ORT’s efforts to support its students, teachers and families in Ukraine since the start of the conflict have been highlighted at an international Jewish conference.
The organization’s experience over the past 11 months was part of a panel discussion at the Limmud Festival in Britain.
Marcus Dysch, World ORT Head of External Affairs, spoke at a session titled Does anyone still care about the invasion of Ukraine? – which was convened and moderated by OLAM – an ORT partner organization made up of a network of Jewish and Israeli groups working in global volunteering, international development and humanitarian aid.
ORT Ukraine staff, supported by network leaders based in London and across Europe, swung into action at the start of the conflict last February to ensure the safety and wellbeing of thousands of students, teachers and their families.
The conversation covered the ways in which that emergency response had changed during the course of the violence.
“The conflict has had an immense impact on what we do in Ukraine. Around 50 percent of our ORT family left the country in the initial weeks. We had a lot of families leave to go to neighbouring countries and other European cities where we have ORT schools. We spent a lot of time settling families and helping our students to restart their education – some at ORT schools in the countries they had moved to,” Marcus Dysch told the audience of around 50 on the opening day of Limmud.
“Obviously the temperatures have dropped significantly in Ukraine in the last couple of weeks. It’s very difficult now, with the lack of infrastructure, power, heating and with the schools unable to open their doors physically.”
The panel included representatives of World Jewish Relief (WJR) and IsraAID.
Sabina Artemieva, a Ukrainian who moved to Britain because of the conflict and is now employed by WJR, spoke about her assistance for fellow Ukrainians arriving in the country. She also described WJR’s efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to communities in urgent need.
IsraAID Development Officer Hannah Sharron talked about how IsraAID’s experience in working with displaced people in crisis zones worldwide had impacted its response to the Ukraine conflict. She said the non-profit group was now concentrating on issues such as water filtration, partnership building and public health.
Reflecting on the severity of the situation, Marcus Dysch added: “ORT is a global education network operating in around 40 countries and has been around for more than 140 years – the scale of this crisis and the immensity of the challenges are unlike anything we have seen for generations. The ripple effects in the surrounding countries, and further afield, are hugely significant.”
The session was chaired by Emma Weleminsky, OLAM’s UK Community Manager, who described Ukraine’s “unique multiple Jewish connections” and said the conflict was an opportunity for the global Jewish community to have a greater understanding and conscience around refugee and humanitarian crises across the globe.