I have been asked many questions about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about the Jewish community there, and how we can help.
OUR LOCAL CONNECTIONS - 2 WAYS YOU CAN HELP
First, the Masorti Olami movement (Conservative Judaism in the world) has 4 synagogue communities in the Ukraine which are in immediate need of support. Families from the east 3 communities are being moved in every way possible to the quieter fourth community in the western half of the country, near Moldova. There we are supporting them, and preparing for a possible emergency aliyah. You can support and learn more about this effort here. Please choose “specific community” and write in Ukraine, if you wish. This will support specific families in need immediately.
Second, our Greater MetroWest Jewish Community Federation is deeply involved in the Ukraine already. Many of us have attended missions and programs that have taken us to Odessa, Kiev, and our summer youth camps in Cherkasy. The Federation has immediate channels open to engage financially, socially, educationally and politically to support the broad community infrastructure of JCC’s, food and elderly support systems, schools and more. This is a major basic reason why we give to the UJA campaign here, and by doing so you will strengthen our ability to support the Jewish community there in Ukraine through this crisis.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN UKRAINE BY THE NUMBERS
Prior to World War II, and the Shoah, it is estimated that 1.5 million Jews lived in the Ukraine. From enlightenment, secular yiddish, religious and zionist communities in Odessa to widespread chasidic and traditional agrarian communities throughout the countryside, Ukraine had a long history as a major Jewish regional center. Names like Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav come from this region. It is understood that 1 million of those were murdered in the Shoah, and today there are approximately 400,000 “culturally Jewish” people and about 40,000 “affiliated” Jews in the Ukraine. They are centered in a half dozen cities and a several dozen synagogues and community centers which have flourished in partnership with the American Jewish community and Israel.
A more complete description of the Ukrainian Jewish community can be found in this article from The Forward, based on AJC demographics.
RECENT BACKGROUND EXPLAINING THE CURRENT WAR - A 2 minute crash course.
This week, Russia invaded the Ukraine. Sadly, this is not new in European history, nor is it new in our lifetimes. From the Tsars to the Soviets this is an old legacy. Putin’s invasion by land, sea and air seems aimed at immediate command and control of air superiority, including air infrastructure on the ground in the Ukraine, and controlling strategic corridors throughout the central and eastern regions of the country. This is the logical first phase of a complete conquest strategy. The goal, as stated, is to disarm Ukraine completely, and - evidently - to topple the fairly elected government and install one favorable to Russian ethnic groups in the country and Russian ambitions in the region.
Ukraine is a deeply divided country ethnically and politically, with Russian and Ukrainian cultural regions roughly splitting the country between the east and west sides of the Dniper River. You can see how the river system divides the country in this google map. The two major political parties split roughly along these ethnic divides as “pro-Western” and “pro-Russian.” National elections since the fall of the Soviet Union have never shown a majority support for either major political camp’s party, but neither side has ever received less than 40% of the vote either. A helpful wikipedia article, with colored graphic maps demonstrates this here.
In 2014 there was massive upheaval as a pro-Russian prime minister was elected, but not accepted by the West or the opposition due to accusations of voter fraud. Protests forced him to resign, and flee to Russia and a pro-western government was then able to ascend by legal means. The far eastern provinces experienced a pro-Russian rejection of this “Orange Revolution,” naming it a coup. Russia agreed with that assessment, but the west did not. Russia subsequently supported the rebels in creating an autonomous enclave in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia then outright annexed the Crimean Peninsula - which was relatively popular in Crimea but not in the rest of the world.
There were two rounds of diplomacy between 2014 and 2017, named Minsk 1 and Minsk 2, which created an imperfect cease fire between Ukrainian and these various separatist forces in the east, which held until recent months. For reasons not entirely clear, Russia has chosen this time to reassert its objections over the pro-western Ukrainian government and has decided to use its overwhelming military force to invade and eliminate the democratic government in the capital of Kiev (Ukranian: Kiv). At that time I gave a sermon/analysis of the conflict and predicted that Russia would continue to agitate, until it had control of the eastern half of the country up to Dniper and everything south to the Black Sea. People thought I was pessimistic. It seams I underestimated Putin's avarice.
Which brings us up to date.
THE US RELATIONSHIP TO THE UKRAINE
As a final note, while the “pro-Western” political parties did wish to join NATO and the European Union, neither goal was ever achieved. The United States, NATO and the EU have NO FORMAL ALLEGIANCE to Ukraine, and no obligation of any kind to defend it. That is why US policy at this point has been to fortify NATO countries that border the conflict, and to otherwise stand back physically while sanctioning Russia politically and economically for its behavior. For its part, eliminating a Ukrainian Army that might have become NATO allied is a major strategic benefit for Putin.