Odessa Jewish community mulls emergency evacuation
Odessa’s Jews are prepared to evacuate should the violence in the western Ukrainian city get significantly worse, several community leaders told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Odessa’s Jewish community numbers some 30,000, down from nearly 40 percent of the city’s population before the Holocaust.
Running street battles between pro-Russian and nationalist forces claimed dozens of lives in the Black Sea port this weekend, culminating in the burning of dozens of pro-Russian protesters in the city’s trade union building on Friday evening.
The Odessa bloodshed came on the same day that Kiev launched its biggest push yet to reassert its control over separatist areas in the east, hundreds of kilometers away, where armed pro-Russian rebels have proclaimed a “People’s Republic of Donetsk.”
While Jewish community leaders are unanimous in asserting that the violence is unconnected to the Jewish community and that they do not feel specially targeted, they agreed that, should the situation deteriorate, it would be easy for the spillover to affect their constituents.
According to Rabbi Refael Kruskal – the head of the Tikva organization, which runs a network of orphanages and schools and provides social services to the city’s elderly – several of the wounded from Friday’s clashes were Jews, and the community is taking all necessary precautions.
“Over the weekend we closed the [Great Choral] Synagogue,” Kruskal said. “We took all the students out of the center of the city where the violence was, because we were worried it was going to spread. We sent a text message to everybody in the community on WhatsApp that they should stay at home over the weekend.”
While the synagogue, which is located close to the site of Friday’s clashes, was reopened Sunday morning, Kruskal said he planned on closing it again later in the day.
The Jewish community, he added, is hunkering down and trying to ride out the storm.
“When there is shooting in the streets, the first plan is to take [the children] out of the center of the city,” Kruskal said. “If it gets worse, then we’ll take them out of the city. We have plans to take them both out of the city and even to a different country if necessary, plans which we prefer not to talk about which we have in place.”
Fearful of further “provocations” on Friday, which marks the anniversary of Soviet Russia’s victory over Germany in the Second World War, Kruskal said that he was considering renting a holiday camp to house 600 Jews away from the fighting he expects next week.
“The next weekend is going to be very violent,” he said.
While other communal leaders are more sanguine, all have evacuation plans in place.
The Jerusalem Post has the full article
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