Ukrainian refugee children walk along the backyard of the Lauder Morasha Jewish school in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)
A group of American Jewish volunteers who speak Russian visited Poland this summer to work with Ukrainian refugee children.
The children were forced to leave Ukraine after Russia invaded on February 24. Poland has taken in more refugees than any other country.
The children draw pictures, learn English and Polish, and work on math skills. The volunteers are helping the children get ready to go to school in Poland later this month. It will be their first time going to school in the new country. They finished school last year by video after leaving Ukraine.
Most of the volunteers do not speak Ukrainian. So, they communicate with the children in Russian, which is also spoken in Ukraine. The Americans are either Russian-speaking immigrants who left the former Soviet Union more than 30 years ago or are the children of immigrants.
Illana Baird is a Rabbi, or Jewish religious leader, from California. She is one of the 10 Americans working at a summer activities center, known as a camp, in the city of Warsaw. The name of the camp is Fun in the Summer.
Baird said the volunteers feel “a sense of obligation to help those who are suffering right now.” She said Jewish people have suffered in the past. Baird talked about the Holocaust, pogroms and antisemitism. Pogrom is a word from the Russian language used to describe attacks on Jewish communities in the 1800s and early 1900s. Antisemitism is a word used to describe discrimination against Jewish people.
She said the Ukrainians living in Poland are suffering, and the volunteers want to help them feel better.
Baird said some of the children are feeling better. The Rabbi noted one young girl who at first made a drawing in only black and white, because she said she missed her black dog at home.
A little later, after hearing stories and watching a show with puppets, the little girl made a drawing in color. The girl said she made a pink heart for happiness.
The summer camp will help the children get used to living in Poland. Many of them left Ukraine quickly and only with their mothers. Many men were required to stay behind and help with the war effort.
When the children are at camp studying and playing, their mothers can look for work.
Marta Saracyn is the head of the Jewish Community Center of Warsaw. She said about 30 of the 90 children in the camp are Jewish.
Saracyn described the days at camp as “a lovely bubble for kids to be kids” and not have to worry about their problems for a short time.
The 10 Americans working at the Fun in the Summer camp are part of a group of nearly 90 who left their jobs in the U.S. to help Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Hungary.
Jewish groups in the U.S., Poland and Israel worked together to find people who wanted to help.
The camp is at a Jewish school called Lauder Morasha. It started with the help of Helise Lieberman, an American who is active in Jewish life in Warsaw.
She said there would not have been any Jewish organizations available to help refugees in Poland 30 years ago. Lieberman explained that Poland was home to more than 3 million Jews before World War II but most were killed by German Nazi forces during the Holocaust. She said the Jewish community in Poland only started to come back after the collapse of the Soviet-supported communism.
And it looks like the volunteers are helping the children.
Baird, the Rabbi, said one boy became upset when he found out that she was not Ukrainian.
“Why did you come here?” he asked.
She answered, saying: “Because you don’t need to be from Ukraine to help others. You just need to be human.”
Words in This Story
obligation – n. something that you must do because of a law, rule, promise
bubble – n. a space that is separated from the outside world possibly away from trouble or worry
upset– adj. unhappy or angry