When Chani Gopin and her husband moved to Lugansk 15 years ago to open a Chabad center in the small Eastern Ukrainian city, she thought it would be hard. But she had no idea just how hard it would be.
Gopin and her husband, Rabbi Sholom Gopin, have worked as the movement’s emissaries in Lugansk, a small city in eastern Ukraine, for the past 15 years. But the conflict between Ukraine’s government and Russian-allied separatists engulfed the region last spring, reducing a city once populated by about 600,000 people to half that number and creating tens of thousands of refugees, some 2,500 of whom are Jews.
Among those are Gopin and her husband, Rabbi Sholom Gopin, who initially sent the oldest of their seven children to live in Israel, the couple’s native country, and later decided that they, too, had to flee Lugansk.
“We didn’t have any choice, the situation was getting worse,” Gopin told The Jewish Week last Sunday, while attending a dinner at the New York Hilton, the culmination of a five-day conference for nearly 3,000 of Chabad-Lubavitch’s female emissaries, or shluchot, as they’re referred to by the movement.
The Gopins have lived in 10 apartments since then, said the rebbetzin, having left behind their house, their car and nearly everything they own. But those personal circumstances aren’t their main concern. Rather, it’s the 250 Jews who now live in a refugee camp established by Chabad in western Ukraine, along with the hundreds of other displaced Jewish families who are scattered throughout Ukraine and the 4,600 Jews who remain in Lugansk.
The refugee camp — the first for displaced Jews in Europe since World War II, according to Chabad — is part of a massive humanitarian effort to aid the region’s Jewish population.