Jewish families among those evacuating from Kherson after destruction of dam in Ukraine

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

People board an evacuation train at a railway station in Kherson, Ukraine, June 6, 2023, after the destruction of a major dam and hydroelectric power station in a part of southern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Nina Lyashonok)
People board an evacuation train at a railway station in Kherson, Ukraine, June 6, 2023, after the destruction of a major dam and hydroelectric power station in a part of southern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Nina Lyashonok)

Some 20 Jewish families from the city of Kherson in Ukraine join the stream of displaced persons Tuesday leaving the low area downstream from the damaged Kakhova dam on the Dnipro River.

The movement is part of evacuations of many thousands of civilians in southern Ukraine following the rupturing of the dam overnight. Russian and Ukrainian officials have traded accusations over responsibility for the collapse, which occurred amid fighting between troops from both armies.

The evacuated Jewish families will stay with other families of the community and communal facilities, says Rabbi Yosef Wolff, the local Chabad rabbi.

The water level is rising in the river flowing through Kherson, he says, but the city’s synagogue is about 20 meters above water level and “is expected to remain dry even after we reach the peak of the flooding, which for now is only growing,” he says.

The city’s Jewish population currently numbers 600-700 people, a fifth of its prewar size, he says. About 80% of the Jewish population left amid intense fighting in Kherson, which is situated on the edge of the area occupied by Russia.

Neighboring Mykolaiv is also at risk from flooding. It is a site for pilgrimage by some Jews because it is the birthplace of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty. Mykolaiv currently has about 150 Jewish families.

There are no signs of damage from flooding, says Sholom Gotlieb, a Chabad rabbi who’s been living in the city for the past 25 years.

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