Ukraine's chief rabbi to take Israeli water purification technology to the frontline

Rabbi Moshe Azman is in London meeting politicians and Jewish leaders to raise support for the Ukrainian war effort


Across Ukraine millions of civilians are struggling to access fresh drinking water after a year of war has left critical infrastructure damaged and dysfunctional.

But innovative technology developed in Israel will now help those fighting to survive, Chabad Chief Rabbi in Ukraine Moshe Azman told the JC while visiting London.

The ever-industrious religious leader has secured several devices that draw in water from the air around them to convert into drinkable H2O.

"We've brought special machines that let the water flow from air, but we're waiting now because [the weather] has to be more warm,” Rabbi Azman said. 

“There's places that are villages or [on the] frontline that don’t have water.”

Outside Kyiv, where Rabbi Azman runs a village for Jewish refugees from the east named after Fiddler on the Roof’s fictional Anatevka, some of the water purifiers are already in operation.

The machines have been produced by Israeli technology firm Watergen, founded by former IDF officer Arye Kohavi.

“We bring the water in the air to the dew point and recycle the cold air so we can reuse it to cool the water even more,” he told TIME in 2014.

The company's "GEN-M Pro" device can reportedly provide up to 900 litres of fresh drinking water every day - vital for isolated eastern towns affected by missile strikes on critical utilities.

"Ukraine's water infrastructure, from dams to water treatment and wastewater systems, has been extensively targeted by Russia," Peter Gleick, a scientist who researches the impact of conflicts on water resources worldwide, told Reuters. 

Despite the scale of damage, Rabbi Azman said, there is a danger people outside Ukraine lose focus on Putin’s war against Ukraine.

Speaking with the JC in Westminster as he took a break from a packed schedule of meetings with British politicians and Jewish leaders, he said missiles were still landing in civilian areas “every day”.

“If somebody doesn’t understand… we have to refresh [their memory],” he said.

“Refresh because you will sit here, you know, sit here in the park in central London. And then you know the front line is 1200 kilometres and that's 1200 kilometres where people [are living] with their problems.”

Speaking to Stephen Doughty, Labour’s shadow minister for Europe, earlier that day, Rabbi Azman had underlined the need for the continent to remain united, he said.

“We would like to bring the message that British have to have to continue to be united to save Ukraine, to help Ukraine because it's not only an obligation of all humans to help people.

“But it’s also not only a Ukrainian war, it's a war of all the free world. Russia wants to attack everyone.”

The chief rabbi has also met "best friend of Ukraine" Boris Johnson and is set to see his British counterpart, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Conservative peer Lord Polack, and a representative of the Jewish Leadership Council, among other figures.

Living in Kyiv now, Rabbi Azman said, is still not a “normal life”.

“Every minute rockets can come from another side, and you don’t know which side, which town [they’ll come from].

“That’s why it’s a hard war, and Russia still have a lot of weapons.”

Ukraine’s front-line hospitals do not have enough equipment, and young soldiers are regularly being buried, he said.

“I see what's happening in Ukraine. I live in Ukraine. I saw the tragedy and civilian people as show that's how many people wounded, killed the soldiers…

“[The civilians] had to come [pick up a] rifle to save their families, their motherland. That's why…

“Every day somebody is buried, some young man, [or a] soldier without legs and arms.”

For the rabbi, the war’s destruction contains a unique personal tragedy.

In 1995, following the collapse of the USSR, the Leningrad-born rabbi travelled from Israel to Ukraine to rebuild the country’s Jewish institutions.

Over the next few decades, the former Russian refusenik helped revive communal life and restore Kyiv’s grand Brodsky Choral Synagogue, which had been turned into a puppet theatre under Soviet rule.

Since Russia invaded in February of last year, regular life doesn't exist, he told the JC on a previous trip to London.

“We had beautiful communities. Russia, they destroyed the communities. People had to run away without anything to become refugees. Jewish people, non-Jewish people.”

Since then, he has devoted his prodigious reserves of energy and deep contacts book to bringing refugees west and taking aid east.

Back in the UK to galvanise effort again, the chief rabbi was at pains to emphasise his gratitude for diaspora support.

“Great Britain is the best friend of Ukraine… my message here, first of all, to thank everybody because I'm a Jewish guy… many people, the Jewish community, [helped] to raise so many humanitarian aid.”

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