Pittsburgh Jewish leaders travel to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees

By: Lisa Smith/KDKA-TV News

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With millions of Ukrainians fleeing their homes, Poland is the country hosting the most refugees.

For this reason, local Jewish leaders were part of a recent delegation that traveled to Poland to see the crisis at the border firsthand.

“There were mats on the floor where people could sleep and places to shower and tidy up and everything,” said Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

He said an unused building was being used as a temporary stopover for many looking for rest after the long journey. They could only carry a few bags of their belongings.

“At the border we heard stories from people who took four or five days to get to the border crossing from the eastern part of Ukraine. And when they got to the border crossing, they sometimes had to wait up to 14 hours to enter Poland,” Finkelstein said.

The delegation consisted of members of the Jewish Federation from across North America. They brought supplies such as medicine, diapers, toys and other necessities. Finkelstein said socks are in demand for those who have been on their feet for days.

He shared pictures with KDKA from the border town of Medyka in Poland. They showed families having a meal, children playing with volunteers, and a man wearing medals on his shirt. Finkelstein said he was a Holocaust survivor awaiting a flight to Israel.

“There is real human suffering and misery and fear for the future,” he said. “We’ve seen it firsthand and it’s really powerful.”

Meanwhile, Natalya Shisman knows firsthand what it’s like to be a Ukrainian refugee. She came to Pittsburgh with her family from the country when she was 4 years old.

“The first memory I have is of being at the airport and meeting a family who were JFCS volunteers and we are still friends with them to this day,” she said.

Now it is her job to help other refugees. She works at Jewish Family and Community Services in Pittsburgh. The agency is an official resettlement agency for refugees. She said she has already worked with about 10 Ukrainian refugees, but witnessing the destruction in her home country is extremely difficult.

“It’s terrible. We have family, we have friends who are still over there,” she said.

The Biden administration expects to let up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the United States. The JFCS anticipates many will come to Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania since there is already a large Ukrainian population in the area.

If you need information about the JFCS refugee and immigration services, you can contact them at the email address Pittsburgh Jewish leaders travel to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees


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