Evacuations underway: How to help the Jews of Ukraine

Civilian casualties are starting to mount as tens-of-thousands flee fighting
An explosion near a Jewish cemetery in Odessa, Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, 2022. (Source: Twitter)

Jewish refugees have started to leave Ukraine as the violence in the country continues to escalate.

Fighting has reached the more Jewish populated areas of the country with some of the first evacuations occurring in Odessa, where there’s been heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

In Uman, which is home to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and is a heavily Hasidic populated area, at least 4 people were killed in Russian shelling on Thursday. Some of the shells fell less than a kilometer away from Rabbi Nachman’s grave.

Each year tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims visit Uman around Rosh Hashanah to commemorate the founder of the Hasidic movement. The town was evacuated of civilians late on Thursday night.

“The Uman municipality has started to evacuate hundreds of families from Uman. It’s very dangerous here now – there are many weapons depots in the area and there are intense explosions,” a resident told Israeli Army Radio.

Similar evacuations are also taking place in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.

Most of the evacuees are heading west, away from the fighting and into neighboring countries such as Moldova.

Further complicating evacuations, Ukraine’s government is prohibiting men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

An estimated 49,000 to 400,000 Jews live in Ukraine. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact figure but most reliable estimates put the size of the community at around 200,000. (However the European Jewish Congress estimates the number of Jews at 360,000–400,000.)

How to help

Right now access to basic supplies is limited and shortages of goods are reported across Ukraine. Further complicating relief efforts is the shutdown of transportation due to a swell of refugees trying to make their way from the fighting.

Several Jewish organizations, along with the Israeli government, are on the ground coordinating efforts.

  • The Jewish Agency is working to assist refugees to get to Moldova and has opened a hotline for assistance. 
  • HIAS is working with NGOs in place in Ukraine to provide assistance to refugees.
  • United Hatzalah is coordinating with its Ukraine chapter to get people out of areas where there is fighting and to provide medical assistance to those who are injured.
  • JDC is on the ground in Ukraine providing meals to the elderly and children.