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U.S. Jewish Group Raises Money to Help Chechens Survive Winter

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An American Jewish organization has launched a major fundraising campaign to aid both Jewish and non-Jewish Chechen refugees fleeing Russian troops.

“We’ve found that Jews want to respond to not only narrowly defined Jewish concerns,” according to Martin Horowitz, director of the Jewish Community Development Fund in Russia and Ukraine, which will help disseminate money raised by the American Jewish World Service.

The International Rescue Committee will distribute emergency supplies such as mattresses, blankets and raw materials for shelters. The frigid weather in Chechnya is making a “deplorable situation” even worse, said Gillian Gunn, emergency coordinator for the IRC. Plans for an educational program for refugee children are also in the works.

The Russian Jewish Congress is playing a large part in identifying Jewish Chechen refugees and helping them escape and resettle. The RJC, which hopes to raise between $2.5 million and $3 million, has already made plans to supply refugees with apartments in Moscow and Israel.

Horowitz said 400 Jewish refugees have been identified by the RJC but the real number may be much higher.

“The Russian Jewish Congress branch in the Northern Caucasus and Dagestan have just begun to work on the ground there,” Horowitz said. “They’re continuing to work on the area.”

Horowitz, who said he hopes to raise at least $500,000, plans to secure funds for the campaign through advertisements on the Internet and through news releases he will send out to “socially involved synagogues who have responded in the past.”

Approximately 250,000 refugees have fled Chechnya since fighting broke out last September over Chechnya’s desire to gain independence from Russia. Russian military officials have sealed off the capital of Grozny to rid the district of mines and to prevent rebels from re-entering.

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed control over the area last month, and Russian officials have expressed hopes of ending the war before the March 26 presidential elections.

Donations to Chechen refugees can be made to American Jewish World Service/ Chechnya Relief, 989 Avenue of the Americas, 10th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018, or by calling AJWS at 1-800-889-7176. Online donations may be made at www.ajws.org.

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