BOSTON — Having raised over $1 million toward Ukraine emergency relief efforts, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston is working on distributing the funds, including to its sister city of Dnipro. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 40,000 Jews lived in Dnipro, according to CJP.
Juan Gilces Coronel, manager of Israel and Global Jewry at CJP, said that the organization is “able to release funds really, really quickly to the Jewish community over there [in Dnipro], as well as international partners all across Ukraine and on the border of Ukraine.”
As of last week, the Ukraine Emergency Fund had raised $1.6 million from more than 2,300 donors, with $1.3 million released to its partners – including the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The fund was launched immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine late last month.
The relationship between CJP and the Eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro dates back three decades. Although CJP does not have any personnel based in Dnipro, relief efforts there are being led by the local Jewish community’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki, and the community’s executive director, Zelig Brez.
“Funds are being put to use,” Gilces Coronel said. “The community is doing tremendous work in getting and providing food and security – not only [to] the Jewish community but Ukrainians in Dnipro [in general].”
That includes almost 600,000 pounds of food, from fish to eggs to numerous vegetables such as cabbages, potatoes and carrots, along with canned fish and 20,000 water bottles.
“Right now, the community has the ability to get and store food,” Gilces Coronel said.
In the wake of the Russian invasion, the Dnipro Jewish community has had to deal with rapid change while making equally rapid adjustments.
Since March 4, hundreds of Jews from Dnipro have left, with an emergency hotline established that day, in advance of Shabbat, advising refugees on transport options and escape destinations. As of late last week, up to 500 Jews have been leaving each day by chartered buses – mainly women, children and the elderly – and heading toward the western borders of Ukraine.
However, Gilces Coronel said, there are “still thousands of people who can’t be evacuated, can’t leave,” including elderly Jews.
In an email from CJP sent last Friday, the organization wrote, “As you know, the conflict is rapidly evolving – explosions were reported in Dnipro Friday morning. We continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Meanwhile, refugees from elsewhere in Ukraine, including the cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol, are coming to Dnipro as part of their escape route. Overall, the conflict has displaced 2 million Ukrainians, around half of them children.
“A lot of refugees have come into Dnipro,” Gilces Coronel said. “Dnipro is quite central to continuing on to western parts of Ukraine [and beyond], including Poland and Slovakia, for example.”
Dnipro’s local Jewish community hub, the Menorah Center – reportedly the world’s largest Jewish community center – has been repurposed into a warehouse for essentials, as well as a medical center for refugees, according to Gilces Coronel. The center has also been the site of food distribution. Local Jewish community institutions have become shelters for refugees, he said. According to the email from CJP, the Menorah Center remained accessible as of last Friday.
Multiple Greater Boston-based Jewish organizations are assisting CJP with relief efforts, including Action for Post-Soviet Jewry and the Jewish Teen Initiative.
“Action for Post-Soviet Jewry has been really essential in shipping donated goods to Dnipro for quite some time, even before this conflict,” Gilces Coronel said, adding that JTI partnered with the organization to send shipments of its own, including over 200 care packages.
Center Makor, a Jewish educational and cultural center in Brookline, is also accepting donations. This includes money and clothing for the Ukrainian armed forces, and funds for medical equipment and supplies, as well as humanitarian aid. The organization additionally works to connect people with relatives or friends in Ukrainian cities and towns impacted by the conflict, including individuals who are elderly and disabled. As of last weekend, the organization had raised $18,765, according to its website.
Center Makor President Vladimir Foygelman, who is from Kyiv, keeps in touch with the American Jewish Committee, the Ukrainian Consul General in New York and the Israeli Consul general to New England. He said that Center Makor is working with multiple organizations, including the Ukrainian Cultural Center of New England, a Ukrainian church in Jamaica Plain and CJP.
Gilces Coronel noted that CJP is also part of Jewish Federations of North America – an organization that has been doing its own advocacy for Ukraine.
“They’re also advocating on the national level with Congress, for more humanitarian aid offered to Ukraine and for Congress to accept a Ukrainian refugee settlement program,” Gilces Coronel said. If Congress accepts a resettlement program, they’re planning to partner with advocacy and resettlement agencies in Boston, and with Jewish Family Service of Metrowest (JFS) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, to also provide relief to refugees who would potentially come to Boston, he said. “In addition to what we’re doing overseas and internationally with overseas partners, we’re also providing resources to the community here in Boston, coming together to provide relief in many different ways.”
He added, “It’s a very difficult time for all of us. We are doing our best.”