As Ukraine’s crisis continues, marked this past weekend by dozens of deaths in the Sea of Azov coast city of Mariupol, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) doubled down on its efforts to care for the most vulnerable Jews still living in the conflict-laden eastern part of the country.
‘As we aggressively ensure the neediest Jews of eastern Ukraine have a lifeline at this time of ongoing conflict, we are also providing a critically important source of comfort and hope to those who often feel forgotten and scared,’ said Michal Frank, JDC’s Former Soviet Union Director. ‘This message of Jewish unity, and action, is needed now more than ever as winter rages and the end of the crisis is nowhere in sight.’
As indiscriminate artillery fire slammed into a market, schools, homes, and shops in the city, JDC’s local Hesed social welfare center, in cooperation with JDC’s office in Dnepropetrovsk, engaged in round-the-clock monitoring of the nearly 600 Jews it aids in the city as well as the general Jewish population. Among the poor elderly and families JDC cares for, homecare, medicine, and food services continue uninterrupted, and new needs that have emerged after the weekend attack are being addressed. As an example, JDC will repair the windows of clients’ homes that were knocked out by the blasts. Additionally, JDC is monitoring shrinking food and pharmacy supplies to ensure clients do not go without these critical supplies.
In the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the conflict has led to scarce supplies, halted pensions, and other hardships for the elderly, impoverished, and people with disabilities living in pervasive fear. JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in Donetsk is ensuring that food, medication, and home care are provided, even when locals have difficulty traveling around the city due to sporadic explosions and weapon fire. JDC’s Winter Relief program, now in its 23rd year, is in full swing with blankets, warm winter clothes, and electrical heaters being distributed among more than 1,500 Jews in need in the region.
In Lugansk, where roads into the rest of Ukraine have been closed, JDC’s Hesed social welfare center continues its work and clients there are getting the nutritional, medical, and homecare services they desperately need. With more than 1,700 benefitting from the Winter Relief program, JDC is working hard to keep these needy Jews warm, even as they brave war and winter.
Another feature of the conflict is the growing numbers of Jews applying for services through JDC’s Hesed social welfare network in the region. Nearly 2,000 people, from the Donetsk and Lugansk areas alone, where JDC serves more than 100 locations, have been added to the system in the last four months.
‘We stand at the ready to aid the new numbers of Jews seeking help and have been working tirelessly to ensure that they can survive this difficult time. Whether they remain in the east, or join the hundreds of thousands of others who have fled the conflict zone, JDC will be there for them,’ Frank said.
JDC’s work in Ukraine is undertaken in cooperation with the local Jewish community and groups like Chabad. JDC’s work is generously support by its Board, individual donors and foundations, and our esteemed partners, including Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Federations of North America, World Jewish Relief, and the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany.
Today, JDC has four major offices and operates and supports a network of 32 Hesed social welfare centers serving Jews in need in more than 1,000 locations across Ukraine. JDC’s long history of working with Ukrainian Jews includes its work with the American Relief Administration in 1921 to administer an aid program for Ukrainians impacted by war and famine, including the Jewish community. Additionally, Agro-Joint, established in 1924, created Jewish agricultural colonies and industrial schools in Ukraine and Crimea.