Although rarely known to smile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is surely enjoying the masterly con job he has pulled off in recent weeks. Earning the world’s goodwill with the Sochi Olympics — or at least tamping down its mistrust — Putin quickly pivoted to reassert Russian dominance over Ukraine and seize control of its Crimean peninsula.
Ever wary, Ukraine’s Jews were eager for a peaceful transfer of power and a democratic Ukraine following weeks of escalating demonstrations. That goal was in sight before Russia lost patience with the Western tilt of Ukraine democrats. Now the Jewish community fears the invasion will tap into fierce nationalist strains in the country — never a good sign for Jews. Already, the chief rabbi of Ukraine has accused Russia of staging anti-Semitic “provocations” in Crimea in order to justify its invasion of the former Soviet republic. Synagogues in Simferopol and Sevastopol closed due to security concerns.
Jewish organizations that have long supported vulnerable Jews in Ukraine — including the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Agency for Israel — are stepping up efforts to provide for the basic needs of the elderly and poor. The federation is especially concerned about the Tikva Children’s Home in Odessa, which needs increased security and critical commodities. It is also continuing its support of Cherkassy, its other partner community in the region. JDC operates Hesed social welfare centers in southern Ukraine and Crimea. Among a Jewish population of about 70,000, JDC estimates there are some 13,700 vulnerable elderly and 1,800 at-risk children.
Perhaps Putin will heed international calls to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. Until then, we can all help the region’s Jews in a time of upheaval. For information about emerging needs and funding opportunities within the Ukrainian-Jewish community, see the update page at jfedgmw.org/ukraine.