Two Years Later, Jewish Life in Ukraine Continues


Since February 2022, Ukraine’s Jews—like their countrymen—have found themselves under frequent aerial bombardment and vacillating military campaigns that have killed and injured civilians, damaged and destroyed cities, and thrown their lives into chaos. Two years later the country remains embroiled in a struggle that shows no signs of ending.

The story of the Jews of Ukraine is one of fear, upheaval and uncertainty whether their lives and community can ever again look like it did prior to Feb. 24, 2022. But their story is also one of hope and bravery; selfless leadership in the face of overwhelming crisis; an unbreakable bond with fellow Jews experiencing a war in Israel; and a reinvigorated connection to Judaism.

“Everyone watching the news saw this coming,” says Miriam Moskovitz, who with her husband, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, have been leading the Kharkiv Jewish community for more than 30 years. “But we were not worried. No one here thought it was actually coming. It just seemed far-fetched.” Just one day before the crisis, Chabad of Kharkiv held a large celebration in honor of the 30th anniversary of its Ohr Avner Jewish day school.

The next day, Feb. 24, 2022, the bombs began to fall. “The first feeling was one of shock,” Moskovitz recalls. “You have sirens blaring with missiles falling all around and then we have tanks rolling through our city.” A deep fear struck the whole Kharkiv community, which hunkered in basements and prayed the bombs falling from the sky wouldn’t strike their homes.

“The early days were terrifying.  We have 15 seconds to reach shelter from when the sirens go off—if they go off at all.”

But for the Moskovitzs, the early grip of personal fear gave way to a new feeling—the sense of responsibility for their community.

“Our mindset shifted to the community,” Moskovitz said. “When I think back to the early days I don’t remember fear, just the constant question of ‘what can we do’ to help those who were relying on us.”

Kharkiv’s Jewish community needed everything, and JRNU was there to provide food, medicine, shelter and arrange routes for evacuation. In the first months of the crisis, evacuees from more dangerous parts of Ukraine who were ordered to leave their homes for their safety began pouring into Kharkiv. When Ukrainian soldiers showed up at their doors with evacuation orders and asked the Jewish residents where they would like to go, they responded with one word: synagogue.

Hundreds of people showed up to the synagogue and slept in its basement for months. To deal with the growing influx of evacuees,  housing was arranged for the incoming Jews in nearby apartment complexes, all while keeping a steady supply of food, supplies and medicine coming for distribution.

As the crisis dragged on, the world’s attention, and interest, began to wane. Rabbi Nachum Ehrentreu, who together with his wife, Dina, co-directs Chabad of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, describes how difficult it was for the residents of Ukraine to watch the world move on while missiles still rained on their homes. “In the beginning, everyone was sending messages of support and praying for us; now, it’s more out of mind. It’s very hard for the people here.”  As time passed, however, the attitude in Ukraine changed for the residents as well. After two years, people are trying to resume their daily lives as much as possible, even with missiles flying overhead.

JRNU works with local leaders to restore a sense of normalcy, albeit with some changes. Kharkiv’s Jewish day school is back up and running—now it’s held in the synagogue’s basement. The rabbi and rebbetzin are still visiting community members—now they make sure people have heat and water in addition to Shabbat candles. The Passover seder is still going forward, but will be done in an “express” fashion to ensure everyone can be home by curfew.

One surprising development has been an increased desire to connect with Judaism on the part of countless Ukrainian Jews. Both the Moskovitzs in Kharkiv and the Ehrentreus in Zaporizhzhia marvel at the number of Jews who have “come out of the woodwork,” spurred by crisis all around them to connect to their heritage. The Moskovitzs have a full list of adults and children who have scheduled to have their brit milahs. The Ehrentreus have put up hundreds of mezuzahs on the doorposts of homes throughout Zaporizhzhia, as people turn to G‑d’s protection from the bombs that land around them.

Rabbi Ehrentreu speaks of the 800 Jewish families that he’s met since the crisis started:  “People are craving to come closer to G‑d now,” says Ehrentreu. “We are meeting so many people who previously identified as atheists, who now stream to the synagogue in search of coming closer to G‑d.”

Two years have left the Ukrainian Jewish community indelibly changed.  Our work continues, and with your help with save lives and restore hope.

Based on a story that first appeared on

Together, we Save Lives and Restore Hope!

Shlomo Peles
Executive Director
Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki
Dnipro, Ukraine
Rabbi Pinchas Vishedsky
Kyiv, Ukraine
Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm
Zhitomir, Ukraine
Rabbi Avraham Wolff
Odessa, Ukraine