Belying the notion that Ukraine is controlled by neo-nazis and needs Russia’s help in de-nazification, the historic Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv has turned into a safe haven and relay point for Ukrainians escaping Russian violence.
The synagogue has so far spent $2,000,0000, or about $100,00 a day, in their effort to feed and evacuate Ukrainians from the war’s hotspots. Rabbi Moshe Azman, a leader of the synagogue, is financing these lifesaving treks primarily through donations, which he uses to procure buses and pay bus drivers to venture into besieged cities like Chernihiv and Mariupol, ferrying trapped civilians to Kyiv. The cost of a single bus can cost upwards of $20,000 because of current shortages.
Many of the refugees in these cities have taken to living underground to avoid Russia’s bombing campaigns. They have limited or no access to necessities such as food, water, electricity, and heat. Vladimir Dubovets, a 40 year old man, was among the civilians in one of Azman’s convoys rescued from Chernihiv. For eight days, he had no power, heat, or phone connection. When he ventured outside as an informal Red Cross volunteer, he saw corpses in the street.
Around a week ago, a missile struck a house right in front of him. Soon after, shelling began to hit his neighborhood, damaging his building. “These explosions, this trembling of the house,” he said. “And you are just laying on the floor and you ask God: ‘Please. Not my house, not my district.' ”
Anna Vemmenya, 41, traveled to Kyiv in an Azman convoy with her children, Adrian, 14, and Daria, 11, along with their two cats and two dogs. Before joining the convoy, they had spent 11 days underground. “There are no drugs, no food, no electricity, no communication, nothing,” she said. “It was like we are living in the Middle Ages except they’re also bombing.” Another tells how for nine days 148 adults and 26 children took shelter under a telecommunications building, sharing one toilet, shivering from the cold, until a volunteer offered a way out: an Azman convoy.
The Brodsky Synagouge was built in 1898, changing hands multiple times in the 20th century. Now, a safe haven of civilians fleeing Russian aggression, Azman is reminded of World War II. Rather than de-natzification, Azman says the only forced Ukrainians need saving from are the Russians themselves.