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One Year Later, Exiled Rabbi Returns to War-Ravaged Ukrainian City

Last summer, The Fellowship set up a makeshift refugee camp for Ukrainian Jews who had been displaced by their country’s war. Since then, Fellowship Freedom Flights have allowed hundreds to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel, while many more are being cared for in Ukraine. Chabad reports on the chief rabbi of Lugansk – a city torn apart by the fighting – and his return one year later:

Rabbi Shalom Gopin was in a car heading back towards Lugansk. Burned-out shells of cars and tanks littered the side of the highway, and as they drove, Gopin’s driver took care to avoid the missile craters pockmarking the road. War had irrevocably changed this once quiet eastern region of Ukraine.

“Don’t walk too far,” the driver told the rabbi when they pulled over for a short rest. “There are landmines out there.”

The advice was well-taken. At least 42 children have been killed by unexploded ordnances in eastern Ukraine since March 2014—and that’s only in government-controlled territory.

Gopin returned last week for his first visit in a year. The city’s rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary led his family—his wife, Chani, and their children—out of Lugansk last June as tensions on the street between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine’s central government came to a head.

The city he left was one teetering on the brink. Arriving back on June 2, Gopin found himself in a battle-worn area he could hardly recognize—now the debris-covered capital of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). The streets he had come to know so well still looked the same, but somehow, it was all very different.

“Lugansk today is a different world,” says Gopin. “It’s surreal…”

“People are dying in Lugansk because of malnourishment or lack of proper medical attention,” reports Gopin. “Had they been in Israel, they would have survived; had they been in Lugansk just a year ago, it would have been fine, too.”

Members of the Jewish community are slightly more fortunate than the general population because of the aid they receive through the synagogue. A day before Gopin got to Lugansk, a shipment of nearly 700 food packages sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews arrived in the city. Gopin’s staff and local Jewish volunteers work to deliver the much-needed relief to community members throughout the city, many of whom are too old or infirm to make it to the synagogue themselves.

Tags: IFCJ , Ukraine

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