Kherson Jews 'lose everything' after being forced to flee rising water after Ukraine dam rupture

20 Jewish families are being aided by the community


KHERSON, UKRAINE - JUNE 8: Local resident floats on a raft near his house on June 8, 2023 in Kherson, Ukraine. Early Tuesday, the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant, which sit on the Dnipro river in the southern Kherson region, were destroyed, forcing downstream communities to evacuate due to risk of flooding. The cause of the dam's collapse is not yet confirmed, with Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of its destruction. The Dnipro river has served as a frontline between the warring armies following Russia's retreat from Kherson and surrounding areas last autumn. The dam and plant had been under the control of Russia, which occupies a swath of land south and southeast of the river. (Photo by Alex Babenko/Getty Images)

20 Jewish families “have lost everything” as they were evacuated from their flooded homes in southern Ukraine, after a Russian attack caused the Kakhova dam on the Dnieper River to collapse on Tuesday, June 6. 

The collapse caused floods and forced thousands living in low-lying areas in the city of Kherson to flee their homes. Ukrainian and Russian authorities each separately brought in trains and buses to evacuate locals on either side of the river.

Official figures revealed around 22,000 people live in areas at risk of flooding in Russian-controlled areas south of the city while 16,000 live in the most critical zone in Ukrainian-held territory on the north bank.

Rabbi Joseph Wolff, the Chabad rabbi who runs the Jewish community in Kherson told the JC of their journey after being evacuated. 

He said: “They have lost everything. For many months before the flooding, they had been in the line of fire since those places near the river get the most artillery.  

"The Russian troops are on the other side of the river. Now the water comes, and a lot of their homes had already been involved in explosions.”

Rabbi Wolff said he had arranged for rescuers to go to the homes of Jewish families living along the river very soon after the dam wall collapsed. At first, they had found the residents unwilling to leave.

He continued: "It was impossible for them to understand how bad the situation was."

Rabbi Wolff said he believed that it would be a minimum of three weeks till the water recedes leaving many houses unsalvageable.

"Can there be anything more dramatic than this?,” Rabbi Wolff questioned. 

He said it was a "miracle" that Kherson's synagogue was not affected because it was erected at a place around 20 metres above the level of the river.   

Rabbi Wolff added: "It was built in 1885, and it had survived everything: Czarism, communism, socialism, fascism, again communism. And then since 1993, when the Soviet Union was broken, we started a new life."

The Wolff’s spruced up the exterior of the old shul and completely revamped everything inside.  

It had catered to three and a half thousand families but since the Ukraine war with Russia broke out on February 24 last year all but 1,000 people have left. 

He keeps in touch with many the exiles and hopes they will return one day. 

Since he arrived thirty years ago, Rabbi Wolff has seen his own family grow from zero to "a football team" of seven boys and four girls.  

He concluded: "We should be celebrating the 30th anniversary of our arrival right now, but right now we celebrate only when we save people's lives. That's what we celebrate.

"When the war ends we will have a l'chaim and then we will really celebrate."

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