I’ve just returned from Kyiv, having taken an overnight train from Lviv. I was amazed that, despite three months of war, the train still arrived three minutes early. Kyiv was nervous when I got there after a barrage of missile strikes the previous day and security was tight. Aid raid sirens rang out day and night, but few people took notice – there are very few shelters anyway. It is a sound I would find hard to get used to.
I walked across the Polish border into Ukraine as our train was cancelled. This gave me the chance to see the 19 miles of lorries and cars trying to enter Ukraine as goods and families return. But there was another 12 miles of traffic queuing to get back into Poland. It’s amazing how these vehicles are the supply saviour of Ukraine.
Lviv has lost its tourists but none of its charm. I spent a couple of days there before going to Kyiv, visiting World Jewish Relief programmes delivering support to residents and the thousands of internally displaced people who have fled westwards to the city. Everyone has a story to tell. Indeed, there is an almost desperate urge to recount the horrors of evacuation and what people have been through, as if telling someone else will make it more believable.
Throughout my trip, I was struck not just by the professional expertise and scale of our partners in Kyiv and Lviv, but by their personal commitment. Some are hosting displaced people at home. Many have not had a day off in months. All of them are exhausted, but their determination pushes me hard to do even more. Talking to them, it was clear that missile strikes on Kyiv and Lviv in the last couple of days have created more uncertainty about even the short-term future. Trying to think and plan beyond three months is hard when news of their neighbourhoods being hit is so raw, yet against this backdrop of uncertainty they are doing an amazing job.
Throughout my trip, I was struck not just by the professional expertise and scale of our partners in Kyiv and Lviv, but by their personal commitment.
Seeing our emergency operations first-hand I realised just how immense the scale of our response is. One of our key partners, J2U, has been running a massive food distribution system to thousands of displaced people. I couldn’t even get into its offices because food, medical, hygiene and even pet supplies packed the front yard. There is such indignity in queuing for humanitarian assistance, yet those displaced said the queue is a good place to connect to others, share suggestions and stories and support one another.
But my visits to Irpin and Bucha, large towns near Kyiv that saw early devastation and major battles, were a disturbing reminder of why our support is still so desperately needed. Streets of houses flattened, town blocks destroyed, and so many apartments ruined. Perhaps they can be rebuilt; perhaps not.
Many have begun to return to these liberated towns to recoup what they can from the wreckage. But with no insurance pay-outs, no government compensation yet being discussed and the odd missile flying overhead, rebuilding is still some way down the road.
In Kyiv proper we will start repairing some windows to ensure older Jewish clients have their one warm room ready for winter, and we will carefully consider our options on the rebuilding of more damaged apartments.
Meanwhile, our existing support to older Jewish people continues. I was blown away by two older clients of the Jewish Hesed programme who were so touched that despite everything going on and the needs of all those who had been displaced, they were receiving more support than previously, which was helping them cope with the stress of war. Despite being teetotal, I bent my rules to knock back a 10am Jagermeister toast for Ukraine with 86-year-old Lyudmila (but didn’t oblige the 10:10am, 10:20am and 10:30am toasts)!
I could not be prouder of this amazing organisation. Thank you to everyone who is supporting our Ukraine Crisis Appeal and standing with people whose daily lives are being affected by the Russian invasion in every way.