Federation’s partners at the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) are on the ground in frigid Ukraine, providing critical aid to some of the world’s poorest Jews. What started as a political crisis in November 2013, has turned into a war in Eastern Ukraine, causing national economic collapse and a near humanitarian catastrophe. Thousands of Jews remain trapped in conflict zones while many have fled the region – a phenomenon that has not befallen this part of the world since World War II.
In addition to political conflict and violence plaguing the region, there has been a severe depreciation in Ukrainian currency, which has had led to loss of local buying power and an extreme devaluation of pensions – putting Ukrainian seniors in an incredibly dire situation. The JDC reports that several regions have denied pension payouts all together, which has been an added burden to already vulnerable populations.
In July of 2014, at the height of the conflict, local cities under artillery fire had very limited access to basic commodities, such as food, water, medicine, and fuel. Shortly after, in November of 2014, all state services were withdrawn from regions experiencing extreme conflict. Moreover, the central bank of Ukraine ended all banking services for people and businesses.
The violence, political conflict, and devaluation of currency led to an extreme increase in the price of basic goods (when and if available in the first place). For example, the cost of food and medicine rose by 50-80 percent. On average, households started paying 70 percent more for their monthly utility bills, particularly difficult through Ukraine’s harsh winters.
Federation’s on-the-ground partners at the JDC aim to help all Jews in need around the world no matter what, but reach has been hindered by several factors, such as territorial issues and cash now being the only tender of payment, which has proven to be an obstacle to aid. As a result, the JDC needs to purchase all products in cash then hire drivers to deliver goods to Jews living in conflict zones.
Sadly, it’s not just the Jews of Ukraine that are suffering as a result of the conflict; there has been an increase of the number of Jews in need in neighboring Russia. Russia’s economy has also been hit hard. In 2014, oil prices dropped below 44 percent and the ruble depreciated 40 percent (against the dollar).The JDC currently cares for 85,000 elderly Jews in Russia, but is anticipating an increase in clients and a higher demand for services. The increase in the need from vulnerable Russian Jews is predicted to limit the impact, scope, reach, and work of the JDC in Eastern Ukraine.
Prior to the crisis, JDC was serving more than 60,000 elderly adults and 9,000 at-risk children in 1,200 locations throughout Eastern Ukraine. To date, JDC continues to provide basic humanitarian aid, such as: food, medical help, and homecare to 5,791 clients who have remained in their homes in conflict zones. Today, JDC is assisting 2,394 displaced Jews from Eastern Ukraine who have fled to other cities in Ukraine or to Russia. They are providing help to displaced Jews in the form of accommodation subsidies, trauma support, and other emergency services.