With the plight of Israelis targeted by Hamas rockets at the forefront of mainstream media, the struggle of east Ukraine’s Jewish minority often goes unreported. The unstable region is under control of pro-Russian forces who choose to persecute anyone who does not adhere to the Russian Orthodox Church. Christians who are not members of that church, who also face persecution, have reached out to help the Jews.
“This is the biggest Jewish refugee crisis in Ukraine since World War II,” said Rabbi Sholom Gopin. “Jews of our community left everything behind. They have no homes, no jobs, no money. Many still have family stuck in Lugansk. This week, five elderly people were killed in an explosion at an old-age home adjacent to our Simcha Jewish Orphanage, where close to 40 Jews are now staying.”
Over 250 Jews left east Ukraine and found safety in Zhitomir, which is two hours west of Kiev. From The Times of Israel:
Funded by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, some 250 Jews have found a personal haven — while their homes, businesses, assets and jobs remain in peril. The campground refuge is owned by Chabad-Lubavitch of Zhitomir and organized by Rabbi Sholom Gopin, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Luhansk.
“It was a horror,” said Tatyana, who fled the region with family. She explained:
We boarded the train under heavy bombing. It was relatively calm until July 13; there was some transport around the city, some stores were open. But then the real fighting began, and everyone ran to buy tickets to leave the city; we were lucky to purchase tickets for July 24. Anyone still there can no longer leave because the central train station was bombed, and trains cannot leave the city. People are dying in Lugansk, and it is getting worse each day.
Fellowship Head Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein explained to the Times that Jews “are not targeted,” but one man said a pro-Russian rebel put a gun to his head and took his business by force. This unnamed man and the majority of Jews in east Ukraine live in cities. These are the areas targeted by the Ukraine army and pro-Russian forces.
Jews in east Ukraine voiced concerns since the area fell to the rebels in late February. Even though they also face persecution, the Christians opened up their arms and helped Jews leave the area. The Chabad facility receives funds from Christians. It is usually a summer camp for 700 children, but it is now home to Jew refugees from Donetsk, Luhansk, and Odessa. The camp provides food, clothing, and yarmulkes. Yet, Christians answered their call.