More than a million Ukrainians have fled their homes and their communities into Poland, Moldova, Slovakia, and Hungary – and the region’s Jewish communities have mobilized to help. They have collected clothes. They have prepared meals. They have volunteered their time – and often even their homes – to lodge the refugees. As I write, the HIAS emergency response team is in Poland working with the Jewish communities to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis. One Ukrainian refugee said “we have been forced to flee our homes, and the Jewish community has been here to welcome us.”
Inside Ukraine, our partners R2P have scrambled to open offices in the western part of the country, including Lviv and Khmelnytskyi, where tens of thousands have fled. “We started looking for houses for them, and we are going to open new offices to help newly arriving IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons),” explains Alexander Galkin, R2P’s Director. R2P is establishing a telephone hotline for displaced people. It is planning to provide in-person and online psychological support and legal aid. It even is looking into distributing cash assistance.
Each day, we are grateful at HIAS to receive multiple offers of support. Europe’s Jewish communities in Europe are working together. Communities in Warsaw and in Budapest, to name just two, are partnering to fundraise and collect essential items to support the arriving refugees. Many members of the Jewish communities have families and friends who are fleeing Ukraine and the priority of the Jewish communities is to support the Jews who are trying to escape. In Poland alone, nearly 300 refugees have already been housed within communities and in private apartments, and the numbers are growing.
This weekend HIAS will mark its annual Refugee Shabbat (4th-5th March). Refugee Shabbat offers communities the chance to come together in support of refugees and displaced populations. This year, the annual event comes at a poignant moment. Although planned activities for a formal refugee Shabbat in Poland have been suspended, the chief Rabbi of Poland said “actually we are doing it [refugee shabbat] every day now minute by minute.” In France, Belgium, Italy, and the UK, synagogues are focusing their refugee Shabbat programming on Ukraine. Many say that they will use it as an opportunity to raise awareness and fundraise for HIAS. We’re grateful.
In our view, this outpouring of support for those in hardship represents much of what it means to be Jewish. It’s heart-warming to see the response from the European and international Jewish community to the tragic events in Ukraine.