Hundreds of Jewish families remaining in eastern Ukraine for High Holidays

(JTA) — Hundreds of Jewish families are staying in the flashpoint eastern Ukraine cities of Donetsk and Mariupol and will spend Rosh Hashanah there.

The families are hoping for an extended calm after the signing of a cease-fire agreement reached last week between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militias, said the chief rabbi of Donetsk, Pichas Vishedski.

“Hundreds left, but hundreds remain in Mariupol and elsewhere in the hope that the cease-fire holds and ushers the region into a period of calm,” Vishedski said.

There have been ongoing efforts to evacuate Jews from eastern Ukraine. The FJC and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, among other groups, have helped thousands leave Donetsk, Lugansk and Mariupol and other areas to safer parts of the country because of deadly fighting between government troops and pro-Russian militiamen, the fellowship’s founder, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, told JTA on Wednesday.

More than a dozen Jews have died in the fighting, which has claimed hundreds of lives, Eckstein said.

Some families from Donetsk, the scene of some of the most vicious fighting, temporarily moved to Mariupol before moving on after fighting erupted there.

“Those who wanted to leave already left, and we are talking about hundreds of families, but there are hundreds more who are staying in the battle zones through the Jewish holidays period and beyond,” Vishedski said. “Many have family complications which force them to stay with loved ones.”

Mariupol saw sporadic exchanges of fire even after the cease-fire went into effect.

Eckstein said his group is working to “help and encourage all Jews to leave the battle zones because working there to help Jews is too dangerous.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk, a large eastern city where no fighting was reported, has purchased several tons of food for its needy population, including dozens of Jewish refugees from the east who have temporarily taken up residence in the community’s institutions, according to Zelig Brez, the Dneproterovsk community’s director.


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