• Victoria, who lives in Sumy, near the Russian border, receives her food parcel. | Photo: C4I
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Food parcel campaign Ukraine in full swing

Koen Carlier - 20 December 2023

Hanukkah has come to an end in Ukraine as well. We were able to attend Hanukkah celebrations in various places and to be a light, for instance by distributing food parcels in all these places! It remains special to see how this allows us to bring a smile to the often times troubled faces. In this update you will discover more about our food parcels campaign in Ukraine, where we can now distribute the parcels with our own second-hand truck!

Curious about our food parcel campaign? Watch the video, or read the update below!

We start each work day with joint prayer and a short daily devotional by our staff member Sergey. Most of our longstanding volunteers come from difficult backgrounds, including some who grew up in orphanages. We are grateful for such good helpers! The photos were all taken by Alisa, a refugee from Mariupol.

Click on the side of the photo to see the image gallery

We began on Thursday, Dec. 7, in the city of Zaporozhye, a 650-kilometer drive from our base in western Ukraine. It was a gray and rainy day.

The local Rabbi Ehrentreu was delighted to see us.The synagogue was packed with over 300 attendees, mostly Jewish elderly. The first candle of the menorah was lit in this literal and figurative dark time in Ukraine.

Many friends around the world
The rabbi asked me to come forward for a short speech. I spoke about the miracle of the return of the Jews to Israel and the many evacuation trips of refugees from Zaporozhye with our bus and minibuses since the start of the war, now almost 22 months ago. I also spoke about our continuing relief efforts, including food parcels, especially in this time. I ended by saying that the Jewish people have many friends around the world who pray for them and also make it possible for us to continue bringing food parcels!

Click on the side of the photo to see the image gallery


We sang a song about peace, as well as a song for the soon coming of Messiah. Afterwards, everyone could pick up a food parcel from the truck, and right after everyone received a parcel, the air alarm went off in the city. We had to rush into the shelter of the synagogue….

The large industrial city of Zaporozhye (population 1 million) and its suburbs are still regularly bombed with missiles and drones. The battle front between the Russian and Ukrainian armies is about 25 kilometers away. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is in Energodar, 40 kilometers from Zaporozhye. This city is now in Russian hands.


Large loads of food parcels
The way back to our base in western Ukraine was less enjoyable, with black ice and lots of fresh snow, but fortunately little traffic! Our drivers Sergey and Kolya delivered large loads of food parcels to Odessa, Dnepr and Bela Cherkov with our truck. Other drivers drove with smaller vans to numerous destinations including Sumy – near the Russian border, 400 kilometers north of Kiev. Meanwhile, we were also invited by the Israeli Embassy in Kiev to a Hanukkah celebration attended by Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Jonathan Markovich.


In Sumy, we were welcomed in the old synagogue by Lisa. We unloaded 100 food parcels and had the opportunity to explain something about our work to a group of about 40 Jewish elderly people. This was very much appreciated. Lisa worked for the Jewish Agency for many years and thanked us again for our Aliyah work (return to Israel), as we also helped people from Sumy to go to Israel via the capital Moldova, Kishenov.

Larissa and Victoria
There are rumors of new Russian troop movements close to Sumy. Many residents are fearfully waiting! In Sumy, we drove through residential areas that have been heavily bombed by the Russians.

Next we went to visit 76-year-old Larissa and her daughter. They had just fled a few days ago from the small town of Seredina, just 500 meters from the Russian border. Larissa wept when she received a food parcel. She told us about the horrors she ednured and that nearly the entire town had been bombed to the ground. It was very hard to have to leave everything behind and flee, only carrying a few belongings and her documents. The local Jewish community helped Larissa and her daughter find a rental apartment.

Victoria also got an unexpected visit from us. This Jewish lady is all alone. She was never married and has no other family. She was grateful for a listening ear and a food parcel.

In the past two weeks, dozens of missiles and drones continued to be fired at various residential areas, hospitals and schools in Ukraine! On the last night of Hanukkah, we were in Vinnitsa visiting Rabbi Shaul’s small synagogue. The eighth and thus last Hanukkah candle was lit with the help of the shamash (helper) and afterwards we were able to enjoy freshly made sufganiot, Israeli donuts!

We can look back with gratitude that it all worked out with the packing and distribution of as many as 2,600 “Hanukkah gifts,” more than 26,000 kilos of food in total. And all of this under severe winter conditions.

But the work is not finished! We continue and next week there will already be another delivery from the wholesaler, of 13,000 kilos!

For all staff and volunteers, it is important to remain steadfast and continue our relief work, especially now that Ukraine is entering its second winter of war….


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