Photo Credit: Courtesy
Rabbi Mendel Cohen, chief rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, stands in front of the burnt-out shell of the eastern city’s central police station.

They hear Grad missiles when they walk to synagogue on Shabbat, at a Torah class, during a youth club meeting, reports. For the Jewish community and general population of Mariupol—a city in southeastern Ukraine that saw heavy fighting in the early days of the country’s war with Russian-backed separatists, but which has seen relative quiet in the last two years—what they darkly call the artillery “orchestra” has returned in the last two weeks, as has heavy fighting and increased casualties all along the front lines that stretch through eastern Ukraine.

“We prayed Shacharit so well that the walls of the synagogue were shaking,” the city’s chief rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, Rabbi Mendel Cohen, jokes wearily. Community member Natasha Yakovenko lives with her husband and daughter in a rundown neighborhood far closer to the action than those in the center. Due to her home’s proximity to the fighting, in the past two weeks structural portions of the modest wooden structure have been damaged from the impact. Her windows have all cracked as well. “You hear it every day,” says the rabbi. “Some days, it’s constant: one, two, three, four soldiers are dying every day. How should I explain this? Nobody here wants this war. Nobody knows why we need it.”

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