DNEPROPETROVSK, Ukraine (JTA) — Several hundred Jews braved sub-freezing temperatures to receive aid packages at the synagogue in the besieged city of Lugansk.
The distribution of basic necessities on Wednesday by administrators from the east Ukrainian city’s Jewish community drew approximately 300 recipients who stood in line for over an hour, the community’s rabbi and Chabad emissary to Lugansk, Shalom Gopin, told JTA.
“That so many came despite the cold illustrates the growing needs for assistance in a beleaguered community,” he said. “Winter is only worsening the situation of people who are already finding it increasingly difficult to scrape a living in a war-ravaged place with intermittent electricity.”
Lugansk, which is home to some 2,000 Jews, is under the control of pro-Russian rebels who have been fighting with Ukrainian government troops. Hundreds of combatants and civilians have died in the fighting, which broke out in March.
According to reports, the rebels have agreed in principle on a cease-fire, but the city remains largely besieged.
Gopin said that “for the first time in recent memory, there was shoving and shouting among those standing in line for the packages. This was unheard of and again shows people’s desperation.”
The packages, he said, were provided with funding from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Throughout the fighting the synagogue has remained operational, but with the onset of winter, several of the community’s volunteers have fallen ill, complicating the relief efforts, Gopin added.
Still, Lugansk has seen the return of some of its Jews who left for refugee camps earlier this year.
“They had enough of living like refugees, so they decided to take their chances,” Gopin said.
Most of Lugansk’s residential areas have been reconnected to the power grid, but the synagogue is still without electricity and heating except for the heating from a single generator.