit territory, refugees might need to stay longer than just overnight. One of the destinations is Romania (to fly to Israel), along with Germany and Israel, but also possibly more distant destinations such as Canada, the UK and the US. Support in obtaining the necessary visas would be most welcome especially as the pressure increases.
The Polish Jewish community is coordinating with NGOs and continuing to provide humanitarian aid, including food, and medicine to refugees.
The Romanian Jewish Community is providing assistance on the border. They have set up a tent on the border, where more than 2,000 meals are provided daily. More than 100 busses from the border have already left for Romania. The Community needs funding to continue providing help as the numbers of refugees are rising.
The Slovakian Jewish community is attempting to accommodate a number of refugees who are hoping to settle in the country, as it is close to Ukraine. Initially many Jewish refugees arriving in the country needed one or two days of accommodation before continuing on to Israel.
At the moment, numbers of refugees are coming and they don’t know what to do next. They are staying in Slovakia for the time being. They are also asking for jobs and apparently plan to stay. Slovakia is close to Ukraine, and they could go back anytime. The language is also similar and it is easier for them to start a new life. Humanitarian aid was delivered to Ukraine, but there were some difficulties with the delivery and some illegal patrols stopped the cargo on the road and demanded payment for delivery.
Reports from affiliated Communities
The Austrian Jewish community has already welcomed 250 refugees in Vienna, in 2 hotels. They are providing kosher meals, financial support, medical care, sim cards, psychological care and kindergarten classes are being offered in Russian with special programs available to Ukrainian children and their parents. They are prepared to help refugees with registration as soon as the new law on refugees is passed, so that they can stay up to two years with access to medical care and other services.
The British Jewish community has not received many refugees thus far but expects that 200,000 refugees will be able to resettle in the UK.
The French Jewish community is assisting both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees and is in touch with French and international NGOs.
The Nordic Jewish communities and the Italian Jewish Community have offered to take some of the refugees to their countries - this would bring much needed relief to Moldova. We are working with the communities concerned to try to facilitate this.
As you can see, the general situation is extremely challenging, however the rewards of helping those people that we have been able to outweigh the investment of effort of our staff by far, to whom we are all extremely grateful.
We all continue to keep those in the area of the conflict or affected by it in our thoughts and prayers and truly hope for a speedy resolution of the conflict.