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March 31, 2015 / 11 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Jews Struggling to Survive as Fighting Intensifies in Eastern Ukraine

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

In eastern Ukraine, Jews are scrambling to survive as fighting intensifies between Russian-backed rebels and the Ukraine army.

At least nine people were killed this morning (Jan. 22) when a civilian bus was shelled in the city of Donetsk, capital of the province bearing the same name. The Ukraine defense ministry told the BBC that its troops have retreated from the main terminal of Donetsk airport, which is not in use. The facility still has symbolic value for both sides, however, and the army’s loss of the terminal is a major victory for the rebels.

More than 4,800 have died and some 1.2 million are homeless since the rebels seized control last April over parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The move followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, a peninsula which belonged to Ukraine.

In the Lugansk (also called “Luhansk”) Jewish community, things have remained relatively quiet, according to local Jewish sources who asked for anonymity. But one can hear the sounds of war not far away, and a family can lose all its food if the house is left alone for more than a day.

Hungry neighbors feel no shame in foraging for anything they can find – anywhere – even in the homes of others.

Trains no longer go into Lugansk, a community member explains, and “the connection with Ukraine is growing dimmer by the day.”

For the Jews in the city, a major lifeline of support has been thrown by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. The organization funds Chabad-run refugee camps in the region, and sends thousands of care packages to needy Jewish families in the battered Donbass region. Likewise, Ohr Avner and the Rohr Family Foundation have been continued pillars of support essential to helping the Jews of eastern Ukraine survive.

Some Jews from the region have managed to reach Israel via aliyah already, but many still remain in Ukraine. Those who have chosen to escape the horror — even if it means moving to a strange new land and learning a new language — at least have a familiar face to greet them: exiled Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Lugansk, Rabbi Sholom Gopin and his wife Chana are in Israel too.

The Gopins were forced to move temporarily to Kfar Chabad due to the intense fighting in the region. Gopin told Chabad.org recently that he makes the three and a half hour flight back and forth to Ukraine often in order to visit community members and ensure that help gets through to those still living in Lugansk.

In Donetsk, not so far from Lugansk, the Jewish community is also struggling but has seen more violence. Last September, just before Rosh HaShanah, the community lost one of its prominent members to rebel banditry.

Garik Zylberbord, 47, was shot to death while trying to stop pro-Russian rebels from robbing his neighbor’s home. Zylberbord was a community leader and a long-time friend of the exiled chief rabbi and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Donetsk, Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski.

Having made plans to meet the rabbi in a few days in Kiev where Vishedski had been forced to flee with his family just two weeks prior, Zylberbord appeared earlier than planned, the rabbi noted sorrowfully: to attend his own funeral.

Vishedski and his wife Dina have set up a Donetsk Jewish community office in Kiev to help the lost and struggling Jews of his city who found refuge there and in other parts of Ukraine. “Calls start at the crack of dawn and don’t stop the entire day,” said Vishedski, “not only from poor families but now also from regular, middle-class people who also have no money or food right now.”

Exodus from France Leads Aliyah to 10-Year High

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Immigration to Israel hit a 10-year high in 2014  with the arrival of approximately  26,500 new immigrants, 32 percent higher than last year’s 20,000 new “olim.”

France for the first time topped the list of countries of origin for immigrants,  with nearly  7,000 Jews moving to Israel in 2014, double the 3,400 who came last year.

The other unusual rate of aliyah was from the Ukraine, from where 5,820 Jews moved to Israel, nearly three times the 2,020 who made aliyah in the previous year.

Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky chairman said, “2014 was a year of record-breaking Aliyah. This year also saw a historic shift: for the first time in Israel’s history, the number of immigrants who came to Israel from the free world is greater than that of immigrants fleeing countries in distress.

“This trend is evidence of Israel’s attractiveness as a place where it’s good to live, as well as of the success of our joint efforts to promote aliyah and strengthen connections between Jews around the world and the State of Israel.”

Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said that she expects that another 10,000 new immigrants will come from France in 2014.

Uman Jews Fined $15K for Breslov Pilgrims’ Tent City

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

The city of Uman has fined its Jewish community $15,000 for the erecting an unlicensed tent city to greet pilgrims to the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov for the Rosh HaShana holiday.

The sum was reached as a compromise with “quality of government” activists pushing to dismantle the tents, and city officials, by the Rabbi Nachman International Charitable Foundation.

“There were legal issues with a tent city for 2,500 people, which we operate on Rosh HaShana,” Rabbi Shimon Buskila of the World Breslov Center told JTA on Wednesday prior to the holiday.

Buskila oversees operations related to the annual pilgrimage and the permanent Jewish presence in Uman.

The Ukrainian city of Uman is still the focal point for the Breslov Chassidic group whose founder, Rebbe Nachman, died in 1810.

This year a record number of more than 30,000 of the Rebbe’s Chassidim from 25 different countries flocked to his tomb for the holiday despite the difficult situation in eastern Ukraine.

Boryspil International Airport was tasked with handling over 20,000 Hasidic Jews from all over the world, using 236 special flights, according to the International Business Times, which quoted airport statistics to reveal that most came from the U.S. and Israel.

Chabad Rabbi Remains with Trapped Jews as Ukraine Troops, Rebels, and Russians Fight for Mariupol

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Jews in Mariupol, Ukraine are caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’ with nowhere to run as the winds of war whirl into their community. Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and rabbi of the city, Rabbi Mendel Cohen, has remained to serve his brethren in what has become one of the greatest challenges of his life.

Pro-Russian separatists, Russian tanks and Ukraine forces are all rapidly converging on the key southeastern port city to fight for control.

The nearby town of Novoazovsk reportedly has fallen to the rebels over the past 24 hours, according to a report by the BBC which quoted Russian TV. The Ukraine government told media that Russian forces have crossed the border in support of the rebel advance — a charge denied by Moscow.

The besieged cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, further north, have been embattled for months. The self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), where the city of the same name is located, has attempted to secede from Ukraine. DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko told Russian TV there were up to 4,000 Russian citizens within the ranks of the separatist rebel army, “former high-ranking military officers who have volunteered to join us. They are fighting with us, considering that to be their duty.

“There are also many in the current Russian military that prefer to spend their leave among us, brothers who are fighting for their freedom, rather than on a beach.”

“People are very worried right now,” Rabbi Cohen told Chabad.org. “There are lines at all of the gas stations and ATMs and people are stocking up on food, so there is nothing left in the stores. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Mariupol, the second-largest city in Donetsk, is only 35 miles from the Russian border and Russian is the primary language. In February, pro-Russian separatists seized the city’s administrative buildings and maintained control over the city for months.

Kiev sent troops and battled for control over the city in a fierce fight that ended at the city’s police station. At least six were killed in the offensive and it took until June 13 before the Ukraine government forces managed to secure total control over the city.

Rabbi Cohen described “armed men with masks right next to the shul,” saying it was “dangerous to walk around in the street” until June. Since then, however, “thank God it has become more stable.”

The sense of unease has returned, however.

Over the past month, more than 330,000 people have been displaced by combat in Donetsk to the north, and Lugansk to the east. Some 2,000 people have been killed so far, according to some estimates.

Many refugees have ended up in Mariupol. This week the sounds of shelling are much closer. Mariupol’s Jews so far insist on staying, fearing the dangers on the road to freedom more than the uncertainties facing them in their own homes. The Chabad emissary says he will stay as long as he can to aid the community.

“We have a minyan three times a day and Torah classes. Our day camp just ended, and we are now preparing for the school year,” Cohen said. The Jewish community has also worked to supply food packages to a growing number of people who need them.

Out of four emissaries serving southeastern Ukraine, Rabbi Cohen is the only one left. Three others were forced to re-evaluate their situations, along with the Jews of Donetsk, Lugansk and Maakeevka.

‘I hope and pray they will be able to return to their work very soon,” Rabbi Cohen said.

Report: Armed Men Threatened to Burn Down Ukrainian Rabbi’s Home

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

(JTA) — Armed, masked men threatened to burn down the house of one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, a spokeswoman from his office said.

The incident outside the Kiev-area residence of Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich occurred on May 23 at 1:30 a.m., Inna Yoffe, the executive director of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, told Ukrainian media last week.

Bleich, the confederation’s president, was not in the country at the time of the attack, which ended without serious injury, Yoffe told the television channel 112 Ukraine two days after the reported attack.

“There was an attack on a paramilitary guard outside the fence in front of the house,” she said. “The attackers were wearing masks and camouflage uniforms with machine guns; they arrived by an SUV.”

Yoffe said the attackers forced the guard to lie face down on the ground and told him they would kill him and burn down the house. She did not say how many men threatened the guard.

The men fled the scene after another guard from inside the residence called the police, Yoffe added. The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine filed a complaint with police over the assault.

Contacted by JTA, Bleich said the men who showed up outside his home did not target him specifically. According to his understanding, the rabbi said, the attack was not anti-Semitic.

Jews Flee Clashes in Ukraine, Make Aliya on Eve of J’lem Day

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Six new immigrants from Donetsk, Ukraine landed in Israel Tuesday, May 27, having narrowly escaped battles between Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in and around the city’s airport. The clashes shut down the airport and the immediate vicinity yesterday.

The group, including one couple with twin baby girls and another couple from the city of Mariupol, had planned to depart for Israel last night, but were prevented from leaving the country. In order to facilitate their immigration, Jewish Agency representative evacuated them overland to Dnepropetrovsk, paid for the families’ hotel costs until they departed for Israel this morning.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of  the Jewish Agency for Israel and a native of Donetsk, said  Agency representatives in Ukraine continue to be active in all areas of the country and have made plans for any eventuality. “Due to the current situation in the country, we have significantly expanded our activities, assisting those who wish to immigrate to Israel, bringing young people to experience life in Israel on a variety of Jewish Agency programs, providing Hebrew classes, and so on.”

According to The Agency’s Russian language department, approximately 30,000 Jews live in Donetsk Oblast, of whom some 11,000 live in the city of Donetsk. Agency said in a statement that representatives in Ukraine have been authorised to evacuate Jewish families from the conflict area, and added that Jewish Agency representatives are in close contact with the Jewish communities in the area and are prepared to offer immediate assistance, should the need arise.

The statement cited a 142 percent increase in Ukrainian aliyah during the first half of 2014, from 315 immigrants in 2013 to 762 between January and April of this year. During the month of March alone,  222 Ukrainian immigrants came to Israel, a 200% increase over the March 2013 total of 74.

April saw a dramatic increase in Ukrainian Aliyah, with 383 immigrants arriving, compared to 97 in April 2013 – a 295% increase. Jewish Agency representatives have also noted a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who have started the Aliyah process, as well as in the number of individuals who have contacted The Jewish Agency in order to receive counseling and information regarding Aliyah.

Kharkov Moving Towards Secession?

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Less than a month after the eastern Ukrainian capital city’s Jewish mayor was shot in the back, the Kharkov region is set to hold a referendum on independence within the next week.

Kharkov residents were urged to go to the polls to vote on whether to join the secession of the southeastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Lugansk, the Itar-Tass news site reported.

“Southeast” Coordinating Council of Movement spokesman Yuri Apukhtin made the announcement Sunday at a rally in the city’s Freedom Square. A number of demonstrators waved Russian national flags at the rally, including those from the Ukrainian Communist party and from “Borba” (Struggle).

“Our task is not to participate in Ukrainian presidential elections in any case,” the activist said from the podium. “We should meet on this square on May 25. We do not recognize these elections.”

Presidential elections are scheduled in Ukraine for May 25 although the original election date was to be held on March 29, 2015. The date was changed following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. A second and final runoff election will be held on June 15 if the first election is inconclusive, according to media reports. The elected candidate will serve a five-year term in office.

Apukhtin said that although he had been invited to attend a second all-Ukraine national unity roundtable meeting held in Kharkov on Saturday, he “refused to participate.”

Jewish communities around Ukraine are watching the secessionist movements closely, and contingency plans are being made in each area. For the most part, however, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries say they are not leaving. All programs are continuing as planned thus far.

Meanwhile, Kharkov Mayor Gennady Kernes, 54, has been recovering in Israel since the beginning of the month from the critical wounds that nearly ended his life. Kernes suffered gunshot wounds to several vital organs, including the lungs and liver, during an assassination attempt in the wee hours of the morning several weeks ago.

Opposing his former Russian patrons, Kernes began to support Ukrainian nationalists in February following a coup in Kiev. He was shot while jogging prior to starting his work day.

Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, Kharkov chief rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, visits him regularly at the hospital where he is being treated in Haifa. The mayor has reportedly continued to carry out his duties with his staff in Kharkov to the best of his ability via telephone. However, due to his medical condition, doctors say it is unclear when he will be able to return to his office, although they are sure his condition will improve.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/kharkov-moving-towards-secession/2014/05/19/

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