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IsraAID, JDC, Chabad assist Ukrainians on the ground in wake of dam flooding

“The Jewish community became a center for everyone. It is a light to the nations,” Rabbi Yosef Wolff, director of the Jewish Community of Kherson Chabad, told JNS.

Settlements on the left bank of Dnieper River remain underwater after the Kakhovka Dam was breached on June 6, 2023. Credit: Armyinform via Wikimedia Commons.
Settlements on the left bank of Dnieper River remain underwater after the Kakhovka Dam was breached on June 6, 2023. Credit: Armyinform via Wikimedia Commons.

IsraAID, Israel’s largest humanitarian-aid organization, began operating in Ukraine’s Kherson region in November 2022. So when the Kakhovka Dam collapsed on June 6, flooding southeastern Ukraine—killing several people and stranding thousands—those in the region turned to the Israeli non-governmental organization for help.

IsraAID representatives were already on the ground in the affected areas on the morning of June 7, Anna Pantiukhova, translator and communications officer at IsraAID’s Ukraine mission, told JNS.

“We brought them medication and held training in first aid,” she said.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated more than 16,000 people, and access to drinking water and electricity across the region has been significantly disrupted, according to IsraAID. Pantiukhova told JNS that floodwaters were nearly 10 feet deep in some areas.

What caused the dam—set to the east of Kherson and built in 1956—to break remains unclear, though some point fingers at the current conflict.

The Russian war with Ukraine, now entering its 16th month, has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, Pantiukhova said.

“Besides the obvious destruction of the ecosystem, animals and people, the area was mined. A lot of [those] mines are moving along with the flow of the water,” she said. “It increases the danger for the civilians and the consequences for the environment.”

IsraAID’s team on the ground coordinated with Ukraine’s health ministry and the office of its first lady, Olena Zelenska, as well as with local authorities and NGOs. It dispatched two trucks and shipped five pallets of medications to a local hospital, according to Pantiukhova. IsraAid has also procured motor pumps and lay-flat hoses to remove floodwaters, which she expects to arrive by June 12.

In the coming days, IsraAID is expected to deliver 200 sets of bedding, blankets, pillows and towels, and send mobile water-treatment plants. It will also provide mental-health support and resources for traumatized children.

“This is not a one-day problem. We stay with communities as long as they need it. We will stay with the communities that got affected as long as it takes and do more than just provide for immediate needs,” said Pantiukhova.

IsraAID workers are on the ground helping in the aftermath of flooding caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in southeastern Ukraine. Credit: Courtesy.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which has been assisting Jewish Ukrainians for more than 30 years, has been in regular contact with the 382 poor elderly and children it serves in the region, including 22 who live in outlying villages.

Staff members are monitoring those people’s needs, providing required aid and offering evacuation services to those in flood zones.

JDC’s Hesed social-service center, which is on a street parallel to the Dnipro River, is now flooded and inaccessible. Staff members moved supplies and equipment—from computers to generators and hygienic supplies to food, water and other emergency materials—to the community’s synagogue, which is not flooded.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is getting supplies to those affected by flooding in Kherson, Ukraine. Credit: Courtesy.

“Overall, there is no panic in Kherson, and the authorities are in control of the situation,” according to JDC’s Inna Vdovichenko. “Flooded areas are blocked. Shops and pharmacies are working. There is supply of medicines, food, and water. There are evacuation stations in the city. People are taken out of Kherson by train and by vehicles.”

‘We have to save lives’

Where IsraAID is working with Ukraine on a broad scale, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who live and work in the country are focusing closely on Jewish communities in the region.

Rabbi Yosef Wolff, director of the Jewish Community of Kherson‒Chabad, told JNS that he and colleagues rescued 20 Jewish families, and will provide food and medicine. They will do so without a storage area, which he said had $1 million worth of food, that is now lost to floodwaters.

“The water is high, and it goes up at night. It will be like this, they say, for another two weeks,” Wolff said. “All of the homes underwater won’t have anything left of them.”

Kherson was home to 3,500 Jewish families prior to the Russian invasion, but now just 1,000 remain, according to Wolff.

“Besides the water, in the last eight months, we were under shooting and bombing daily. For us, the water is just a bonus,” he said. “We have to save lives and give them food, hot water, [drinking] water and medicine, and all of their needs.” 

Wolff is working with Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU), a Chabad organization, but requires more donations to help meet the community’s needs, he said. 

“In three or four weeks, there will be some chance to start to understand how terrible the situation is,” he said. “Now when the water goes up, we are dealing with just saving lives. There is no electricity in a lot of places. The water is going to the cemetery. What is happening to the water mixed with the bodies? It is terrible.”

Jews and non-Jews who come to the Chabad House can find financial and other assistance, according to Wolff. “The Jewish community became a center for everyone,” he said. “It is a light to the nations.”

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