Children traumatized by the war in Ukraine find mentors in unexpected places

Children traumatized by the war in Ukraine find mentors in unexpected places

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Imagine you are a child whose entire home – the entire school, the entire village, the entire way of life, everything – was brutally destroyed in the war.

This is currently the plight of many Ukrainian children.

With the war between Russia and Ukraine receiving less attention than before, many people have stepped up to help those less fortunate – and many have done so from the start and continue to do so.

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In Warsaw, Poland, a drawing of a 5-year-old girl at a summer camp recently caught the attention of one of her counselors.

Why did she use black and white and not red or pink to make a heart? asked Rabbi Ilana Baird, the Associated Press reported.

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year, people across Poland took action to welcome and help refugees from the neighboring country.

The girl sighed heavily and said she was black like the dog she left behind in Ukraine.

Rabbi Baird of California volunteered with several other Jews, originally from Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union, to care for Ukrainian refugee children at the Warsaw camp.

People with children wait at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, after arriving from the Ukrainian city of Tokmak May 2, 2022.

People with children wait at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, after arriving from the Ukrainian city of Tokmak May 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The programme, which ended last Friday, was created to bring some joy to youth traumatized by war, to prepare them for a new school year in Poland – and to give their struggling and burdened mothers a little time for themselves.

After she performed puppet shows and read stories to her group of 5- and 6-year-old campers, drew lots of little faces, and gave lots of big hugs, the rabbi saw another heart drawing.

This one was pink.

“Luck,” the girl explained.

Baird, 48, was delighted to see happy colors and rainbows appear in the artwork of other children in her care at camp Kef Be Kayitz, a Hebrew name meaning summertime fun.

A Ukrainian boy stands on an exhausted Russian military tank in Lyiv.

A Ukrainian boy stands on an exhausted Russian military tank in Lyiv. (Fox News)

For the volunteers, the decision to take time off from their usual jobs in the United States and fly to Poland to work with Ukrainian children was driven by a desire to help those in need, a value that is universal and a core Part of Judaism is religious teachings.

“The Jewish people have suffered so much in the past. We suffered pogroms, we suffered the Holocaust and we suffered anti-Semitism,” Baird told the AP.

“We are committed to helping people who are suffering right now.”

“And we are committed to helping people who are suffering right now.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year, people across Poland took action to welcome and help refugees from the neighboring country.

Poland has taken in more war refugees than any other nation.

Local and international Jewish organizations also immediately began work to meet the most urgent needs: to house and feed the Ukrainians, most of whom are women and children.

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As the war soon enters its sixth month, the camp at Warsaw’s Lauder Morasha School reflected the type of programming developed to meet the changing needs of refugees.

A local resident walks next to a house destroyed in Russian shelling in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

A local resident walks next to a house destroyed in Russian shelling in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

Many Ukrainians realize they won’t be able to go home any time soon — or maybe ever — Helise Lieberman, director of the Taube Center for Jewish Life and Learning, told the AP.

The mornings were devoted to Polish, English and Mathematics lessons so that the children could better adapt to school.

Some Ukrainian refugee mothers have to find a job – while others are severely depressed.

Many of the Ukrainian children who have arrived in Poland since February have completed the Ukrainian school year remotely – but will start in Polish schools in September.

The campers spent the afternoons doing handicrafts, sports and trips to the city’s museums and parks.

About a third of the 90 children attending the camp are Jewish, according to Marta Saracyn, director of Warsaw’s Jewish Community Center.

“It’s a beautiful bubble for kids to be kids,” Saracyn told the AP.

Refugees with children walk at a train station in Przemysl, Poland after fleeing war from neighboring Ukraine March 22, 2022.

Refugees with children walk at a train station in Przemysl, Poland after fleeing war from neighboring Ukraine March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Some of the Ukrainian refugee mothers have to look for work – while some are severely depressed after being separated from their partners and relatives at home, organizers said.

The Taube Center and the Jewish Community Center of Warsaw organized the camp in cooperation with the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Joint Distribution Committee.

The Jewish Federations of North America recruited nearly 90 Russian-speaking educators and rabbinic leaders to help Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Hungary, and 10 helped at the Warsaw camp, said Hannah Miller, who runs the volunteer program.

“You don’t have to be from Ukraine to help others,” the rabbi said. “You just have to be human.”

The camp’s 10 volunteers are Russian-speaking immigrants who left the Soviet Union decades ago, or the children of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

Only one couple spoke Ukrainian, so with the children they mostly spoke Russian, which is also widely spoken in much of Ukraine.

Baird recalled painting the face of a boy who was upset when he realized she wasn’t from Ukraine.

“Why did you come here?” he asked her.

In this photo provided by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, listens to a report on the front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, June 5, 2022.

In this photo provided by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, listens to a report on the front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, June 5, 2022 . (Press Office of the President of Ukraine via AP, file)

“Because you don’t have to be from Ukraine to help others,” the rabbi replied. “You just have to be human.”

Similarly, an extraordinary trip to witness the struggle and struggles of displaced Ukrainians – and to comfort them and observe relief efforts on their behalf – took place recently as a group from the community of Temple Emanu-El in the Upper East Side of Manhattan took place on the border between Ukraine and Poland.

The mission was one of faith, compassion, caring and giving.

NEW YORK CITY TEMPLE MEMBERS TRAVEL TO THE UKRAINE BORDER TO BRING COMFORT AND WITNESSING

As most Americans were just beginning to welcome the start of summer over Memorial Day weekend, the group from Temple Emanu-El — New York’s leading Reform Jewish community — traveled to Ukraine instead.

As Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson told his congregation before the mission, “Together we will bring much-needed supplies, bring comfort to those fleeing war — and both the suffering and the extraordinary efforts of the relief organizations bear witness to that suffering.”

Rabbi Joshua Davidson described a special mission to the Ukrainian border to his congregation in New York City during a recent Friday night service.

Rabbi Joshua Davidson described a special mission to the Ukrainian border to his congregation in New York City during a recent Friday night service. (Temple Emanu-El of New York City)

The group from Temple Emanu-El brought duffel bags filled with supplies donated by Temple members for the desperate Ukrainians who fled for their lives, said Martin Bell, one of the travelers on the mission.

Everywhere the group went, Bell recently told Fox News Digital, they saw the relief efforts “originally started by ordinary Poles” — which they have taken on to help displaced Ukrainians, who are mostly is about women and children.

“We did too [the journey] to witness the suffering of the Ukrainian people.”

He said, “The part about witnessing – that really impressed me and everyone in our group. Part of that may be a Jewish reaction in a world where there are Holocaust deniers,” Bell said.

“We wanted to go there and then come back and tell others what we saw.”

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“It’s a story that should be told. It’s a story that needs to be told,” he also said, as Fox News Digital previously reported.

“We set out to bring relief,” Rabbi Davidson said at a recent Friday night temple service as he described the mission to the congregation afterwards.

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“But we also managed to witness the suffering of the Ukrainian people in a world that too often not only closes human suffering but allows it to be written entirely out of history.”

“We know only from personal experience that witnessing is a sacred duty.”

The Associated Press contributed coverage to this article.

Maureen Mackey is the Editor-in-Chief of Lifestyle at Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to @maurmack on Twitter.