Kyiv Chabad rabbi opens up synagogue to dozens seeking shelter

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch and his wife, Inna, Chabad emissaries to Kyiv, Ukraine. (Courtesy)
Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch and his wife, Inna, Chabad emissaries to Kyiv, Ukraine. (Courtesy)

A top rabbi in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv says dozens of people are sheltering in his synagogue, where he and his wife stockpiled tons of food, fuel and mattresses ahead of the Russian invasion this morning.

Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch and his wife Inna say hundreds of Jews still remain in Kyiv, mostly those who lacked the means to escape the city before the attacks started early this morning. Those who did not leave before 6:30 a.m. are now stuck inside the city as the roads around it have become completely clogged with civilians trying to flee the fighting, they say.

The Markovitches, who have served as Chabad emissaries in the city for more than two decades, tell journalists in Israel that their immediate concern as of this afternoon is security for their synagogue, the Kyiv Jewish Center, speaking in a videoconference organized by the MediaCentral organization.

“Our urgent need now is for a serious armed security company. We are afraid of looting and riots that may arise on the Ukrainian side. We saw that in 2014,” Jonathan Markovitch says, referring to the revolution that year that ousted the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

The couple says they are somewhat concerned about both general rioting as well as explicitly antisemitic attacks on the synagogue, though Jonathan Markovitch stresses that — despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments about “denazifying” Ukraine — they had never experienced significant antisemitism in the country and that incidents that had taken place were dealt with by the country’s law enforcement.

“There is a Jewish president,” he adds.

According to Inna, the couple stockpiled five to six tons of food, along with water, fuel and 50 mattresses in the basement of the synagogue and a few dozen people had already taken refuge there.

“There’s no bomb shelter here, but at least we can be together,” her husband says.

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