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Mariupol community flees shells

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A group of distressed Ukrainian Jews in Mariupol were preparing to flee the port city this week as the situation in the city became increasingly unpredictable.

Around 130 people were receiving emergency assistance from the aid organisation World Jewish Relief (WJR), which has taken the unusual step of giving cash stipends to people who fear for their lives.

"We don't normally give out cash, but because of the crisis here we decided that this was the best way to help," said Adva Rodogovsky, programme manager at WJR in Ukraine. "These are vulnerable people who are unable to leave unless we help them."

Each person was due to be given US $250, which they can use for food and travel expenses. "Most of them will stay in Ukraine, they are very unwilling to leave their country, but they will go to community shelters in the north west, or those who have family living elsewhere will go to stay with them," said Ms Rodogovsky.

Ukrainian separatist rebels, supported by Russian troops, have been seeking to gain control of Mariupol, a key strategic port with a population of nearly half a million, about 1,000 of whom are Jewish. The city has already received thousands of refugees from Luhansk and Dontesk, to the north, both now held by the rebels. WJR figures show that over 2,000 Jews have so far been forced to leave their homes in Ukraine.

We all know that the situation could change any minute

There is a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, although Ms Rodogovsky described the truce as "fragile" and said that there were still shootings in Mariupol.

"A week ago it was really dangerous here," she said. "Today it is not so bad, but it's uncertain and people are very frightened, everyone knows that the situation could change at any minute." She added that the inhabitants of Mariupol were desperate to leave.

Those preparing to leave Mariupol will simply lock their front doors, with no idea when they will return.

Natan Kryuchkov, an active member of the Jewish community of Mariupol, said: "My daughter is still affected by the stress caused by the night-time shelling and running for the air raid shelter nearby. We are leaving Mariupol for Dnepropetrovsk. This was a very difficult decision."

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