While poverty-stricken Ukraine scrambles to get a hold on the coronavirus, a Christian organisation is stepping in to provide immediate food aid to elderly Jews confined by the pandemic to their homes.
With it usual activities to encourage immigration to Israel now suspended, Christians for Israel, a Dutch-based organization that supports aliyah and distributes food parcels to needy Jews in around 100 Ukrainian locales, is using all of its vans, staff and volunteers to deliver food wherever Jews need it, particularly as many soup kitchens have had to close under virus restrictions.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service was reporting 162 confirmed coronavirus cases, with various regions including the capital, Kyiv, affected.
Worst hit so far is the city of Chernivtsi, with 42 confirmed cases, one death and one recovery. Chernivtsi, in south western Ukraine, is known to Jews worldwide by its Austro-Hungarian empire name of Czernowitz. It was once the capital of Bukovina and a hub of Jewish culture. Jews made up around 40 percent of its population before World War ll. With its beautiful architecture and once thriving cultural life, it was known as the Vienna of the East.
The Ukrainian government extended a national emergency to the whole country for 30 days and deepened lockdown measures. Police have set up roadblocks at the entrances to cities and town.
The numbers of Jews still living in Ukraine is estimated at 120,000 to 400,000 people.
Many are elderly and include close to 40% of all the former Soviet Union’s Holocaust survivors, according to the Claims Conference.
During World War ll, an estimated 1.5 to 1.6 million out of 2.7 million Jews living in shtetl villages and market towns across the country perished.
That is one in every four of all Holocaust victims in Europe. The country’s best known memorial is at Babi Yar.
Christians for Israel works closely with the Hesed community welfare centers set up by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, with the Chabad movement, and with the leaders of small Jewish communities throughout the country.
It is currently either taking meals on wheels or sending money to Jewish institutions to cook and distribute the food themselves in 20 major cities and the areas around.
In Vinnitsa, in west-central Ukraine, for example, Christians for Israel stepped in with meals on wheels after a Hesed soup kitchen serving 50 people had to close because of the pandemic.
Over the coming two months, the organization aims to deliver more than 300,000 meals throughout the country.
Around three tons (3,000 kg) of matzos were being brought into Donetsk from Russia for the kits, along with grape juice from Georgia, Haggadot [books telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt] and Seder instruction leaflets. Young people were picking them up from the Donetsk synagogue and delivering them.