The war in Ukraine has captured international attention for weeks. Stories of the conflict have headlined newspaper columns and live broadcasts ever since the hostilities began a month ago. Now, as the citizens of Ukraine flee the country, the world media has shifted its gaze to the refugees and the places that they are escaping to. The states neighboring Ukraine are seeing the greatest influx of refugees but are struggling to cope with the flood of people coming to their borders. As USA Today and Yahoo News amongst others reported, Chabad Moldova has been at the forefront of rescuing Jews trapped in Ukraine and providing them with shelter and relief when they reach Moldova.
In the town of Kishinev, the capital city of Moldova, an unbelievable operation is underway. A huge army of volunteers has mobilized to provide relief and aid for Ukrainian refugees. Under the banner of Chabad of Moldova, 5 resort centers have been rented, and set up to serve as temporary shelter facilities for the fleeing Jews of Ukraine.
With a strong emphasis on providing the now homeless families with a respectable, dignified experience, Chabad Moldova went to great lengths to ensure that every aspect of the resort is of the highest quality. “We firmly believe in the dignity of every person”, explained Rabbi Zushe Abelsky, head of the Chabad operations. “Every Jew, especially one fleeing war, should be treated with decency”. To this end, Chabad rented world-class resort centers in Kishinev and the surrounding areas to host the refugees, hired chefs to prepare three nutritious meals daily, and brought in social workers, doctors, teachers and legal planners to work with those needing support and assistance.
The Long Term Plan
The vision for Chabad’s welcome center was formed in the days immediately following the outbreak of war. As millions of people fled their homes and cities, the world scrambled to react to the mass exodus that was unfolding. At this point, no resources existed to care for the many refugees trekking to every port of entry, so Chabad Moldova quickly sprang into action. With most evacuees predicted to go to Ukraine’s neighboring countries for shelter, Rabbi Abelsky and his fellow Rabbis in Moldova knew many Jews would soon be on their doorstep and hastily made plans to receive the large contingent of Jewish refugees. The Jewish community of Kishinev, eager to help their brothers and sisters in need, joined their Chabad Shluchim, to aid in one of the largest refugee rescue operations in decades. The Chabad House in Kishinev was converted into a welcome center to host the first wave of Ukrainian Jews, before the three resorts were arranged to deal with the massive numbers of evacuees that followed. With the huge influx of Jews into this part of the world, a comprehensive strategy was needed to adequately help all the desperate evacuees.
A three-step plan for the refugees was established with the end goal of seeing them resettle in a place of their choosing.
- Step One: Welcoming Refugees
- Step Two: Acclimation & Facilitating future steps
- Step Three: Chabad Moldova Ongoing Support (CMS)
Step one: Welcoming Refugees
The first phase began from the moment the evacuees stepped off their buses, often after long, arduous journeys. Upon crossing the border into Moldova, they were greeted by representatives of Chabad who immediately took them to one of the refugee resorts. After initially benefitting from a period of rest from a tiring trip they were shown around the facilities and helped to settle in. Yulia Volkova, a mother who made the long journey from Kharkov with her two small children described the experience of seeing fellow Jews waiting to embrace her as “the greatest sense of relief”. Not knowing what would be with her family once she left Ukraine was a “terrifying feeling” so the sight of Chabad Moldova volunteers greeting her family was like “a miracle from above”.
The resorts rented to house the refugees provided everything they needed for their first few days. From nutritious, cooked meals and snacks for all the families as well as on-site medical care. A big effort was made to make the experience as far from a typical refugee camp as possible.
Step Two: Acclimation & Facilitating future steps
The next stage, after the initial days of rest and relaxation, consisted of settling the families into their temporary homes and allowing them time to plan their next moves. The residents of the resorts were assisted with all the consular and logistical help they needed as they made decisions about their future.
Whether it was flights and lodging in Israel or a train ticket and reconnecting with a relative elsewhere in Europe, Chabad was at their side to provide any assistance they could offer. During this time Shiurim and Torah classes were established for the refugees who so desperately crave a connection to Judaism in their lives. “We are proud Jews” proclaimed Andriy, a 52-year-old man from Zhitomer. “We won’t let a war stop us from learning about our faith and in fact, we are even more connected to our Judaism now”. In an effort to take their minds off the conflict, if only for a moment, entertainment was scheduled for children and adults alike, highlighted by a special concert arranged one Motzoei Shabbos. Toys and learning packets were distributed to the children, while their parents were busy arranging the next steps in their journey.
Step Three: Chabad Moldova Ongoing Support (CMS)
With this, we come to the final stage. As most refugees are finalizing their plans and look nervously into their unknown future, Chabad of Moldova is by their side, knowing how terrifying the time ahead must feel. They have fled their homes and the lives they knew into a new world full of possibility yet studded with danger. “We will be in Israel in four days and don’t know anyone”, David and Karolya, a young couple who have been at the center for three weeks, described, “But having a home like Chabad Moldova when we were at the most desperate point in our lives remiss me how kind Jews are to one another”.
One thing is certain, with the incredible care they have received over the past weeks, a lot of the evacuees feel more confident as they prepare to rebuild their lives. The sense of safety and comfort at a time when their world falls apart is priceless and it has given them every opportunity to regrow their lives and live like proud Jews wherever they may be.
Help Chabad of Moldova Welcomes Jewish Refugees from Ukraine!