Providing Humanitarian Aid to Refugees

September 22, 2022

A former volunteer turned JDC client, Galina Chornobyl fled Ukraine when she saw the Kyiv TV tower bombed from her apartment window, finding comfort and support at the JDC-FEDROM tent just over the Romanian border.


When Galina Chornobyl, 95, crossed the Ukrainian border into Siret, Romania, she wasn’t sure what to expect, and she didn’t have a set plan: She just knew she needed to leave.

“I fled because of fear. I saw it from my window when the Kyiv TV tower was bombed. I didn’t want to die under the rubble of a destroyed building,” said Chornobyl, a longtime JDC client. “I ran so fast I forgot to take my dentures w it h me.”

But as soon as Chornobyl and her daughter Olga Goriachko saw the word “Hesed” on the side of the JDC-Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities (FEDROM) tent, they knew they’d be ok.

JDC worked around the clock in border countries like Hungary, Moldova, Poland, and Romania to feed, clothe, and house tens of thousands of refugees.

“It was like an oasis in the desert. They surrounded us immediately, offering food, water, help, comfort, and support,” Goriachko said. “We got to our people.”

Within minutes, Israel Sabag, the JDC country director for Romania, had secured the pair temporary accommodation in a Bucharest hotel, and soon after, they were set up in their own apartment in the city — just two of the more than 39,000 refugees JDC had already provided with vital necessities like food, medicine, and psychosocial aid in the first five months of the crisis alone.

“The chance to save Jewish lives daily gives us the energy to work around the clock,” Sabag said. “We’re living through history, and JDC’s experience doing this work since 1914 is what gives us the tools and responsibility to respond immediately to the needs of thousands of people coming from Ukraine.”

Across Europe, JDC and local Jewish communities worked to meet refugees at the border and house thousands of Ukraine’s Jews in temporary shelters — Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), hotels and guesthouses, retreat centers, and more.

Before the crisis began, Liudmila Mechina was working as the chief administrator at JCC KEDEM in Chișinău, Moldova, but within days of the Feb. 24 invasion, she began overseeing three sites in the city’s suburbs that housed hundreds of refugees before they were sunsetted.

“People came to us exhausted, angry, panic-stricken, and terrified after everything they lived through, but after a few days, you’d see them calm down a bit,” Mechina said. “Everybody here put in 100 percent of their physical and mental effort, and the refugees began to understand that we were here to help them.”

“The chance to save Jewish lives daily gives us the energy to work around the clock.”

When Viktoria Bykova made the decision to flee — a multi-day journey that saw her driving at night with her headlights off on roads that had been set with mines — she was met at the border by Darek Płochocki, the security guard at the JDC-supported Warsaw JCC who volunteered to be the first set of helping hands people saw as they crossed into Poland.

A Jewish communal professional in her hometown of Melitopol, she said it felt meaningful to know the same organization that supported her Jewish community in Ukraine was responsible for housing and feeding her family in Poland.

“Just after we crossed the border, Darek and others in JDC blue jackets approached us, asking questions and making sure we were ok. When we saw them, we breathed a sigh of relief — these were our people, our Jewish community, and everything was going to be fine,” said Bykova, who helped run children’s activities in the Warsaw Hampton Inn where she and her two children lived for more than three months. “JDC has a big soul — big enough to give warmth and support to so many people.”

For Karina Sokolowska, the JDC country director in Poland, that’s what it’s all about.

“Even months into this, we’re still housing hundreds of people in Poland, still providing daily programming for children and teenagers, still trying to integrate people into local Jewish community life, but it’s not only about providing food or shelter. It’s about embracing them,” she said. “Each family comes to us with their baggage and their trauma, and it’s our job to try to help make these horrific circumstances a little easier. It’s important to us, and I hope the families we’re privileged to host feel it, too.”

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