Humbled by a trip to Ukraine

CA Ukraine Feb 2

This is going to be a really long post. But I am so emotional and spiritually uplifted, I must share my experience of the last few days.

I'm with Rabbis Daniel Walker, Jason Kleiman and Ephraim Guttentag on our way back home from a most meaningful journey to the Ukraine, a poverty and war stricken country, organised by World Jewish Relief. This was a most humbling experience. We've met so many special people who are dealing with the most difficult challenges thrown at them, with heroism to be admired.

CA Ukraine Feb 8

Driving on the intercity highways, one can tell that they used to be paved but not anymore. The 3 hour bumpy ride from Dnipropetrovsk to Krivoyrog and another 3 hours to Zaporozhye was quite an experience. The weather wasn't too bad but there was still snow on the ground. The slush on the road, combined with potholes all over and significant parts of the road which were simply washed away, made driving a dangerous experience. Krivoy Rog is an industrial city. Most people work in mining and other such industries. Average life expectancy is only 60!

CA Ukraine Feb 5

We visited workshops and entrepreneurship hubs in Krivoy Tog and Zaporozhye, funded by World Jewish Relief, where we met Alexia. At the age of 19, Alexia juggles his responsibility as a student of biology and being the only breadwinner in his household which includes his parents and grandmother. When we ask him how he feels about his situation, he answers: "someone must look after the family and I am lucky enough to be the one who is able to".

CA Ukraine Feb 10

Lyudmilla is a single mother raising her two daughters Veronica and David. They live with their grandmother in a one bedroom apartment with two beds and a pram. 6 year old Veronica shares a bed with her mother. When asked if World Jewish Relief could do anything else to improve their lives, she answers: "I would ask for nothing. We have everything we need".

When Sophia, who was also gracious enough to have us in her very small half a room home, who, in -15°c, has to walk outside to her outdoor toilet and who hasn't had hot water for the last few winters because her small 15 litre boiler broke and she can't afford to fix it, tells us she is happy and so grateful for all that Chesed do for her, we are flabbergasted!

CA Ukraine Feb 11

Throughout our trip Oksana Shipilova, who works for the JDC (one of World Jewish Relief’s oldest partners) accompanied us as a translator. Her dedication to the community and its members was astounding. She found it difficult hiding the tears in her eyes when translating some of the heartbreaking stories of others.

The JCC (Jewish Community Centre) at Zaporozhye is managed by Inessa Nosenko, a dynamite lady with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Inessa is a history teacher with a true sense of peoplehood and culture and very community oriented. Integration is a key word in all her activities. She makes sure everyone takes an active role in the community and that means all ages and all sorts of abled and disabled people. They all partake in the same activities and they love it!

CA Ukraine Feb 6

Just to give you an idea of the scope of activities at this communal hub, there were hundreds of people there participating in several different activities! Dancing, singing, pottery, rehearsing for Purim party, Pilates, mothers and babies and many more!

CA Ukraine Feb 6

At the JCC we met Marianna Smbatyan, an outstanding singer and amazing person. We also met Kiril and Alexandra, two of the many young volunteers at the JCC. Alexandra is a mother to 2 young children and works full time yet still manages to find the time to volunteer!

Many of those who we met were displaced families and individuals who fled the war zone in the east and have so much to deal with yet have no complaints and are only gracious!

The Chief Rabbi of Zaporozhye, Nachum Erentroi and his wife Dina Erentroi have been there now for 20 years and have built Yiddishkeit from scratch. They built a magnificent big shul that holds daily minyanim and a Jewish school with more than 130 children. They run a kolel and shiurim around the clock and many activities.

CA Ukraine Feb 9

They have shown us the most gracious hospitality. I owe them special thanks. Tuesday, 26 of Shvat, happened to be my birthday. I suspect Richard (Verber, head of external affairs, World Jewish Relief) had told them and Dina had baked the most beautiful birthday cake. They had invited members of the community and threw me a fab surprise birthday party with some really good local kosher cognac!

There is so much more  to share. This trip was an eye opener. I wasn't aware of how big and vibrant a Jewish community there is in the Ukraine and what great challenges they are facing and how we are able to help them. Thank you very much Richard Verber and Rebecca Singer (communications officer, World Jewish Relief) for arranging this successful, in every sense of the word, trip.

CA Ukraine Fab 2017

Rabbi Chanan Atlas travelled to Ukraine with Rabbis from Manchester, Leeds and St. Anne's in February 2017.

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