Ukraine Update #61: Explosion of deadly violence in Eastern Ukraine; Mariupol's Jewish community impacted

WASHINGTON, D.C. January 26, 2015

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Stephen M. Greenberg, NCSEJ Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, NCSEJ President;
Mark B. Levin, NCSEJ Executive Director


Ukraine Update #61


Eastern Ukraine is experiencing the worst violence since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in September.


On January 24, rocket attacks on the city of Mariupol killed at least thirty people and left over a hundred injured. Sites hit included a kindergarten and a shopping market in a residential area.


The attacks claimed the life of Jewish community member Lyubov Verbytska, age 70, killed near her home.


Many residents have fled the city, and others are contemplating leaving.


Mariupol's Jewish community numbers between 2,500 and 3,000 Jews. Mariupol's religious Jewish community leaders have encouraged its members to leave temporarily, and are arranging for transportation to Zhytomyr, where Jewish refugees can receive temporary housing and other assistance.


NCSEJ spoke today with leaders of the secular Jewish community, who said that they are helping Jews whose houses were hit by the shelling to recover their belongings. Mariupol's Armenian community is assisting in the effort.


Some Jewish community members, especially the elderly, are unable to leave the city. Many community members are afraid to leave their houses altogether.


Mariupol's Jewish community representatives emphasized the need for additional financial assistance. Resources of the local Jewish organizations are stretching thin, and not all of those who needs assistance is receiving it.


Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) is reporting that three Mariupol families have been evacuated to Dnipropetrovsk and will leave for Israel soon. JAFI estimates that 1,000 - 1,500 Mariupol residents are eligible to make aliyah. The Jewish Agency's office in Mariupol remains open, operating in emergency mode. According to JAFI's Mariupol coordinator, there is no panic, but Jews are definitely concerned about their safety.


The Jewish community representatives NCSEJ spoke with reported a lot of misinformation regarding the rocket attacks on the city, with Russian media sources blaming the Ukrainian government for the shelling.


Concerns remain about a continued assault on Mariupol by the pro-Russian rebels, as the strategically located port city could provide a land corridor from Russia to Crimea.


Rebels are currently continuing their offensive by attacking the town of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region. The Ukrainian government has declared a state of emergency in the Donbas region.


In response to the rebel offensive, the EU has threatened to impose more sanctions on Russia.


President Barack Obama also expressed deep concern about the recent developments, and Russia's role in backing the separatists, noting that they are being provided with "Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training, and Russian troops," and said he is considering all options "short of military confrontation" in response.


The UN Security Council is meeting today to develop a response to the increasing violence in Ukraine.


Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny its involvement in the military conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the attacks in Mariupol and Donetsk on the Ukrainian army, and today accused the West of trying to contain Russia. "In essence, it's  . . . a foreign NATO legion, which is of course not pursuing Ukraine's national interests. There are different aims, and they are connected with the geopolitical aim of containing Russia," President Putin said.  


Founded in 1971, NCSEJ represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union. 
Phone: 202-898-2500 
NCSEJ is a beneficiary of The Jewish Federations of North America and the National Federation/Agency Alliance through its network of Federations.