Ukraine: In the news for the wrong reasons

In some ways I should be grateful that Ukraine is back in the news but it’s always for the wrong reasons. The recent escalation of tension between Ukraine and Russia in the Sea of Asov has been building in recent weeks. A heavy Russian shipping presence in the Sea of Asov has severely restricted trade access to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol as Russia seeks to assert its presence in an ever more muscular way. A vastly inferior Ukrainian navy, attempting to gain access to disputed waters was bound to lead to some sort of clash.

With a Ukrainian President suffering from very low popularity ratings, cynics suggest this is simply an attempt to win national and international support.

Whatever the reasons it is certainly a reminder to all of us that Ukraine remains a country in a state of conflict with a million people displaced by past fighting. There are continued skirmishes between Ukrainian and separatist forces in the east and hundreds of thousands of civilians live day in day in a state of fear, crossing front lines simply to go shopping or to collect their pension. I’ve heard it described recently as a frozen conflict but it looks warm to me. The only thing frozen are those terrified civilians who have no power to heat their homes, are caught in the middle both politically and economically and are able to access very limited humanitarian support because of security concerns.

This is where World Jewish Relief operates all of the time, supporting Europe’s largest Jewish community and others caught up in the conflict. Our recently launched Winter Warmth programme is once again assisting our elderly community members have at the very least one warm room and the materials to survive winter. We are also extending our support to those civilians living in the conflict buffer zone and providing the most vulnerable households with firewood and heating supplies.

 Two of my team members are in Odessa this week where all is calm if a bit tense. One of them reassured me that our Jewish beneficiaries, while worried about rising military tensions, were more concerned about their immediate utility and medical costs than the prospect of Russian tanks rolling down the street. It certainly brings some reality to the news.

 I hope Ukraine remains in the news if only so the world can better understand what a tragic situation continues to unfold there.

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