Donetsk rabbi opens summer camp for Ukrainian war refugees

Jerusalem Post | Sam Sokol

Pinchas Vishedsky, the refugee rabbi of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, has organized a free summer camp for internally displaced Jews from eastern Ukraine in Koncha- Zaspa, just outside Kiev, in an effort to provide them with a similar vacation experience to that enjoyed by people in countries not wracked by civil war.

Around 100 people, some 40 children and 60 adults, are enrolled at the Tikva camp, Nadiya Goncharuk, the rabbi’s assistant, said.

“Most of the people who are at the camp are refugees that are now living in a different cities throughout Ukraine.

Refugees relocated to places like Kiev, Cherkassy, Dnepropetrovsk and others are now all here together,” she said.

The name Tikva, which means hope in Hebrew, is “very symbolic…. because many people have lost hope and feel down and have doubts. However with this name we want to spread the message that God is always with us and that we will be all right and live past these hard times. We have to believe and thank God for each new day.”

Located in a forest next to a river, the camp provides sports activities, lectures, swimming, computer classes and psychological counseling for those traumatized by the conflict that has displaced the overwhelming majority of Jews from the affected areas.

“This time of year is usually when people have time to take a break. And therefore, if any regular person must take a break, all the more so those who have been through such a difficult year and still have not started their lives again in an organized manner need one,” Vishedski explained.

“We’re talking about people who used to live in beautiful apartments, their homes had nice furniture, and now live in rented apartments that aren’t always the right size, so therefore such people deserve to have time to just take a break during the summer like everyone else.”

When one barely has money to cover rent and food in a strange city, paying for a vacation on one’s own is completely impossible, he added. “We thought that idea of taking a break with your kids during the summer could be very important and as it turned out we were right and people are very satisfied and happy.”

Sofia, a grandmother from Donetsk, is living with 11 other people in a cramped apartment in Kharkov. She came to the camp with his daughter, granddaughter, son-in-law and his mother.

“People of all ages, literally from age one, that is my granddaughter, to elder citizens are enjoying themselves here and taking the chance to relax and swim,” she told The Jerusalem Post.

““It was very hard to get to the camp from Donetsk,” said Anna, a refugee who arrived with her 13-year-old son and her middle-aged brother.

“It was hard to get official approval to leave Donetsk, and it was even harder to get papers for my son,” she said, recalling having to pay for papers and the travails of passing through multiple checkpoints in the war zone.

“Imagine coming from a war zone and landing into a fairytale. Many people at the camp are from Donetsk and we have been scattered throughout Ukraine and it’s an amazing feeling to come together and have time to enjoy ourselves together.”

“In Ukraine the need for these summer respites is most acute. These are Jews in crisis.

Whole communities that have been displaced for the first time in 70 years. The world Jewish community must do more to help them,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which provided some of the funding for the camp.


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