Claims Conference EVP Greg Schneider reports that the danger in Ukraine is forcing the Claims Conference to revisit what it means to provide aid to Holocaust survivors.
Generally, survivors are living in the United States and Israel, in Canada and Australia, in places that are stable,” the Claims Conference EVP says. “[The war in Ukraine] has forced us to do things that we’ve never done in our past, like sourcing pallets of wholesale food, renting trucks, bringing them in across borders. That’s not something we normally do; we’re normally funders.
Of the estimated 10,000 Holocaust survivors living in Ukraine, 6,500 receive Claims Conference-funded home care – of those, 588 survivors are in the “most disabled” category.
The Claims Conference has helped coordinate advances for concentration-camp survivors in Ukraine on the payments they receive as indemnification for their suffering from Germany and has assisted with the evacuations of Holocaust survivors to Israel, Poland, Moldova and Germany.
Claims Conference : The JDC has set up two emergency hotlines staffed by Russian and Ukrainian-speaking Israelis to facilitate evacuation inquiries and coordinate household-supply deliveries.
For more than 20 years, the Claims Conference has partnered with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to work with the local network of Hesed agencies in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union to care for the needs of thousands of Holocaust survivors.
Today in Ukraine, there are over 10,000 survivors still living and nearly all these survivors are clients of the Hesed network. The Claims Conference funding for services in Ukraine is over $46 million and more than half of that goes for home care needs. 5,200 survivors in Ukraine receive home care on a regular basis and approximately 71 percent of these individuals are moderately disabled, which means they need somewhere between 25 and 56 hours of home care assistance on a weekly basis. However, there are 508 survivors in Ukraine who are fully homebound.
The largest Hesed is located in Kyiv and is known as Bnei Azriel in honor and memory of the late Claims Conference President Rabbi Israel Miller. There are 2,400 survivors being served by this Hesed, half of whom receive home care. There are an additional three Heseds in Odessa, Dnipro, and Kharkiv that serve between 1,000 and 1,500 survivors.
Eight Heseds serve between 200 and 550 survivors, including two Heseds, Donetsk and Luhansk, located in the Donbas region, which has been a conflict zone since 2014. All the survivors in Donetsk and Luhansk were called in the last week of February and given the opportunity to be relocated temporarily either to Rostov in Russia or further west in Ukraine. However, most of the survivors living there do not have any family members and were not willing to leave their homes.
An additional eight Heseds serve under 200 clients. However, although the Heseds are based in these 20 cities, they are actually serving clients living in over 400 smaller cities and towns across the entire region.
To prepare for the conflict, JDC and Hesed took many preliminary steps. The Heseds were advanced funds so that they could purchase water, food, medicine and first aid kits. The clients themselves were advanced funds on their bank cards so they could pre-purchase shelf stable food and any particular medications that they need. All Heseds refreshed their emergency protocols so that staff could continue to work from home and continue to provide services.
Each Hesed also mapped all their home care clients, home care workers and volunteers to see who lived in walking distance of clients – particularly those who are homebound or have no family, so if unfortunately, there were to be a disruption to the transportation networks or a curfew home care workers could walk to clients’ homes to ensure they would receive care.
Before the weekend, Kyiv and Kharkiv Heseds asked all the home care workers of the disabled clients to stay with their clients in their homes over the weekend and to sleep there to ensure they were cared for, and home care workers did it. For survivors who have family members, the Heseds contacted their families in advance last week to work out emergency plans and protocols.
Last week, the Heseds in the western part of the country also all received deliveries of mattresses, sleeping bags and blankets in case short term accommodations become necessary. In the longer run JDC has made arrangements in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova for thousands of places should a large-scale evacuation become necessary and possible. For areas like Kyiv, and Kharkiv, and Kherson, where there is active fighting in the streets, it is not practical to try to relocate elderly and homebound people on dangerous roads. JDC has activated a 24/7 emergency hotline that is proactively calling every single client, starting with those who are homebound and those who have no family members. The hotline also receives incoming calls from all the Hesed clients regarding any needs that they have that the JDC can try to meet.
The Claims Conference got permission from the German government to advance the second quarterly payment for the Central and Eastern European Fund (CEEF) pension recipients – about 1,600 of whom live in Ukraine – so that instead of waiting until May, they should receive funds in their account this week, which will sure become of critical assistance to purchase food and medicine during the conflict. Obviously, the situation is changing daily and even hourly, and the Claims Conference, the JDC and the Heseds are working closely together to ensure survivors are cared for and to help prevent humanitarian disaster.