East Ukraine Jews to get $650,000 in emergency funding

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to provide medicine, food, housing and security to residents

People walk with their belongings in the eastern Ukrainian town of Vuglegirsk in the Donetsk region,  February 7, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/ANDREY BORODULIN)
People walk with their belongings in the eastern Ukrainian town of Vuglegirsk in the Donetsk region, February 7, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/ANDREY BORODULIN)

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews pledged $650,000 in emergency funding for Jews in the battle zones of eastern Ukraine.

The emergency funding will provide Jews from cities such as Donetsk and Mariupol, who are caught in the crossfire between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists, with medicine, food, housing and security, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFJC founder and president, said on Sunday in a statement to JTA announcing the extra funds.

“We will do everything in our power and means so no Jew will be left homeless or starved,” he wrote. The sum will ensure thousands of food and medicine packages, as well as three months of operating soup kitchens and providing security for Jewish synagogues and institutions in Donetsk, Lugansk and Mariupol.

Mariupol has about 7,000 Jews living there, according to Mendel Cohen, a Chabad emissary who has served as the city’s rabbi for the past nine years. But the city has lost 15 percent of its Jewish community following the worsening of fighting in the city in Jan. 24, when Mariupol was struck by dozens of rockets that killed 30 people and wounded over 100.

“The community will remain, but the events of the past few months will have a lasting effect on all the Jewish communities in the fighting zones,” Cohen told JTA Monday. “They are becoming greatly reduced. The people who fled to Israel, many of them will not be coming back. The fellowship’s aid is a lifeline for those who stay.”

IFJC spends $20 million- $25 million annually on aid to communities in the former Soviet Union, with approximately half of that sum going to Jews in Ukraine, where the fighting and political instability have plunged the economy into a recession accompanied by drastic inflation of the national currency, the hryvna.

The fellowship, which assists Ukrainian Jews to immigrate to Israel, also operates a refugee camp for Jews in Zhytomir along with the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, where dozens of newcomers arrive daily.

But “not everyone is ready to leave to Israel,” Cohen said. “Some have family members who can’t leave, others hope to one day sell their homes to avoid leaving with nothing.”

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