Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2015, in a commentary reported on how Jews from eastern Ukraine seek refuge further west in Ukraine from the Russian invasion. Among the justifications Vladimir Putin has offered for his hostility to the democratic government of Ukraine is that it is led and supported by “anti-Semitic forces.” But sit down with some of the Jews who have fled Russian-instigated violence in the east to find refuge in the capital of this supposedly neo-fascist state, and another story emerges. Excerpts below:
Consider the Kvasha family, among several thousand Jews uprooted by Mr. Putin’s invasion. You enter the family’s building on the outskirts of Kiev through a dim reception, where the walls have long turned a dark gray and a dank stench hovers. The Kvashas—dad Sergey, mom Valeria and their two boys Nikita, 17, and Arseny, 8—are crammed into a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor.
Inside the neatly kept apartment, a menorah sits atop a piano that has seen better days. It’s all a far cry from the Kvashas’ happy former lives in eastern Ukraine.
When I visited on Tuesday, Mr. Kvasha was at work at a printing business, where he’s a manager. Back in Luhansk, the family had its own printing firm, while Mrs. Kvasha worked as a general engineer at the local college. In addition to their apartment, the Kvashas owned a dacha, or vacation home. They were prominent and successful members of a vibrant Jewish community existing within what they describe as a tolerant Donbass society.
Then Mr. Putin launched his invasion. “When the fighting started a missile hit our building,” Mrs. Kvasha recalls. Five of their friends and neighbors were killed in attacks. Having already sent the kids to Kiev in early June 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Kvasha caught the last train out of Luhansk a few weeks later. Two bags stuffed with summer clothes were all they managed to take with them, and by August they had depleted their savings.
Building new lives in Kiev hasn’t been easy. Finding a permanent apartment was the first challenge. Landlords are reluctant to rent to refugees, seen as itinerant and unreliable.
In dire straits, the Kvashas turned to the Joint Distribution Committee, an American-Jewish organization. While the parents were still unemployed, the JDC provided the family with some $142 in monthly food assistance as well as blankets and other winter relief—crucial assistance, since their flat, once they’d secured one, cost about $165 a month. The organization continues to help the family pay rent.
The JDC also helped the Kvashas find a sense of belonging. Like many of Ukraine’s 350,000 Jews, the family’s connection to Judaism is more cultural than religious. At a Jewish community center in Kiev called Beiteinu, or Our Home, they found new friends. The JDC supports 21 such centers across Ukraine, and Mrs. Kvasha now works at Beitanu, helping other refugees find their footing.
I sat down on Tuesday with Ms. Brook, Mr. Fireman and four other elderly displaced Jews at one of the 32 social-welfare centers, or Heseds, the JDC runs across Ukraine, normally serving some 65,000 elderly and impoverished Jews, to which 5,200 have been added since the war began. Most escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs,…
Such Jewish charities operate openly here, under a government that frequently describes all Ukrainians displaced by the fighting, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, as compatriots. Ukraine, far from being the anti-Semitic nation of Putinist fantasies, has given them refuge. As one of the Hesed clients told me: “Write in your paper, we people from Donetsk and Luhansk love our country. We are patriotic. We don’t want to leave Ukraine.”