Ukraine Update #64: Jewish communities report from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kramatorsk and Mariupol

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 19, 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 #64


On March 17, the Ukrainian parliament approved amendments to the law on special status of rebel-controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. These new laws postpone greater autonomy for the regions until they hold new elections in line with Ukrainian law and under international observation.[i]


Pro-Russian separatist leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky criticized the amendments for 'weakening' the legislation, and threatened to abandon the ceasefire agreement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the move a "sharp departure from the Minsk agreements."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have discussed in a phone call the implementation of the Minsk accord, and have agreed to initiate a meeting between the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia.

Today, EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss, among other issues, the situation in Ukraine. During the meetings, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged EU countries to stay united and keep pressuring Russia to cease supporting rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the fragile ceasefire between the pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government remains in place; however, sporadic fighting continues. According to Ukrainian media reports, Ukraine's security services are concerned about potential provocations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions tomorrow.

The humanitarian situation in Eastern Ukraine remains dire. The economic crisis is affecting Ukrainians throughout the country; many are concerned about gas and heating prices, which are set to increase significantly starting next month, in accordance with IMF aid conditions.

NCSEJ spoke with Donetsk Jewish community representatives who said that more Jews from the area are looking to make aliyah. They reported fewer products being delivered into the city, mostly goods smuggled through the Ukrainian-Russian border. Only a few products are produced in the occupied territories, and prices for food and other necessities are continuously rising. Local Jews rely on food parcels from the Hesed center and other support from the Jewish community.

Representatives of the Luhansk Jewish community said that the local Hesed center continues to operate and provide support for the elderly. Community members said that they cannot leave the rebel-occupied city, because they require passes to cross into Ukrainian-controlled territory. The community is trying to bring nearly 900 pounds of matzah for Passover from Kyiv, but hasn't found anyone willing to cross into the rebel-controlled area.

The Kramatorsk Jewish community reported that the situation in the city, which is currently controlled by the Ukrainian government is stable. However, they also said that the situation is very difficult for the elderly; prices for food, housing, and utilities are rising. The community receives a lot of support from volunteers in Kyiv, who help by sending warm clothes and with other assistance.

The Jewish community of Mariupol reported an atmosphere of anxiety in the city. Concerns are growing about potential attacks by rebel forces on this strategic town. Dozens of local Jews are preparing to make aliyah. Many parents are trying to send their children to Israel for the Israeli Education Ministry's Na'ale Program for high school students. Prices for food and other necessities are going up. Many Jews are relying for support on the community, which is providing hot meals and other assistance.


Excerpts from the amendments to the Law "On special order local governments in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk"

Provisions. . . [of the law] become effective from the date of entry to power of local self-government in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, elected through a special election held in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine, this and other laws of Ukraine, in compliance with the principles of universal, equal, free, and transparent elections, as well as. . .  transparency of the electoral process as the basic principles of electoral law established by the Constitution and international treaties. . . including mandatory compliance with OSCE standards for democratic elections, ensuring:
  • participation in monitoring of the elections of impartial international observers, including from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of OSCE, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and other international organizations and foreign countries, as well as other official observers;
  • safe operating conditions and unhindered participation of official observers in the electoral process;
  • withdrawal of all illegal armed groups and their military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from Ukraine;
  • prevention of unlawful interference in the election process, including by illegal armed groups;
  • adherence to the principles of political pluralism and a multiparty system, equal rights, and opportunities to participate in the electoral process;
  • freedom of campaigning, equal media access, and restoration for this purpose of Ukrainian television, radio broadcasting, and print media throughout the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
  • a secret ballot and freedom of choice, guaranteeing voting rights of internally displaced persons forced to leave parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
  • transparency in vote counting and tabulation of the election results.

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.