While thousands of Ukrainian Jews have fled the country, most of the 200,000 strong Jewish community is still sheltering within its borders.
Because our partner agencies, the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT, have been working steadily in Ukraine for generations – we’ve been able to be on the ground responding to emergency needs from day one of the conflict.
Already, an estimated 10 million people have been displaced, making this the largest number of displaced people in Europe since WWII.
The needs are many and urgent. For all those streaming over Ukraine’s borders, they include food, shelter, clothing, medical supplies, safe passage, and help to make aliyah or to resettle in another safe haven.
All those staying behind are also in dire need of your aid. For the tens of thousands of homebound elderly, many of whom are Holocaust survivors and those living with disabilities, humanitarian supplies, medicines, and ensuring regular contact are necessary to survive.
Providing support to tens of thousands of homebound elderly, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, and the disabled to survive, through the provision of humanitarian supplies, medicines, and ensuring regular contact. Special assistance is being provided to women and children, who are especially vulnerable at this time. We are also helping the Ukrainian health system and NGOs in the country to deal with a population that is suffering from severe psychological trauma.
Safely transporting Ukrainian Jews from within the war zone has become a major challenge, with humanitarian corridors open only for short periods, public transport limited and gas not always available. We are supporting hotlines to coordinate the movement of refugees; bus services; temporary housing within Ukraine; and food and other emergency supplies for the harrowing journey.
Many thousands of Jewish refugees and millions of non-Jews have fled Ukraine and crossed into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. We are supporting temporary housing, humanitarian support, psychological support and respite activities for Jewish refugees, many of whom are choosing to remain in the surrounding countries in the hope that they will be able to return to their homes, or be reunited with draft age (18-60) male relatives who are currently unable to leave.
The Jewish Agency has already received almost 10,000 Aliyah applications, with the numbers expected to continue rising. JFNA is supporting the efforts to bring to Israel those who are eligible for Aliyah as quickly as possible and to facilitate their effective absorption (klitah) in Israel.
How did the Jewish Community in Ukraine look before the current crisis?
On the eve of the Russian invasion of February 2022, Ukraine was home to the fifth largest Jewish community in the world, with an estimated 200,000 Jews, although some estimate the number to be as high as 300,000. The country boasted close to 300 Jewish organizations in some 100 towns and cities. The Jewish population was mainly concentrated in Kyiv (110,000), Odessa and Dnipro (60,000 each) and Kharkiv (50,000). Smaller numbers of Jews also lived in many other towns. Western Ukraine, once a global center of Jewish life, had only a remnant of its former Jewish population, with Lviv and Chernovtsy each with around 6,000 Jews. Since the fall of Communism, a renaissance of Jewish life has taken place for those Jews who remained in Ukraine, and Jewish communities in many cities and towns were rebuilt. Synagogues and other religious and cultural institutions functioned in every place with a significant Jewish population. There were an estimated 75 Jewish schools in 45 cities across the country.
With so many community members on the move, this remains the most accurate snapshot available to date.
What programs are/were Jewish Federations’ partner organizations operating in Ukraine?
Federations historic oversea partner agencies, the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC and World ORT had extensive programs in Ukraine, and have been instrumental both in caring for vulnerable members of the community and for assisting in the Jewish renaissance. The Jewish Agency for Israel efforts included: bringing Shlichim to Ukraine, running Sunday school programs, hosting Ukrainian youth on immersive programs in Israel, and supporting Aliyah. JDC’s work has been comprised of supporting multiple Hesed social welfare centers across the country delivering services in 1,000 locations, meeting the needs of the most vulnerable Jews; supporting JCCs and Jewish youth programs; and training and activating a broad volunteer network to serve the community’s own needs. World ORT has played an important role in the renewal of Jewish life through Jewish day schools, vocational training, and more.
Are Jewish organizations working together on the ground and coordinating their efforts? And if so how?
Most definitely! Like in North America, Jewish organizations in Ukraine are connected with one another during quiet times, and in preparation for this current crisis are cooperating on a daily basis. There is a roundtable of organizations active in Ukraine and they meet often to ensure close collaboration and to ensure that their efforts complement one another and are not duplicated. In the field, many of the organizations work hand in hand to maximize resources.
What are the major impact areas that the Jewish Federations of North America supports?
The impact of the 146 Jewish Federations across North America changes lives in North America, in Israel and around the world. Jewish Federations identify, support, and address the full range of social service issues. We provide life-saving humanitarian relief, breakthrough programs for all ages, and sustain Jewish community today and for future generations. Together, we collectively raise and distribute billions annually for social welfare, social services, and educational needs. We also protect and enhance the well-being of Jews in 70 countries worldwide.
How do Jewish Federations decide how to make allocations during an emergency?
We are committed to make to annual, core, unrestricted funding for our key global partners, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT. This core funding is what allows them to maintain an effective “global 911” for the Jewish people. Just as your local community doesn’t hold a fundraiser for the fire department every time a house catches fire, so we do not want our partners to have to raise funds each time they respond to a crisis around the world. However, just as your local fire department sometimes needs extraordinary funding to replenish its coffers after a major disaster, so too our global partners may need such extraordinary help after a major incident.
In addition, we are in direct and frequent conversation with organizations to understand the real need, any changes in the field, and what additional funding sources they are receiving. The aim is for Federation dollars to fund only the “net” appropriate amount.
Is it better to give nationally or locally?
We want people to give locally and if their local Federations don’t have a mechanism to collect funds, they can contribute through the national mailbox.
Are Jewish Federations helping Ukrainians who are not Jewish?
The Jewish Federations Ukraine Relief Fund has supported multiple organizations that serve the general population in Ukraine and the refugees in the surrounding countries. These include the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – HIAS (emergency assistance to vulnerable populations), Hadassah Medical Organization (support to the Ukrainian health system), Israel Trauma Coalition (psychological trauma support), JDC (support to the Ukrainian health system) and United Hatzalah (medical services). While the general population is not the primary target for the remaining organizations that we support, all of them will give and have given support to non-Jews in need when asked to do so.
Jewish Federations have also joined 177 organizations in signing a letter to the U.S. Government requesting an immediate 18-month designation of Temporary Protected Status for Ukrainians currently in the U.S. so they may not need to return to Ukraine during the violence and evolving humanitarian crisis.
What is the Government of Israel (GOI) doing to help in Ukraine?
The GOI has committed 10M NIS (over $3M) for urgent humanitarian relief in Ukraine Israeli diplomats are working tirelessly to assist Israelis seeking to leave Ukraine and assist members of the local Jewish population who can exit the country to do so (for security reasons we cannot share additional information).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a hotline which is operating 24/7 providing guidance to people in Ukraine – Israelis and Jews alike – as well as family members trying to contact those still in the country. In addition, an Israeli shipment of about 100 tons of humanitarian aid arrived in Ukraine, including 17 tons of medical equipment and medicine, water purification systems intended to supply 200,000 people, emergency water supply kits for 100,000 people, winter tents to house 3,000, 15,000 blankets, 3,000 sleeping bags and 2,700 winter coats.
Israel is also setting up a field hospital in Western Ukraine which is called “Kohav Meir” (“Shining Star”), after former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was born in Ukraine and was the founder of the Foreign Ministry’s Agency for International Development Cooperation Aid program.
And, of course, alongside the Federation’s support for Aliyah and absorption through the Jewish Agency – it is the GOI that assumes primary responsibility for all olim when they arrive in the country for the long-term - whether through subsidizing their initial health insurance, providing cash support (the basket of new immigrant services) among other measures of support that ALL olim receive. In addition, Ukrainian olim are receiving temporary housing provided paid for by the GOI until longer term housing is found for them.
How is Israel relating to non-Jewish refugees from Ukraine?
With a significant effort underway to help all those who are eligible and wish to make Aliyah from Ukraine quickly, Israel has teams in place who are reviewing requests in multiple sites along the border. As such and given that there is no quick overland route to Israel from Ukraine, this question relates primarily to those arriving by air.
At present, Israel has taken the following steps to ease the hardships of those who cannot return home or are seeking a haven:
Ukrainian tourists already in the country have been given permission to overstay their visas
Israeli citizens with Ukrainian family can sponsor non-Jewish relatives (non-Aliyah-eligible) by posting a 10,000 NIS bond per person with the understanding they will not seek permanent residency. To date, Israel has accepted almost 10,000 Ukrainian refugees who are not Aliyah candidates. Israel’s Social Affairs Ministry will provide these refuges with free health insurance.
Following an initial blip when a few dozen refugees arrived by air, those who have landed have been allowed into the country.
As a country surrounded by hostile neighbors and/or countries with which Israel has “cold” peace agreements, border crossings are always closely monitored, and refugee arrivals are rare. This is an area where policy is not well developed which has created challenges in the past mostly around a group of people who came in through Sinai years ago having fled violence in their home countries (primarily Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia). While Israel is signed on to relevant international agreements regarding asylum seekers and refugees, the country is still figuring out how to deal appropriately with this population which cannot legally request asylum having arrived via a 3rd country (those claiming asylum must seek it in the first country they reach after fleeing).
How many Ukrainian refugees are expected to arrive in the US?
On March 24th, the Biden Administration announced that the United States will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Then, on April 25th, the Administration launched the Uniting for Ukraine program to help Ukrainians who want to come to the U.S. do so through an expedited process. The program allows U.S. residents who want to resettle a displaced Ukrainian in the U.S. apply to become sponsors. The U.S. reviews applications on a case-by-case basis. Refugees will come from a diversity of faiths, ages, and backgrounds and resettle all over the country. At least 17,000 refugees are expected to arrive through the Lautenberg program, which allows members of historically persecuted religious groups in Eastern Europe, including Jews, to apply to seek refuge in the United States.
Can I help bring a Ukrainian relative to the US? How about a stranger?
Yes. There are multiple pathways to help a displaced Ukrainian (family or otherwise) come to the United States. On April 25th, the Biden Administration launched the Uniting for Ukraine program, which allows people to apply to sponsor Ukrainians, whether they are relatives or not. Sponsors are financially liable for the beneficiary Ukrainian for up to two years. To sponsor a Ukrainian through the Uniting for Ukraine program, you must provide the name of the Ukrainian you intend to sponsor in the application, as well as information about your income and assets, information about the income and assets of the Ukrainian, and the length of time the Ukrainian intends to stay in the U.S. To file an application to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee, click here. Jewish Federations will share information about matching to Ukrainians soon.
If you have a Ukrainian relative who wants to resettle in the U.S., he or she may be eligible to arrive through the Lautenberg program, which was designed for members of historically persecuted religious minority groups like Jews and some Christian denominations. Lautenberg applications must be filed by local refugee resettlement agencies. To contact your local resettlement agency to file a Lautenberg application on behalf of a relative, click here to find your nearest agency.
What is the process for sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee or family?
Those interested in applying to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee through the Uniting for Ukraine program must file a Form I-134 here. You must provide the name of the Ukrainian you intend to sponsor in the application, as well as information about your income and assets, information about the income and assets of the Ukrainian, and the length of time the Ukrainian intends to stay in the U.S. The form helps demonstrate to the federal government that you can financially support a Ukrainian for the duration of their stay in the U.S., up to two years. Once you file the form, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will vet the application to protect against exploitation and abuse. If approved, you will be notified in writing. You can apply to sponsor more than one Ukrainian; however, you must fill out one Form I-134 for each Ukrainian refugee you wish to sponsor. Groups and organizations can also apply to collectively sponsor a Ukrainian, however they must provide additional supporting materials demonstrating the identity of additional sponsors, financial resources, and a statement explaining the intent to share responsibility. Jewish Federations will share information about matching to Ukrainians soon.
What must sponsors provide for Ukrainian refugees?
Sponsorship through the Uniting for Ukraine program means you are financially responsible for a Ukrainian refugee for the duration of their stay in the country, up to two years. Ukrainian refugees coming through the United for Ukraine program will enter through humanitarian parole. This means two things. First, they are not eligible for most federal benefits, and eligibility for state benefits will vary based on location. Second, they will not have a pathway to permanent residency unless they file for legal status adjustments. Ukrainian refugees are responsible for providing their own transportation to the U.S., although sponsors may pay if they are able. When Ukrainian refugees arrive, sponsors are responsible for meeting their day-to-day needs and helping Ukrainian refugees become self-sufficient. This means picking them at the airport, finding housing, identifying employment, enrolling kids in school, enrolling refugees in benefits programs for which they may be eligible, legal assistance, and integrating refugees into the communities where they resettle.
Jewish Federations will be providing further information, training and resources where you can learn more about these responsibilities. Please be on the lookout on this page for more information.
Can groups or organizations apply together to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee through the Uniting for Ukraine program?
Yes. In instances where a group of multiple sponsors wants to support a refugee, one person must file Form I-134 as a primary sponsor, even if that person is filling out the form on behalf of a group or organization. Then, that individual can attach supplementary documents with information on the other sponsors. This information should include: identity verification documents, financial records, and a statement explaining the intent to share responsibility with the group. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which vets applications, will assess these materials collectively. The process is similar for organizations who also wish to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee. One individual must file Form I-134 as a primary sponsor and then attach additional materials indicating how sponsoring organizations are going to support the Ukrainian beneficiary. This collective data will also be taken into account by the U.S. Government when considering the application.
What kind of benefits will Ukrainian refugees be eligible for?
All Ukrainian refugees, regardless of the pathway through which they come, will be eligible to file for work permits (Employment Authorization Documents, or EADs). Sponsors should be aware that the current work permit backlog means refugees may not receive work permits for 6-12 months. Ukrainian refugees coming through Uniting for Ukraine will enter through a program called humanitarian parole, which limits their benefits eligibility. Humanitarian parolees are not eligible for most federal benefits, except for free and reduced school lunch and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). In some states, parolees may be eligible for other benefits like Medicaid and cash assistance. Ukrainian refugees coming through the Lautenberg Program will have access to full benefits, as well as a pathway to permanent residency.
What is the Lautenberg Program, and how is that process different?
The Lautenberg Program exists to help members of historically persecuted religious minority groups in Eastern Europe seek refuge in the United States, including Jews and some Christian denominations. Refugees who come through the Lautenberg Program have access to full benefits and a pathway to permanent residency. The Uniting for Ukraine program also provides greater resources to process Lautenberg program applications overseas. This will, in theory, expedite the process and help clear the backlog of about 17,000 applications. To see if you may be eligible to file a Lautenberg application to help a family member come to the U.S., please contact your local resettlement agency.
When will Ukrainian refugees arrive in the US, and what are Federation communities doing to prepare?
Ukrainians have already begun arriving to the U.S., most on tourist visas or through the southern border. Since eligibility for the Uniting for Ukraine program began on April 25th, many more Ukrainians will begin arriving in the coming weeks and months. The Federation system has already been actively mobilizing to support newcomers, including by helping them reunite with family members across the country, identifying housing, providing cash assistance, and helping to file legal paperwork. To further prepare, Federations can connect with their local Ukrainian churches in the case of Catholic or Ukrainian Orthodox people, and local refugee resettlement agency to better understand the needs of those who may be arriving in their community.
Once Ukrainians arrive in the U.S., what can Federations do to help?
In the next few weeks, Jewish Federations will provide detailed information regarding how Federations can help with pro-bono legal services, organization of volunteers, resettlement, philanthropy, and more. For now, Federations can work on identifying potential sponsors for the Uniting for Ukraine program in their community, asset mapping pro-bono legal services and philanthropic community support, and communicating the details of the Uniting for Ukraine program to their communities. If you are a community member, contact your local Federation to offer your support as local programs develop. Email email@example.com with any questions.
Who are the Ukrainians coming to our community? Will they be Jewish?
Ukrainians arriving to the U.S. will have different religious identities, including Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and Jewish. Since many Ukrainians arriving will already have family members in the U.S., it is reasonable to expect they will mostly, though not exclusively, resettle in cities with major Ukrainian American populations. The 10 metro areas with the largest populations of Ukrainian Americans are: New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, Sacramento, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Portland, and Cleveland. Ukrainians arriving through both the United for Ukraine and Lautenberg program processes are vetted by the U.S. government using biometric and biographical screening methods.
What if I want to sponsor a Jewish refugee?
So much of the American Jewish story, including the personal stories of so many American Jewish families, is rooted in Jewish refugees fleeing Eastern Europe to come to America. In today’s Ukraine crisis, Ukrainians arriving to the U.S. will have many different religious identities, and Jewish Ukrainians are expected to comprise just a small portion of the overall group. Federation-supported Jewish family service agencies support all clients, regardless of faith. For Jewish Ukrainians who do want to resettle in the U.S., sponsors are responsible for identifying them through NGOs or word-of-mouth and providing their names on the Uniting for Ukraine application. Jewish Federations are working with international aid and resettlement organizations to create a matching system for U.S.-based sponsors and may be able to provide matches for Jewish families. We will share more details soon, but reach out to your local Federation to express interest. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Can community volunteers provide housing to a displaced Ukrainian family?
Yes. Sponsors are responsible for finding housing for Ukrainian beneficiaries, so many will likely be searching for available units. Community volunteers can play a crucial role in connecting Ukrainian beneficiaries to vacant housing. Those who are interested in opening up their home(s) can register on the Ukraine Take Shelter website or through airbnb.org, the non-profit arm of the company. If you own a vacant property and you feel comfortable leasing to Ukrainian refugees, please contact your local Jewish Family Service agency or local resettlement agency.
What do Ukrainian refugees need in the short term? In the long term?
Ukrainians arriving in the United States will have many initial needs, including housing, cash assistance, help with filing legal paperwork, enrolling children in school, counseling, and more. Each case will be different, so it’s important to get in touch with sponsors in the community and local resettlement organizations to learn more about what the needs really are. In some cases, sponsors and organizations may need furniture donations, while in others, drivers or translators might be in higher demand.
In the longer term, Ukrainians who are looking to remain in the United States beyond 2 years may need legal assistance filing for status adjustments. Additionally, like for any newcomer, finding community will remain a long-term need as displaced Ukrainians adjust to life in a new place.
The Jewish community was proud to resettle Jews from the Former Soviet Union. Are there any important differences between this wave of refugees and that initiative?
While there are many differences between the resettlement effort for Soviet Jewry then and for Ukrainians today, there are a few worth highlighting. First, as families have been split apart in the fighting, many displaced Ukrainians are eager to reunify and have expressed interest in staying in Europe rather than immigrating to the United States. Additionally, whereas over 400,000 Jews came to the U.S. following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is likely that Ukrainian Jews will comprise just a small fraction of the 100,000 displaced Ukrainians who will arrive
If I’m not interested in sponsoring a Ukrainian, are there other ways I can help?
Resettling newcomers takes a village. In the next few weeks, Jewish Federations will provide detailed information on volunteer opportunities. Some potential volunteer opportunities could include: Helping provide pro bono legal assistance, driving newcomers to school or doctor’s appointments, helping them practice their English, and introducing newcomers to fellow community members to help them feel welcomed and accepted in a new environment.
One of the most critical factors to newcomers’ success is feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion in their new community, so no act of welcome is too small.