The increasing political and economic unrest in Ukraine has prompted The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to launch the Ukraine Assistance Fund in order to provide urgent funds needed for the care and security for more than 300,000 Jews in Ukraine.
According to The Associated, Ukraine is home to some of the world’s poorest Jews, particularly the elderly. Odessa, Baltimore’s sister city, as well as communities all over the country will receive 100 percent of funds raised to ensure deliveries of food, medicine, heating and cooking fuel as well as provide live-saving care and security personnel.
Marina Moldavanskaya, The Associated’s Baltimore-Odessa Partnership coordinator, explained via email that the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, both supported by The Associated, ensure that the most vulnerable elderly receive services at home so they do not risk their lives to get basic necessities. JDC and JAFI have deployed emergency mobile units to deliver food, medicine and other critical supplies. They have
increased security as needed and provided uninterrupted daily home care services for the frailest of the elderly, with some home-care workers spending nights with the elderly in their apartments.
“The [JDC and JAFI] action strategy changes all the time … depending on the situation and needs of the Jewish community,” wrote Moldavanskaya.
Michael Hoffman, vice president of Community Planning and Allocations at The Associated, said that the current situation in Ukraine epitomizes why the sister city relationship with Odessa is so important, because it enables organizations to raise money in support of these relief campaigns. Hoffman said The Associated has been receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in requests from JDC, JCCs, synagogues and orphanages since November 2013. The need for assistance, he pointed out, has not increased solely from the most recent events in Crimea.
“We are also recognizing this is a very fluid situation,” said Hoffman. “[We are] in contact with partners on a daily basis. Every day you turn on the news, you see a new development. … We’re trying to be as proactive as possible and at the same time we’re responding to the facts on the ground.”
Many who fled Ukraine in past decades have created a large community in Baltimore. Yelena Gelfen, 50, of Reisterstown, left Kiev in 1989, and her husband Alexander left in 1979. They met in the United States. Gelfen’s aunt, Brony Factorovech, 68, still lives in Kiev. Gelfen is in close contact with her aunt and regularly sends money to help her out.
“During the problems in Kiev, we sent her money more often because the banks were closed,” said Gelfen. “She [was] afraid to go out. … People started to buy nonperishable items, and they panicked.”
Vladimir Volinsky, 44, also came to the U.S. from Ukraine. He still has relatives in Kiev, and his mother communicates with them regularly. Volinksy has been associated with a Jewish assistance organization in his hometown of Belaya Tzerkov, just south of Kiev, a town where the Jewish population has dwindled to about 1,500.
“We’re trying to [help out the Ukranians],” said Volinsky, “been trying since before the revolution started.”
In absence of a crisis, about $1 million per year supports a variety of needs and services in Odessa, said Hoffman. So far, about $100,000 has been sent in relief funds, combined from The Associated’s allocations as well as from donations to its Ukraine Assistance Fund, which were sent in partnership with Jewish Federations of North America and distributed to partners on the ground in Ukraine.
“There is the hope that things get quiet and we can focus on core business,” said Hoffman, “but I’m always amazed by the strength of our community.”
To donate to the Ukraine Assistance Fund go to associated.org/helpukraine, or send a check to:
The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
101 W. Mount Royal Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21201
Attn: “Ukraine Relief”
For more information or questions, call The Associated Donor Center at 410-369-9300.