Jewish News readers were this week urged to help support the emergency evacuation of 300 Jewish orphans from the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa, as fighting in the east of the country begins to engulf the south.
On Wednesday, Tikva, which runs orphanages and schools in the city, appealed for help to safely move 600 children, students and staff out of the city centre following “extremely disturbing reports” of pending violence.
“We have been warned by our partners in the intelligence community that this weekend has the potential to be the most violent of the conflict,” said Tikva UK director Karen Bodenstein. “As a result, we are taking the decision to move the children to a campsite outside of Odessa, out of harm’s way.”
Armed pro-Russian separatists have recently taken over more government buildings in the industrial cities of Kharkov, Lugansk and Donetsk, and on Friday fighting spread to the famous port of Odessa, where more than 40 people died in a fire following street clashes with pro-western demonstrators.
Tikva chief executive Refael Kruskal revealed that the group had a multi-tiered evacuation plan, saying: “If it gets worse, we’ll take them out of the city and even to a different country if necessary.”
He said that, in consultation with local security personnel, the 600-strong group will leave “quietly, without drawing attention,” as city authorities are worried about media coverage of an exodus.
The Jewish community’s emergency measures have been taken after recent fighting, which saw the Great Choral Synagogue close and many of the city’s 45,000 Jews remain indoors. “We were worried the violence was going to spread,” said Kruskal. “We told everybody to stay at home.
The wider Jewish community in Odessa is trying to ride out the storm.” Orphans, ranging from newborns to those of university age, are the first to be evacuated, while more than 1,000 other youngsters studying in Tikva schools are on standby.
As part of the plans, the Jewish community, with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has prepared 70 buses.
“We are doing everything to strengthen the Jewish community at this frightening time,” said Bodenstein, who explained that the last few days had been “extremely difficult” for the children and the community.
“The cost of this evacuation is extremely high and therefore we are appealing to all donors,” she added.