Caring for Ukraine’s Jews

September 19, 2023

A JDC volunteer helps an elderly Jew board an evacuation bus in eastern Ukraine.


More than a year and a half into the Ukraine crisis, JDC’s life-saving work continues — with core interventions for the most vulnerable as well as a host of new initiatives designed to meet the moment and address emerging needs stemming from the conflict.


Since the start of the crisis, JDC has delivered more than 1.6 million pounds of humanitarian aid — food,medicine, diapers, and more — to dozens of Jewish communities across Ukraine.

Many of the goods were trucked in over the Polish or Moldovan border and then stored in warehouses before being distributed to different Ukrainian Hesed social welfare centers that made specific requests, said Oksana Galkevych, who manages all JDC programs in the country.

The existing infrastructure on the ground enabled JDC’s nimble response, she continued.

“We have a database with all of our clients and with all of the illnesses that they have, so we can pull together a report that says exactly how many people suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes or heart disease,” she explained. “And then we are able to provide the necessary medications. That’s the value of our network. We absolutely know we’re meeting real needs.”

The support is critical for families like Svetlana, Evgeniy, and Artem Moshkovitch — internally displaced people (IDPs) from Kherson now living in a rented apartment in Odesa thanks to support from JDC and the city’s Hesed Shaarey Tzion social welfare center.

“Food packages, financial assistance — if it wasn’t for the support of the Jewish community, I don’t think we would have survived here,” Svetlana said. “But with their help, we have all the necessities of life here for us and our child. Jews are the friendliest family — one united family who never leaves each other in the lurch.”

For Oleh Olinyk, who works as JDC’s humanitarian aid warehouse manager just outside of Lviv, it’s feedback like Moskovitch’s that keeps him going.

“It’s a great responsibility,” he said. “In such a difficult time, helping people and being useful feels good. The most important thing is that it’s going to help those in dire situations — so you know that you are needed.”


In response to frigid temperatures and rolling blackouts across the country, JDC launched an unprecedented winter survival initiative across Ukraine, delivering portable heaters, cooking stoves, and subsidies for high utility bills. This past winter, the organization’s aid reached more than 31,000 people — more than double the previous year’s effort.

A JDC volunteer in Kharkivmoves humanitarian aidpackages stored in the city’sBeit Dan JCC.

For elderly Jews like Dina Shadrina — an 85-year-old retired biology teacher now living in Kyiv as an IDP — the assistance helped to ease the burden of a terrifying time.

“Once, we had no electricity for 30 hours, so we had to put on all the warm clothes we have,” she said. “We are very thankful to JDC, which is what lets me still have hope in my life. I don’t know how or even if we would make it on our own.”

Across Ukraine, JDC also purchased generators for Hesed social welfare centers and Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), ensuring they could keep the lights on no matter what. These interventions allowed Jewish institutions throughout the country to transform into “Warm Hubs” where community members could come to charge devices and obtain a hot drink or warm meal.

“When the whole city is dark, our Hesed shines. Sometimes when there’s no electricity, there’s also no heat — but JDC clients are able to come here and socialize during this difficult time for our country,” said Liliana Krantsevych, who coordinated the Warm Hub at Hesed Arieh in Lviv. “Without JDC’s help,

a huge portion of the Jewish community would be on the edge of life and death.”


Throughout Ukraine, more than 3,000 volunteers work on projects that impact over 36,000 people in need — vulnerable elderly, at-risk children and families, IDPs, and more.

Volunteers pack foodsets at the JDC supported Hesed social welfare center in Odesa.

For Daria Yefimenko, who heads up JDC’s network of 32 volunteer centers in 25 different cities, her team is full of “heroes.”

“Delivering medicine and groceries despite air raid sirens is miraculous. Getting volunteers together to conduct Passover Seders for community members even in hard-hit areas is heroic,” said Yefimenko, who lives in Rivne. “Teaching children, helping evacuate people fleeing the crisis, it’s all amazing to me.”

In addition to continuing pre-crisis activities, many new initiatives have been launched — and the dramatic circumstances have enticed many Ukrainian Jews to begin volunteering for the first time.

The mother of a son with disabilities, Liubov Rudenko lost her job in Sumy “with the start of hostilities,” and when she began to receive humanitarian aid from the city’s JDC-supported Hesed Haim social welfare center, she knew she wanted to get more involved.

“I’m not used to being given things. I’m used to giving back,” she said. “For me, volunteering is the call of the heart — we should do good for people, and it will make the world a little more pure and a little brighter.”

Since becoming a volunteer in March 2022, Rudenko has taken on a host of responsibilities — baking challah for homebound seniors, delivering hot meals, knitting socks and warm blankets, and more.

Yefimenko said she’s endlessly inspired by the people she works with.

“The people who stayed in Ukraine, our volunteers, have really become my family,” she said. “These are the people who are ready to go forward and help, acting as a force for good and working to build a better world as they lead by their own example.”


JDC now operates trauma support centersin seven cities across Ukraine (Dnipro, Khmelnytskyi, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Poltava, and Zaporizhzhia), providing psychological support and more to IDPs and others impacted by the ongoing crisis.

For Yana H., an IDP from eastern Ukraine who has been living in Lviv since 2014, the events of Feb. 24, 2022 sent her right back to feelings of fear and anxiety she hadn’t felt so acutely in years.

She and her young daughter Nicole began participating in art therapy, counseling, and other services offered by the trauma support center.

“From the moment it started, I was very anxious, and my inner turmoil was affecting my child — she saw how the sirens affected me, and she internalized my fear and my tears,” she said. “These therapy sessions aren’t just about sitting around and talking. JDC has supported us in every possible way.”

The trauma support centers operate under the name “Or Shalom,” which translates to “light of peace” — a very apt description, said Karine Ambartsumova, who heads up the Lviv branch.

“We really do bring light into people’s souls,” she said. “We understand that each of us has a soul and we all experience trauma differently, so we, as doctors of the soul, have to work hard so people are able to have the tools to keep on living — and to enjoy life as much as they can, even under these circumstances.”

JDC has also prioritized offering respite and relief to Ukrainian Jews at camps and Shabbat retreats inside and outside the country.

The “Mriya” winter camps held at Szarvas, the JDC-Ronald S. Lauder Foundation international Jewish summer camp in rural Hungary, drew 1,000 participants over eight 12-day sessions this year.

Anastasiia B. fled Kharkiv for a village near Dnipro after rocket attacks left her apartment with broken windows and burst water pipes.

For her, the time at Szarvas was a breath of fresh air.

“I’ve never danced like this before. I feel so relaxed, and I don’t stop smiling,” she said. “Now, in the last days before we leave, we all talk about the pain of going back to the cold, the sirens, the shelling. But being here was like traveling to another world, another universe entirely.”

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