Ukraine is an ancient land going back to the first millennium and is the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Its conflict with Russia began around the 17th century.
After joining the Soviet Union at its formation in 1922 it became independent when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The latest full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation started in February 2022, following Russia’s forced annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The rationale for this illegal and immoral invasion, despite Ukraine’s independence is Vladimir Putin’s reckless determination to re-establish a Russian Empire and prevent a democratic encirclement around Russia by NATO.
The world has responded with wide-spread condemnation and new sanctions imposed on Russia which triggered a financial crisis in that country.
The war has cost thousands of lives. An estimated 500,000 have either died or been wounded. The invasion has inflicted 51 billion U.S. dollars in environmental damage to Ukraine and 135 billion in damage to its infrastructure. We have all seen horrific images of that destruction on our nightly news.
The invasion has led to a massive refugee crisis, with nearly 6 million refugees being recorded across Europe and an estimated 8 million others being displaced within Ukraine itself. 90% of Ukrainian refugees are women and children. It’s the largest refugee crisis since World War 2.
The rich history of the Jewish people in Ukraine dates back over 1,000 years and was one of the largest in Europe. It is estimated that there were 2.45 million Jews living in Ukraine in 1941, but 70% were killed during the Shoah. The most infamous massacre was at Babi Yar.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union the largest number of Jews left the country, mostly going to Israel, and many to Australia. It is estimated that Ukraine is currently home to some 49,000 Jews, with another 150,000 people who could be considered halachically Jewish.
More recently, with the democratic election of a Jewish President, Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019 a new chapter in the Jewish history of the region began. We can support the emergence of that new chapter through our support for Ukraine and its Jewish population against the Russian invasion.
In the first year of the Russian invasion the WUPJ (World Union for Progressive Judaism) established the Ukraine Crisis Fund (UCF), partnering with the IMPJ, (Israel Movement of Progressive Judaism) and IRAC, the (Religious Action Centre). The fund has supported refugees to Israel, Ukrainian congregants and Rabbis who fled to surrounding European countries and those still in Ukraine. This was done with direct and immediate financial support, helping to make the unbearable circumstances slightly easier.
The Ukraine Crisis Fund has helped two Progressive congregations in Israel serve over 1,000 Ukrainian and Russian speaking Israelis. They are uniquely positioned to absorb and support newly arrived families from the war zone. With the help of Rabbi Duchovny, a refugee from Ukraine, a busy Israeli program of learning is offered and a place of welcome where people are always happy to see them. Israel has absorbed some 15,000 Ukrainian Jewish refugees who remain in Israel today.
But the war is not over yet, and we hope that one day soon funds raised will not only be spent on rescue, relief, and settlement programs, but on rebuilding Jewish life in Ukraine.
A recent update: The Rabbis of Ukraine had a dream to return to Kyiv to their Progressive congregations for the High Holydays and Sukkot. That dream recently came true with the help of the Ukraine Crisis Fund.
Rabbi Duchovny wrote: The return was very emotional: hugs, tears, smiles, religious services, Rosh Hashanah celebrations, festive food, conversations, and sermons on Friday by Rabbi Julia Gris. There were greetings from our Prime Minister Zelensky and Jewish organisations all over the world.
But instead of the blast of the Shofar we heard the sound of a siren. And let it be so. Peaceful, victorious, meaningful, healthy, and prosperous 5784.
Wishing you all Shana Tovah
Helen Shardey OAM
ARZA Australia President
UPJ Vice President
WUPJ Executive Board