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February 24, 2022 3:15 pm
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Kyiv Rabbi Offers Synagogue for Shelter as Hundreds of Jews Struggle to Flee

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

People wait to return to the city at Kyiv Airport after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Kyiv chief rabbi Jonathan Markovitch is offering shelter and goods at his synagogue, he revealed Thursday, after the Jewish community in Ukraine’s capital woke to an invasion of Russian forces.

Rabbi Markovitch, 54, and his wife Inna, 52 — who have been emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for more than two decades after living in Israel — have stockpiled six tons of food and 50 mattresses at the Kiev Jewish Center (KJC), they told journalists during a virtual briefing.

“We woke up today at 5 am hearing a siren. It was very frightening because there is no infrastructure here, no bomb shelters, no organized information, or help from the government as unfortunately we are used in Israel,” recounted Inna. “The idea is that people could come here. There is no bomb shelter anywhere but at least we are together and we can feed them.”

The two noted that although many Jews have joined those leaving the city, there are still hundreds of community members stuck in the capital, lacking the financial means or physical ability to leave. Those who did not leave the city before 6:30 am this morning found it almost impossible to get out and flee to the border as the roads were highly congested, and some gave up and came back to Kyiv.

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According to the Markovitches, whose family of seven children and grandchildren live in Kyiv’s city center, the streets of the capital were deserted when they left their house this morning. They echoed reports from other witnesses on the ground of hundreds of cars waiting for gas at stations and people lining up at supermarkets.

“We have Israeli passports, and we could have left but we decided to stay here. Not because we are careless but on the contrary, we have a flourishing community of 2,500 Jews here that depend on us,” said Inna.  “Currently we have 50 people here with us coming with children. We can be here for a week.”

Inna said that one of the ladies she visits regularly to provide her with food parcels is a 104-year-old survivor of the Nazi regime.

“She was holding my hands crying: please don’t abandon us,” Inna said. “She is not the only reason we stay, but we have 200 like her who are bedridden, needy people … who depend on us for hot meals.”

The pair also works with a Jewish school and a kindergarten for children with autism.

Jonathan and his wife Inna, who also translated his remarks during the briefing, said that they now saw an urgent need to find a security company to guard the synagogue.

“We are worried that the escalating situation may lead to looting and riots that may arise on the Ukrainian side, similar to what happened in 2014,”  Jonathan Markovitch said. “We are afraid about an antisemitic attack because now we don’t know what will happen when there is chaos. If, for example, the police collapse, bad people will feel free to take whatever is not theirs.”

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