The Jewish fighters holding the front line in Ukraine

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The Jewish fighters holding the front line in Ukraine

Gennadiy Raskin from Odessa and Asher Cherkasskiy from Dnepr are two of the many volunteers defending the south-eastern front. Both are Jews; both are fighting for the country that is their home.

Jewish Ukrainian fighters
Jewish Ukrainian fighters

By day, Gennadiy Raskin is deputy head of the Institute of Court Expertise. By night, for the past two weeks, he has been a volunteer fighter with Ukraine’s Territorial Defense units. A practicing Jew from Odessa, he says: “I signed up from day one.”

Raskin is one of hundreds of Jewish Ukrainians now fighting for their country’s freedom on the frontline against the Russian invasion and say their Judaism is no barrier to them taking up arms to defend their country.

Gennadiy Raskin

Josef Zissels, who heads the Association of Jewish Public Organisations and Communities of Ukraine, has estimated that up to one percent of all Ukrainian fighters are Jewish, although official statistics are not available to verify this. “There are many who are fighting now from the Jewish communities,” he says. “Jews have always responded and defended the country in which they live. Jews will unite and help in any way they can.”

Raskin, who has been helping Odessa’s elderly Jewish population by delivering supplies, spoke to Jewish News this week to describe his new reality. “I patrol the city’s streets looking for saboteurs and the marks of air strikes. This is my military front.”

He said that while he had been trying to follow all religious practices and observances throughout the fighting, it was especially hard at night.

“I try to stick to it, but there is an exception in wartime,” he says.  “Even the Torah says that if a Jew is forced to survive, he can do everything. For example, eating non-kosher food if there is no kosher food. In my case, even though I could observe everything, it’s hard to keep Shabbat because patrol happens at night, after the wartime curfew.”

Asher and his son David Cherkasskiy

About what many Ukrainians call their “southern capital”, Raskin said: “As we say in Odessa: we have one nationality, Ukrainian Odessian. We are trying to protect the city, to strengthen it… and we will succeed.”

Orthodox Jewish fighter Asher Cherkasskiy has the same confidence when he is defending the central-eastern town of Dnipro.

He also thinks this Judaism is no obstacle to participation. “Everyone is very calm about my traditions and practices. In wartime many things fade into the background. A lot of Jews are fighting now.”

He serves alongside his oldest son, David, 20. “There is a need to defend the country and it is important,” he says.

Asher adds: “This is a struggle between light and darkness.”

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