Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

Speaking of internally displaced Jews now in the Kyiv area, the consul said that between 250 and 300 IDP's were eligible to immigrate to Israel under provisions of the Israel Law of Return.  Some of them fled the eastern area with only the clothes that they were wearing at the time and many have no money.  While waiting for their paperwork to be completed and Israeli visas issued, they stay with relatives or friends or in hostels maintained by different rabbis or by local Jewish groups.

 

Regarding antisemitism, the consul noted that a disproportionately large number of people with full or partial Jewish ancestry are in the Ukrainian government.  In general, however, there is very little antisemitism.  Israel is admired in Ukraine for its military might and for its achievements in education, science and technology, medicine, and business.  It is a strange mix, he continued, that the [right-wing] Ukrainian nationalists in the west and the [left-wing] communists in eastern Ukraine both want the Jews on their side.  Some people in the SBU (СБУ, Служба Безпеки України; Ukr., Security Service of Ukraine) are antisemitic, the consul stated.  Notwithstanding the reality that many common Ukrainians seem well-disposed to Jews, at least today, the consul said that he lacks confidence that the current benign situation will hold.

 

 

79.  Dani Gershkovitz directs operations of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in central and western Ukraine.  The client census of Jews requiring welfare assistance in this area, said Mr. Gershkovitz, is approximately 19,000 people, of whom the largest number (9,330) is served by Hesed Bnei in Kyiv.[113]  Other heseds serving more than 1,000 clients are located in Lviv, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Cherkasy, and Khmel'nyts'kyi.  Of the total number of clients throughout the region, Mr. Gershkovitz continued, only about 40 percent are Nazi victims and thus eligible for benefits from the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany).  The subsidies from the Claims Conference provide recipients with five times as much aid as that available to non-victims.  The number of Claims Conference recipients decreases from day to day as members of that generation die; in fact, continued Mr. Gershkovitz, about three percent of Claims Conference recipients die each year.

 

Dani Gershkovitz, director of JDC in Kyiv and central and western Ukraine, came to the Ukrainian capital from a similar post in Ekaterinburg, which is located in the Ural Mountains in Russia.  The Jewish population of Ekaterinburg is about 5,000, he said. 

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

Added to the hesed's conventional caseload, said Mr. Gershkovitz are approximately 500 Jewish internally displaced people from the eastern regions of Ukraine.  JDC helps them by providing time-limited assistance in finding housing and paying rent, purchasing food and other necessities, securing employment, and enrolling their children in appropriate schools.  The Israeli government provides experienced coun-selors in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.  However, some individuals become very demanding, Mr. Gershkovitz said, insisting on large apartments in the center of the city that neither they nor JDC can afford.  Some fraud also exists, he said. For example, JDC has been approached by former Donetsk residents who left the city ten years ago and claim entitlements intended for current IDP's; when pressed for information that would confirm their status as recently displaced, they say that all of their documents with a recent Donetsk address were destroyed in their haste to leave the city.  JDC does not have the ability to check their assertions, noted Mr. Gershkovitz.  He also acknowledged that JDC may be reaching only half of the Jewish IDP's.  Many of the more capable IDP's make their own resettlement arrangements.  Some people also have local relatives or friends who are able to provide necessary assistance.

 

In response to a question about the presence of large international aid organizations (NGO's) in Ukraine, Mr. Gershkovitz said that very few operate major programs in the country.  Some have offices in Kyiv, he continued, but these are bases for monitoring the current situation, rather than for organizing and implementing significant assistance programs.  The International Red Cross, WHO, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, and a Czech aid organization have made periodic trips into Donetsk oblast, continued Mr. Gershkovitz, but he is unaware of any sustained action.  Security and service delivery are very difficult under prevailing conditions, he added.  However, sometimes various services can be provided by certain local people who are more familiar with local conditions and can obtain and apply outside materials effectively.  Echoing others, Mr. Gershkovitz stated that no one really knows what is happening in Luhansk oblast; it is even further east than Donetsk and communications are very, very difficult.

 

Asked about finding larger and better-located premises for the hesed and Beiteinu, a children's center, Mr. Gershkovitz responded that the old hesed building, a former preschool, is being reconstructed.  Obviously, these premises are not ideal and will remain unsatisfactory even after reconstruction.  However, JDC simply cannot afford the premises that it needs.  The first floor of the reconstructed building will contain all services and programs for elderly people so that they do not have to climb stairs.  Staff offices will be on the second floor, and JDC hopes to rent out some of the third floor as a means of generating revenue.  The existing elevator is unusable and cannot be repaired because the elevator shaft itself is problematic.

 

Beiteinu is now housed in a small (300 square meters) rental space in the center of the city.  These premises cannot accommodate the needs of disabled children, let alone the activity areas need for a full Jewish cultural/community center.  Clearly, Mr. Gersh-kovitz continued, Kyiv should have at least the same Jewish community facilities that are available in JDC structures in Odesa and Kharkiv. 

 

Without any prompting from the writer, Mr. Gershkovitz stated that JDC needs "more humility" in its institutional demeanor.  "We are not kings of the world," he said.  Other Jewish organizations "do a better job of presenting themselves", citing the Hillel student organization as a Jewish group with a better image among local Jews.

 

Mr. Gershkovitz further noted that his transfer from the small Jewish population in remote Ekaterinburg has been a humbling experience.  Here, in the capital of Ukraine, he interacts not only with clients and professional staff, but also with ambassadors and with foreign donors who come to Ukraine on missions.  His interface with local Ukrainians is not always smooth, he noted, because many of them now are suspicious of his prior experience in Russia.  They are wary of people from Russia who come to Ukraine.

 

Part of his experience here in Kyiv to date has been a confrontation with fear, Mr. Gershkovitz stated, as he speaks with people fleeing the country so that military-age sons can escape the Ukrainian armed forces draft.  He also has a new "perspective on economic ruin" as he interacts with individuals who lost everything as they hastily departed from the embattled east or even with local elderly unable to live with dignity on their pensions.

 

 

General Civil Assistance Fund

 

 

80.  Until recently, Marina Lysak and Maria (Masha) Pushkova were best known in Kyiv for their independent Jafari (Jewish Safari) organization that offered "safaris" to Jewish sites in Kyiv, independent Hebrew ulpans, various programs for Jewish organizations, and event planning for Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. The 2014 Maidan uprising, which led to lengthy street closings, caused a collapse of the "safari" business. Harrowing experiences during and after the uprising[114] generated a concept for a new non-governmental organization that Ms. Lysak, Ms. Pushkova, and a third woman, Alena Druzhynina, call Кожен Може (Ukr., Kozhen Mozhe) or Everyone Can in English.

 

Marina Lysak, left, who earned an MBA at a British University and previously worked as an investment counselor, now is the execu-tive director of Kozhen Mozhe, a Ukrainian NGO.  Masha Pushkova, right, has broad experience in Jewish education and culture; along with Ms. Lysak, she is a founder of Kozhen Mozhe and now is active as a volunteer.

 

Photo: the writer (in 2014).

 

Kozhen Mozhe, which was registered as a Ukrainian charity in August 2014, has four goals: developing the health care system in Ukraine; developing emergency services; developing systems to provide assistance to victims of hostilities (such as internally displaced persons and families of those killed in wartime); and developing volunteerism and philanthropy in Ukraine.  The organization intends to follow the principles of "humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and the belief that everyone can help to change the world."  All three women founders of Kozhen Mozhe openly acknowledge their Jewish heritage and advise colleagues and clients that they observe Jewish holidays.

 

Regarding assistance to victims of hostilities, Kozhen Mozhe provides assistance both to hospitalized soldiers and their families and to IDP's from eastern Ukraine and from Crimea.  Ms. Lysak and Ms. Pushkova noted that the IDP population includes people of various ethnic backgrounds, including Crimean Tatars, i.e., Crimean Moslems who have been oppressed by Russians for several centuries, and Roma.  In addition to providing food, clothing, and access to shelter, Kozhen Mozhe solicited grant proposals from IDP's throughout Ukraine; they received 49 such proposals that were evaluated by a special committee.  The grant recipients include an exercise program for a concentration of special needs IDP children in Lviv, an environmental project for IDP children in Ivano-Frankivsk, development of a park in a village near Kyiv that will benefit all residents of the village, development of a library in another Kyiv-area village that will be open to the entire village, and operation of a movie club in a Kharkiv-area village that will benefit all residents of the village.

 

Kozhen Mozhe received a health-related grant from a foreign embassy that was used to support a burns center and a pulmonary disease center in Kyiv, provide hygiene kits to 400 Jewish and non-Jewish IDP's, and purchase a portable x-ray unit that is vital to evaluating wounded soldiers in the field.  A group of Ukrainian expatriates in New York has asked Kozhen Mozhe to distribute the contents of an aid container that is on its way to Ukraine; both the contents of the container and role of Kozhen Mozhe in distributing the contents have been pre-approved by all relevant government ministries.

 

In implementing their various programs, Kozhen Mozhe has received pro bono assistance from a lawyer, several physicians, and a printing company.  A fundraising professional is providing volunteer assistance in financial resource development.  The owner of the International Exhibition Center in Kyiv supplies them with a free two-room office that includes storage space for clothing and other items that are distributed to clients.

 

Kozhen Mozhe now has two paid professional staff.  Ms. Lysak is the executive director, and another individual has been engaged as an accountant.  Ms. Lysak and Ms. Pushkova emphasized the importance of hiring a professional accountant so that the organization meets all government financial reporting regulations.  Donors also must be assured that their contributions are used appropriately.  The two women said that they intend to engage two professional fundraisers in the near future.

 

They also continue to pursue information about health care in Ukraine and other countries so that they can develop an educated concept about future steps in improving this sector.  They speak with local businessmen and confer with various health and medical professionals, including people in other countries, in order to generate new ideas.

 

Ms. Pushkova volunteers in the organization.  Professionally, she continues to teach Hebrew to private groups and individuals.  She also is pursuing her work in graphic arts and design.

 

 


[113]  See page 23 for information about Hesed Bnei in Kyiv.

[114] See the writer's Report on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine, A Visit in March and April 2014, pp. 21.  Ms. Lysak and Ms. Pushkova helped to treated wounded people during the uprising, secure medical supplies, arrange medical care in Israel for some victims, and gather food and clothing for those needing these items.  They also collected and distributed non-lethal military supplies for Ukraine's strapped military forces.

 
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