Yes, we’re still working in Ukraine.
Since 2015, when the ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative was set up, we have fenced and physically protected over 230 Jewish cemeteries in eight Central and Eastern European countries. Some two thirds of these projects have been in Ukraine.
But Ukraine has been so much more than the place where we have fenced the most. From the very beginning of our activities, our main project office was established in Kyiv and most of our staff have been, and are today, Ukrainians.
We have worked closely with local activists in the country, established productive, friendly and collaborative relationships with local mayors, regional governors and the central government, answered the requests of local Jewish communities and utilised the products, skills and labour of local contractors.
Moreover, we have built links with young generations of Ukrainians through our school projects and local engagement activities, working together and learning together to protect our heritage as Jews and their heritage as Ukrainians. Because the protection of Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine requires, first and foremost, the engagement of local people and the understanding that this is a shared heritage.
It is therefore a matter of deep shock and sadness for all of us to see the wanton destruction and the loss of life in Ukraine today as Ukrainians strive to defend their country in the face of brutality and invasion. We stand in solidarity with all our Ukrainian friends and partners at this most difficult time.
Clearly, the war is having a deep impact on our work in Ukraine, though this pales into insignificance in the light of the unbelievable challenges and dangers faced by the Ukrainian people amid the bombs and the missiles, the displacement and the destruction.
Members of our team are now also dispersed, inside and outside the country, fearing for their welfare and those of their loved ones, serving in the army and helping in the enormous humanitarian effort in support of the refugees.
We obviously cannot continue our work at the present time in areas ravaged by war and destruction and we will have to wait a little while longer before we return to our normal activities.
But we are not stopping, because our own, Ukrainian, team members do not wish to stop. Working as and when possible is itself an act of defiance against the invader.
And so it is, that even amongst the pain and challenges in Ukraine today, we are still managing to work in the far south-west of the country, in the Carpathian mountains, in the Zakarpatia region. Today, an ESJF team of Ukrainian workers completed the fencing of the Jewish cemetery in Lyuta. Despite the ongoing refugee crisis across the region, people still need to work and the economy still needs to function. We are, in our own, very tiny way, helping to contribute to that, as we are in our work supporting refugees in this region.
We will continue work in Zakarpatia and we pray for the day when we will return to work across all of Ukraine, West to East, and that peace and freedom will be restored to the whole country.
May Lyuta be the first of many more Ukrainian projects this year and a sign of our continued commitment to Ukraine and its people.
Philip Carmel (Chief Executive Officer ESJF)