Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine: Caring for Displaced Jews

May 5, 2015


When fighting broke out in Donetsk between the government and separatist forces last year, Raisa Libenson believed she could stay with her family in their house by the airport.

It wasn’t until her apartment sustained a direct hit from a mortar shell, tearing through the walls and furniture, and rendering the 78-year-old temporarily deaf, that she realized she had to leave.

“Shell fragments were all over my bed,” she recalled with terror. “There was smoke in the apartment. I rushed into the room and it felt like something hot flew over me. I froze with fear. I could not realize how I would survive.”

Since then Libenson and her husband of 56 years have been staying in Pavlograd, a city a few dozen miles from the frontline. They are among more than 2,700 Jews who have left their homes in the eastern part of the country and receive help from JDC through its Hesed social welfare center network. Of the Ukrainian Jews who left the east, more than 2,000 have relocated within the country, living in places like Kiev, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa. There, they rely heavily on the help of the local Jewish communities and JDC.

These internally displaced persons (IDPs) include Roman Dubovskoy and his family, who relocated from Lugansk to Zaporozhye when violence erupted in their hometown last August. Now, all eight of them (Dubovskoy and his wife, their four children, and his wife’s parents) live together under the same roof.

Roman, who is a psychologist, had to come out of retirement to provide for his extended family. Luckily, he found employment at the local JCC where he treats fellow displaced Jews from the east.

JDC helps Ukrainian Jews like the Dubovskoys and Libensons pay the rent and provides them with clothes, footwear, and a monthly stipend for food, medicine, and other essentials. During the winter months, IDPs are sent items like blankets, socks, and pajamas to help cope with the cold.

Libenson said she was deeply grateful for the meat, cheese, sour cream, and oil JDC gives her through the Hesed. 

“Maybe, it is not for long, but it’s like a breathing period for us,” she said. “We would not survive during these eight months in Donetsk without Hesed.”

Hardship has driven the number of recipients of aid ever higher around the country. In all, JDC has registered 2,700 new clients. Many are young families or elderly people.

Yet despite it all, Ukrainian Jews celebrated Passover last month with events held in Donetsk, Lugansk, Mariupol and many more locations.

Some 8,000 people attended celebrations at 32 JDC-run Hesed centers throughout the country.

To keep up-to-date on JDC’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, visit

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