After Kherson Dam Breach, Chabad Evacuates the Vulnerable
by Jacob Scheer – chabad.org
Early morning on June 6, an explosion destroyed part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric station and dam upstream of Kherson, Ukraine. The millions of gallons of water that flowed from the stricken dam flooded the banks of the Dnipro River and the towns and cities along it, including Kherson. Water levels have risen six to ten feet in the adjacent Kosheva River, submerging thousands of homes. Residents in the low-lying areas surrounding the river, including Jewish families, had to flee their homes.
Amid the uncertainty and the fast-changing situation, the synagogue of Kherson, which sits on higher ground, has become a temporary shelter for several dozen families. Rabbi Yosef Wolff, chief rabbi of Kherson and director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Kherson, is working to help displaced families. “We have dozens of families that we are working to evacuate to alternative residences,” Wolff told Chabad.org from Kherson, where he has remained throughout the war.
Wolff has been on the ground providing desperately-needed aid to the besieged population when the fighting began all around Kherson, in February 2022, and stayed to continue providing the humanitarian assistance after Russian troops quickly gained control of the city. Throughout the past year—under Russian military control and since Ukraine retook the city in November 2022—Chabad has been there to provide aid through blackouts, food shortages, and the near-daily bombings.
Not everyone who was displaced is able to leave. For them, Wolff says, “Our synagogue is always open—we will arrange for them to live here—those who want to stay here in the city. It is the older population that doesn’t have the mental and physical strength to move. They are here and we will take care of them.” But for whoever can make the trip to a safer region, “we will take care of the travel for them.”
Working closely with the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU), Wolff says he has been providing food, water and electric generators for extreme cases where there is no electricity or water. He says the humanitarian efforts to evacuate and house people, and to provide food, water and other supplies are costly, noting that a six-liter bottle of water has quadrupled in price in the past 24 hours.
The Water Keeps Rising
“The water keeps rising,” says Wolff. “Closer to the banks of the river there’s already two meters of water. It’s impossible to know yet what the extent of the damage will be.”
Wolff and his wife, Chaya, are one of close to 200 Chabad emissary families who rebuilt and continue to support Jewish life in Ukraine following the collapse of Communism. Despite the challenges of war and the resulting increased and critical humanitarian needs, these Chabad emissary couples and their families continue to maintain Ukraine’s Jewish infrastructure that includes synagogues, mikvahs, Jewish schools and yeshivahs, and social services organizations. In much of Ukraine, including Kherson, Chabad built and maintains the bulk of the Jewish institutions and infrastructure supporting Jewish life.
Wolff has single-handedly kept Jewish life going for the duration of the war, with synagogue services, Purim parties, Passover seders and spiritual leadership and guidance.
“We pray for the day when we can finally live in peace,” wishes Wolff, “but in the meantime, we need the support of the global Jewish community to get us through this unfolding nightmare.”
To assist the Jewish community of Kherson with vital supplies, click here.
Click here for a prayer you can say and a list of good deeds you can do in the merit of the protection of all those in harm’s way.