Editorial | Ukraines Jews need us to pay attention

While Jewish eyes remain trained on Israel and Gaza, it’s important to remember that elsewhere lies another trouble spot for Jewish people: Ukraine.

The ongoing battle in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian loyalists continues to take a severe toll, both in lives and human misery. Hundreds of thousands of people in the region have been displaced, forced to flee westward to escape the fighting. 

That number includes many Ukrainian Jews.

As our story this week details, rescue efforts have been ongoing for weeks. Heroes from local Ukrainian Jewish communities, as well as the JDC and Jewish Agency for Israel, have led the way, taking circuitous routes around the danger zones to bring Jews to safety.

Many of those Jews have given up on Ukraine, with at least 3,000 expected to make aliyah to Israel this year. They are making a difficult decision: Even though life in Ukraine likely will only get harder, with the specter of a Russian invasion always on the horizon, it is never easy building a new life in a new country, especially for those no longer young.

Ever since he annexed the Crimean Peninsula earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems hellbent on establishing the Old Russian Empire.

An all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine would open the gates to horrendous casualties. Not all Jews have left the war zone. Some choose not to go; others, including many elderly, are trapped and in desperate need of rescue. A coordinated world Jewish community effort must be made to get them out.

Although the Ukrainian crisis has sparked isolated incidents of anti-Semitic violence, Jewish representatives throughout Ukraine have insisted this conflict is not anti-Semitic in nature, and that Jews in Israel and the diaspora need not worry on that account. Ukraine in 2014 is not, they say, Ukraine in 1941.

At the risk of second-guessing them, we cannot set aside our concern that anti-Semitic violence will increase as the political and economic situation worsens. History has shown that brutality against Jews is too often the default setting when the going gets tough in that part of the world.

It is incumbent upon American Jewry to remember our brethren in Ukraine. We must speak out on their behalf, and step up our support of those organizations doing the rescue work on the ground.