Thousands in Ukraine helped by World Jewish Relief

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Thousands in Ukraine helped by World Jewish Relief

British charity maintains humanitarian aid as war enters its third year

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Paul Anticoni, Chair Maurice Helfgott and participants. Pic: WJR
Paul Anticoni, Chair Maurice Helfgott and participants. Pic: WJR

Two years into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, World Jewish Relief (WJR) chief executive Paul Anticoni and the charity’s director of international programmes, Stacey Swimer, visited the country to see for themselves the work on the ground.

As the pair revealed in a webinar released by WJR last week, the charity is as busy as ever with its humanitarian work, despite hopes that a Ukrainian counter-offensive last year would end the Russian incursion.

Anticoni said that in some respects Kyiv, the capital, seemed outwardly normal, with shops and restaurants full and bustling traffic. But the day after the webinar, there was intensive shelling and air raids, forcing the WJR officials into shelters.

Stacey Swimer said that, together with local partners, WJR was currently helping upwards of 300,000 people. The work falls largely into four categories, she said: first, humanitarian aid on the front-line of fighting, which continues to be “incredibly active”, and where in the last year they had provided 95,000 food parcels, and helped 27,000 people in winter aid; second, helping older people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, many of whom were struggling to make ends meet on a meagre pension of £85 a month.

Paul Anticoni with programme participant in Ukraine. Pic: WJR

For these “extremely vulnerable” people, Swimer said, WJR was helping out with home care, food, medical and optical care, plus vital social interaction so that people no longer felt isolated and alone.

Part of this second category of aid, she said, involved continuing to repair homes. “About 70 per cent of the homes we repair have been damaged by shelling. We want to provide at least one warm, dry room where people can feel safe”.

Paul Anticoni in Kyiv, Ukraine. Pic: WJR

The third area of work related to employment opportunities. Ukraine currently suffers from 20 per cent unemployment, up from 10 per cent before the war, but Swimer and Anticoni said that though there were jobs available, in fields such as accounting, HR and beauty, some employers were reluctant to invest in training people who had been internally displaced from other parts of the country.

Additionally WJR continued to support Ukrainians who had come to Britain and to help them find employment.

Paul Anticoni with participant, Ukraine. Pic: WJR

And recently WJR has begun to help children from vulnerable families, and a new category of children who were deported to Russia, a small number of whom are now returning. Swimer said that only 50 per cent of Ukrainian schools were offering “in person teaching”, so WJR is supporting children whose education has been disrupted.

Paul Anticoni, Chair Maurice Helfgott and partners on the ground, Ukraine. Pic: WJR

The charity is working with British government officials in Ukraine in helping those children who have returned from Russia — although 20,000 were deported, and only 400 have so far been returned.

The problems seem enormous, but Anticoni said that WJR was focusing on providing the best service it could, using its expertise, without spreading itself too thinly.

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