One Year Later, Local Community Continues to Support Those Affected by Russian Invasion


On Feb. 24, 2022, life changed forever for the people of Ukraine when Russia invaded the country. The illegal invasion was an escalation of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who declared in an address on the morning of Feb. 24 that the country was governed by neo-Nazis and challenged its right to statehood.

A photo, taken by Svet Jacqueline, portrays life in Ukraine in a post-invasion world. (Svet Jacqueline)

The invasion marked the beginning of Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. According to UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, over 18 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion started, with 8 million refugees still recorded across Europe. Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak estimated that between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the invasion in a December 2022 interview.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues to this day, despite international disapproval and condemnation from other countries and even Russian citizens. The U.S. is one of many countries that has placed economic sanctions on Russia to negatively impact their economy while the invasion continues.

For Ukrainian refugees, reporters on the invasion and stateside volunteers, though, life continues.

The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore has been continually involved with Ukraine through the Baltimore-Odesa Partnership Committee — the two cities have been sister cities since 1974.

“The Associated continues to be committed to the physical and emotional safety of the Jewish community in Odesa,” said Jason Reitberger, one of The Associated’s Israel and global initiatives co-chairs. “Through our overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, among others, The Associated has provided support for those who have decided to stay and those who have left for surrounding countries and Israel.

“Most recently, The Associated provided winter relief items for the Odesa Jewish community, such as emergency lamps, blankets and sleeping bags, a generator, fuel, power banks and charging stations,” he added. The Associated also continues to maintain a Ukraine emergency fund on their website where donors can send money to be used for the purchasing of emergency supplies and to assist Jewish Ukrainians making aliyah to Israel.

“Oksana Nelina, coordinator of the Partnership in Odessa, keeps us informed daily about her experiences as well as the warmth and resiliency of our friends in Odesa,” said Nina Rosenzwog, the other co-chair.

Others are more hands-on with their assistance. Svet Jacqueline, who was profiled in a November 2022 JT You Should Know feature, has spent time chronicling the experiences of post-invasion Ukrainians through photography. Her works were recently featured in the book, “Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War,” along with those of four other female photographers.

“There was such a resistance to accepting [the invasion] at the beginning,” Jacqueline recalled. “You don’t want to accept that it’s happening. There’s been such a change in thought, that this is going to be a part of people’s daily lives. People have been preparing more in case something happens, because danger is on your doorstep all the time.”

Jacqueline recently returned to Ukraine in November to do more coverage. She was planning to travel there again in February, but was assigned to cover the effects of the Kahramanmaras earthquake in Turkey instead.

“When I came back in November due to the increase in air strikes, things felt like they had recoiled. People were without power, without warmth. … It was a war zone once again,” she added. “It was heartbreaking to see.”

But the Ukrainian people still have hope, and some have successfully left the country and started a new life overseas. Pikesville resident Vladimir Besser was separated from his wife and son during the invasion, and he traveled from Baltimore to Poland to ensure their safety. Though the family had to contend with a fair amount of bureaucratic red tape, they reunited in Poland and are now safely living in Pikesville.

“We used Uniting for Ukraine, which gives refugees a temporary two-year stay in America. You get all the benefits, and you can work and live here,” said Besser, a member of ARIEL Jewish Center. “Hopefully, the war will be over by the time that expires.”

In the meantime, Besser is working on helping people who are planning to leave Ukraine. He assists them in filling out paperwork to apply for Uniting for Ukraine and other refugee programs.

“I help people find a sponsor and fill out immigration documents. A lot of them don’t speak English, so this is my way of helping them,” he noted. Besser also still keeps in touch with his friends in Ukraine and sends them packages.

The war in Ukraine is still far from over. Ukrainians are still fighting back against Russia, and the U.S. continues to offer aid. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a surprise visit from President Joe Biden on Feb. 20 that he hopes the war will be over by the end of 2023. But that remains to be seen, and the war is ever-present in the lives of Ukrainian citizens.

“We are still looking at what’s happening [in Ukraine],” Besser said. “Things have changed drastically, but we are safe now. This is the best country we can be in right now. … We have an opportunity to start a new life.”

“I would love for people to recognize that the core of this war is still happening. Sensationalist news has covered it less as time has gone on, but people are still affected by the war every day,” Jacqueline cautioned. “Do not look away from it or become desensitized to it, because it’s still happening every single day.”

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