It’s been two years since the war burst into our peaceful life. It feels like in this short time we lived many lives—our mentality, our instincts, our psychological reaction have radically changed. I can vividly recall the different phases of the war and how we had to adapt to face them.

We all woke up in a shock at about 5 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, not realizing it was a war. For a few minutes, those explosions seemed like something surreal; only then we remembered the stories our grandparents told us about June 22, 1941. We never thought such calamities could ever happen again.

The first few days were total confusion; people felt lost, and fast, imminent defeat was on the mind, shared both by the world community and local people. Then we entered a different phase and started thinking: What could be done, what should be done? I would call that the time of exodus—massive, first chaotic, then more and more organized evacuation (by the way, writing this reflection I stop for a moment as I hear a missile strike alert being announced).

The Jewish community of Dnipro, in just a few days, went through a complete transformation, becoming a hub, a shelter, a warehouse, a charitable kitchen, a military trauma hospital. Every day since March until mid-June, a few hundred new refugees were coming from the east and south. Eight educational welfare institutions were turned into shelters in which families would spend 10-14 days before continuing on their way to a safe haven in Europe or Israel. They were all provided with food and medicine, both here and for the road. We had to take care of the community, running this massive rescue operation and taking care of all who stayed behind.

Dnipro Jewish community
(Photo: Dnipro Jewish community)

You realize that you are responsible for others—so many look up at you and measure their decisions based on what you decide to do with your life. Every day, every morning, started with people calling other people, asking the same question: “Is Rabbi Kaminezky in the city?” Now it sounds like history, but in those long, never-ending time cycles, when each person was constantly deciding to leave or to stay, it was heroism. The rabbi was a lighthouse that inspired people to survive and keep living.

The synagogue in those months looked like a train station with people sitting everywhere with just a few bags and pets, many often fainting and requiring immediate resuscitation.

I will never forget our first plea to Boston when we had to act but would never be able to, since the majority of our local donors had left and businesses were closed, no cars were in the streets, and no kids in the playgrounds. Shades were closed at nighttime—they were very depressive and desperate times.

I remember how fast CJP activated a lifesaving oxygen line. The help from Boston allowed us to act and saved our community from complete collapse. Tens of thousands of the needy, internally displaced people, now refugees, and local Jews were able to access resources and support. Our sister community was totally involved and dedicated, a true family!

(Photo: Dnipro Jewish community)
(Photo: Dnipro Jewish community)

Then the third phase came. It was evident that there was a front line that would not move closer, so there was some hope, some light at the end of the tunnel—a better future was possible. This phase was defined best by our partners in Boston as “revival, rebuilding and resettlement.”

Dnipro today is the main Jewish site on the map, with a diversified communal infrastructure. Starting from the summer of 2022, our wives and children came back from other countries that had provided them shelter, giving us a feeling of normalcy even amidst the war, which is very loud, with missiles continuing to threaten our lives.

With CJP and the Boston community’s help, we reopened the schools. It was a major necessity to keep the community alive; step by step, families started to come back from overseas and from other places in Ukraine. The community began to grow again, to get restored.

Return to School 1
(Photo: Dnipro Jewish community)

Then a fourth, terrifying phase came as a winter storm. In a blink, there was no light, no water, no sewer, no connection, no electricity. Full darkness, cold and isolation. Freezing cold. The Stone Age in the 21st century. A fight for survival that lasted the entire winter of 2022/2023. Then a question from our friend Ariel Libhaber: “How can we help?” As always, CJP was there for us at the right time, with tens of industrial generators, kitchens working on natural gas, warm clothing production, power banks and stations for the most unprotected elderly, star-link systems for stable internet, satellite phones—all from Boston. Is it not a miracle? A miracle made by the community that is doing God’s work.

We overcame one of the hardest and depressive times in our lives and continued building and reviving Jewish communal life. It was very encouraging to all the people here to see new construction that meant hope, faith, optimism. More and more families were and are still coming back to the city. The number of students in communal schools and kindergartens sky-rocketed. Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people came to Dnipro from other places, including a few thousand Jews.

Three new departments of the Jewish Medical Center were built and opened during that time. A playground was installed, shelters built. Life and light prevailed. It is important to highlight that hundreds of refugees were still being helped thanks to the Boston community: surgeries, medical exams and treatments saved and helped those who left behind their homes and all they worked for all their lives.

Zelig addresses community at the dedication of rehabilitation wing of Jewish Medical Center
Zelig Brez addresses community at the dedication of rehabilitation wing of Jewish Medical Center (Photo: Dnipro Jewish community)

Spring of 2023 started with high expectations of a fast counter-offensive, with territories liberated and great optimism. There were fewer missiles and less psychological trauma, and we adapted to the new reality. Though the offensive was not very successful, we are convinced that the Jewish community and Ukraine has a future, and we continue to build a strong and welcoming community.

Sadly, we cannot totally relax with this relatively quiet life. At the end of December, missile attacks drastically intensified, bringing more fear. Unfortunately, homes were damaged, windows smashed, businesses destroyed by the strikes.

We try to help each other to recover, to rebuild and live on. Your help is so important; it resurrects each damaged family. At the same time, we get stronger feeling great solidarity with our Holy Land of Israel that was so brutally attacked and is also waging a war against terror, darkness and evil.

(Photo: Dnipro Jewish community)

The world and life-loving civilization are under major threat. We believe that by doing our work we are adding light, and we have no doubt that Jewish life in Ukraine has a great future.

We need to stay strong, and it is very important for the world to support democracy for the whole world. It is very scary to see halts and delays in the foreign aid, without which Ukraine has no resources in such a critical time.

We as a community need you, your moral and humanitarian support. What we do together breaks through all the boundaries and reaches the most distant corners, homes, families and lives. We have no doubts that we will welcome Bostonians in Dnipro again!