Paul Anticoni from World Jewish Relief
I am writing this on an especially sobering day, as disturbing reports are emerging from Irpin and Bucha, near Kiev. Shallow graves and bodies in basements point towards the indiscriminate killing of Ukrainian civilians and are prompting accusations of Russian Genocide.
This morning I spoke to Oleksiy Tolkachev, Founder and Director of our partner Dreamland, who is based in Kyiv. Over the weekend he visited Irpin and Bucha to assess the situation.
The city of Irpin was liberated days ago, after a whole month of fierce fighting. Oleksiy painted a picture of a city totally destroyed. Homes and infrastructure have been bombed to the ground and at least 5,000 people remain in the cellars where they have been desperately sheltering from danger. The road into Irpin has been demined so Oleksiy has been able to deliver World Jewish Relief funded humanitarian aid, hot food, fuel, and clothing, to its grief-stricken and traumatised residents.
Oleksiy hopes that Bucha, and the other nearby city of Gostomel, will be liberated this week. He has witnessed rocket fire and street fighting, and tells me there is currently no mobile communication, no electricity, no hospitals, no food, and no medicine available in the cities. No one knows how many people have survived the sieges. He is preparing to return as soon as possible with the necessary food and medicines.
Speaking to Oleksiy I was struck once again by the everyday bravery and heroism of all our partners in Ukraine. Their determination to carry on working in extreme and dangerous conditions, risking their own safety to reach the most vulnerable people with lifesaving assistance, is astonishing.
On days like today I despair at the scale of Ukrainian suffering, and how many more people we still need to help. But our partners’ unyielding commitment inspires me and my hardworking team to do more, helping them to help those in desperate need.
There is so much more still to do. Millions of Ukrainians unable to access humanitarian aid. Cities under siege that only organisations like ours, thanks to our web of local partner NGOs, can access with urgent supplies. Older people alone in dilapidated Soviet-build homes, with nowhere to shelter from bombing and no family to care for them. More than 4 million Ukrainians in limbo, having fled across borders and now stateless, refugees with no idea what tomorrow will bring for them.
We are taught on Seder night that as we recall our ancestors’ exodus, it is as if we ourselves are leaving the Land of Egypt, our homes and everything we know. For Ukrainians today, this isn’t such a stretch of the imagination. This Pesach families will be separated by borders, and some will be mourning loved ones. Many will be experiencing what it feels like to be a ‘stranger in a strange land’.
One mother of two we have assisted in Chisinau, who wanted to remain anonymous, shared how challenging it has been to leave her home behind: “It has been hard explaining to my daughters what is happening, but I needed to be honest. I told them that our country has been invaded, that a war has started, and that we needed to leave. They are used to the familiarity of our lives in Odesa and leaving that all behind was really difficult.”
So, as I prepare to come together with family this Seder night, my thoughts will be with Ukrainians and in particular the Jewish community. The older generation has lived through the Holocaust, Communism, the fall of the Soviet Union, and now the Russian invasion. Thanks to our partners in Ukraine, Poland and Moldova some families will celebrate Pesach in Jewish community centres or via Zoom and feel a little more connected to community at this terrible time.
This Pesach, I am asking you to support World Jewish Relief’s Ukraine Crisis Appeal. Thanks to our community’s generosity we have already reached 18,400 individuals with lifesaving assistance, and we must be there for this 18,400 and many more, whatever the coming weeks and months will bring.
Please donate today at www.worldjewishrelief.org/ukrainecrisis.