Kyiv’s Chief Rabbi and Family, Stay Put to Help Needy Despite Russian Invasion

Feb. 27, 2022 CBN News Jerusalem Julie Stahl

As Ukrainians flee areas under attack by Russia there are some that can’t leave and Kyiv’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch and his wife Inna are staying behind to help.

“Me and my husband, we decided to stay in Kiev, not because we’re careless, but on the contrary we have a flourishing community of 2,500 Jews here that depend on us. Many of them have nowhere else to go,” said Inna Markovitch said.

Inna described the situation in the city over the last few days.

“It was very frightening because there is no infrastructure here in Kiev – no bomb shelters, no organized information or help from the government. As unfortunately we [are] used [to] in Israel. Even the alarm was very weak,” Inna told journalists during a briefing by Media Central.

“We could hardly hear it. We live at the center of Kiev. We saw smoke and immediately we heard that the airport was bombed,” she said.

Even before alarms sounded, citizens and foreigners left Kyiv and Ukraine, but not everyone could go.

“People who left are the wealthy and young and those who can afford themselves to work from outside or to live outside of the country for some time,” Inna said.

“The people who stayed here are those not able for different reasons, health or finance or others to leave Kiev and Ukraine,” she added.

“We plan to stay here with the people, to help those people that need our help, because those people that stay here, it’s exactly those people that cannot leave the conflict,” said Rabbi Markovitch.

“They cannot leave the city. And even most of them, they cannot leave the houses because they are in [hard] physical situation,” he added.

So, the Kiev Jewish Center (KJC) got ready for those in need.

“We prepared 50 mattresses and six tons of food. So, we have a big kitchen,” where they plan to prepare meals, said Inna.

“The idea is that people could come here. There is no bomb shelter as there’s no bomb shelter anyway, but at least we are together. We can feed them. We can share, cheer up each other and be together,” she said.

In normal times, the rabbi and his wife do home visits.

“So one of the ladies I visited, she’s 104. She survived the Nazis. She was holding my hands crying, ‘please don’t abandon us!’ She’s not the only reason, but we have 200, like her out of the 800 food parcels [they prepare each month] and needy people,” Inna explained.

Rabbi Markovitch was born in Ukraine and moved to Israel when his parents made Aliyah when he was just three.  After serving as an officer in the Israeli Air Force for 12 years, the Markovitchs moved to Ukraine 21 years ago with their seven children.

Their son Rabbi Ariel Markovitch and his wife Cherry, also living in Kyiv, fled their home and came to KJC early on the first day of the Russian invasion.

“Such a situation as we see it, waking up to sirens is not such a good alarm clock. I was shaking for two hours after it. And every sound since then, is it a siren, is it a siren? So, we just frantically packed some clothes and passports. We don’t know where we’re going yet but at least we have suitcases packed,” Cherry said.

Ariel described what the city looked like.

“Actually, in the city is empty. Most of the citizens left Kiev. From time to time I see now – from the window also – people going with suitcases but most of the people left. And there is huge traffic on the road to go out from Kiev,” Ariel said.

“Community members [stuck in traffic] texted me and told me they are waiting for hours and its impossible to go out,” he added.

“Also, there’s hundreds of cars waiting [in] line for gas. On the street there are not a lot of cars, but for groceries and gas it’s a little crazy now,” Cherry said.

Israel for example has been urging its citizens as well as the Jewish people that want to immigrate to Israel to get out long before the invasion, but the Ukrainian government and other foreign governments were telling their people to stay put and nothing would happen.

Cherry said there was a lot of confusion in the instructions they received.

“We first thought that we might drive to the border to get to Europe. I actually am French, and I called the French Embassy and they’re like, ‘No, actually we don’t recommend, you should. Just stay home. It’s not safe to drive all the way to the border.’”

Before the invasion, the Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch says there wasn’t a lot of anti-Semitism in Ukraine and when incidents occurred the authorities were quick to deal with it. But now things are uncertain.

“Of course, we are afraid from the anti-Semitic attacks because now we don’t know what will happen,” Rabbi Markovitch said.

But a bigger concern is from riots and looting and the chaos that could ensue if the police collapse, said Inna.

The rabbi explained that the KJC had contracted with a security company to guard their property but after the invasion, the company wasn’t available and others raised their prices.

But Markovich says turning to God is crucial.

“It’s the most important thing that we will be together and to pray for peace and pray for all the people in the world,” said Markovitch.

With airports closed, train service halted, and roads blocked there isn’t much opportunity to leave. The Markovitchs say it’s impossible to make plans. So, for now, they wait and pray and encourage their community.

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Steve Martin

STEVE & LAURIE MARTIN - LOVE FOR HIS PEOPLE FOUNDERS My good wife Laurie and I (45 years in October 2022!), through the ministry of Love For His People we founded in 2010, give love and support for our friends in Israel and in other nations with friendship, humanitarian aid, and social media support, along with Steve's messages, and our Ahava Adventures trips to Israel. Steve has also authored and published 34 books. We live in the Charlotte, NC area. We have four adult children, spouses, and eight grandkids.

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