Odessa Jews have no plans to leave

Leaders of the Jewish community of Odessa, Ukraine, denied reports about evacuation plans for the city’s Jews.

“In connection with reports on the planned evacuation of the Jewish community of Odessa: No such plans exist,” Berl Kapulkin, a spokesperson for the local Chabad community, said in a statement published May 6 on the Chabad website in Odessa.

Titled “rebuttal,” the statement concerned a report published May 4 in an Israeli newspaper saying that several community leaders told a reporter that “Odessa’s Jews are prepared to evacuate should the violence” in the Ukrainian city get significantly worse.

The reports followed skirmishes last week between pro-Russian protesters and Ukrainian nationalists that resulted in multiple casualties. The clashes were part of a larger mobilization by pro-Russian protesters and militias that has erupted into violence in eastern Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians live.

Tania Vorobyov, a spokesperson for Beit Grand, Odessa’s largest Jewish community center, said on May 7 that “the reports about evacuation are baseless rumors. Jews in Odessa are worried about the violence like all other Odessans but have no special plans to leave as a community.”

In February, a revolution that had been simmering since winter ended with the ouster of Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, for refusing to further ties with the European Union. Russian-backed troops took over the Crimean Peninsula in March. Russia has since annexed the area, which had been part of Ukraine.

The Jerusalem Post on May 4 quoted Refael Kruskal, head of Tikva, a Jewish charity group in Odessa, as saying that evacuation plans are underway. The paper also reported that over the weekend 20 buses had been parked outside the city’s Chabad center.

But Kapulkin denied that assertion. “Odessa’s citizens (including Jews) were shocked by the tragedy” of the weekend clashes, he wrote, “but we do not see any immediate danger to the Jewish community. So no buses with open doors, no running motors ready to go.”

Odessa, home to some 40,000 Jews, has a multitude of Jewish organizations whose relations are often strained by competition and personal rivalry. — jta