Delivery of Aid to Ukraine

A Letter from Julia Herzog

Dear Friends,

I thought I would give you an update on the journey of Congregation Emanu El’s donation of humanitarian aid supplies to Ukrainian journalists at the Romanian border (and my journey carrying the supplies). Needless to say this is a terrible time, and I feel humbled to be writing this narrative right now.


My nephew Andrew’s partner, Emine Ziyatdinova, is a Ukrainian photo-journalist and also, importantly, the mother of my great-niece, Susanna. Just as the war broke out, I had been planning a trip to Israel and Romania—researching my family, having
discovered long-lost cousins—but that is a story for another time. I heard that Emine
had been traveling to Poland, delivering first-aid supplies to the border. When I asked Emine if she thought it would be helpful for me to do the same in Romania, she sent me the current list of needed supplies. I reached out to all of you, and Congregation Emanu-El came through with almost $7,000.00 of donations in three days! Thank-you all! Emine connected me with her friends who are distributing supplies to those who need them. Our supplies were distributed by (Ukrainian journalism emergency fund which is organised by Emine and Andrew’s friends Roman and Katya ( media) to Ukrainian journalists working on the frontlines.

I soon found out what a iFAK kit was (compact emergency trauma kits usually distributed to police or military), and had to google “Celox” (a coagulant for dressing major wounds). We are all grateful to you, because when the donations poured in, my
family and I scoured the internet and were able to fill two large bags with needed supplies which we sent to Seattle. I was able to bring the large bags into France and from there I traveled to Romania. When I arrived in France I added large amounts of
ibuprofen, acetaminophen and some personal supplies the journalists requested (power packs for phones, new underwear and socks (items that are preferable to receive new rather than used). A Ukrainian family staying with my sister had Ukrainian currency (hryvnia) which they were unable to change, so I traded the remaining dollars for Ukrainian cash so that I could provide the journalists with transportation money.

The bulk of our donation went to a non-profit supporting journalists ( in Ukraine, many of whom are reporting from the front-line. At the time of the donation, tragically, a friend and colleague of Emine, Maks Levin, was killed and another lost a leg. (Click here to read the NYT article) Part of the cash was ultimately sent to Maks Levin’s young family—his wife and their four young children.

Taking the supplies to the border

My flight went from Paris to Iasi (also known as Jassy) in the Northeast part of Romania. This is where my grandmother was born. I have a photo of my great-great grandfather, “Morris Marcovici” who was a Shoichet in Iasi (kosher butcher).

When I arrived at the airport in Iasi, which is a rather small airport, it was really quite heart-breaking, so different from the last time I was there in 2019.  It had been a sleepy little airport with only a few business travelers.  The airport was packed with Ukrainian families, small children running around, and also some boisterous US young guys (who I presume are US military). When I picked up my rental car, the counter was full of donated food, diapers, bottles of water for the refugees. They had only one car left—a standard shift Renault, and my feet hardly reached the pedals. It was already late in the day, so the next morning I set out for Suceava, a town about 45 minutes south of Ukraine, so that I would have a quick drive the following day to the border.

I arrived in the late afternoon in Suceava.  It is a bustling small city and I managed to get through traffic to a fading resort on the outside of town.  Rusty showers, a comfortable bed and a great sauna were my reward.  I find driving in Romania difficult as the roads are narrow and eager drivers like to speed on their way to wherever. However, the Romanians are extremely courteous and any time I have asked for directions or help they have gone to great lengths for me.  On the way to the hotel I stopped at “Kaufland” a major department store.  First, I bought some pillows so that I could reach the pedals in my rental car! Then, I filled my grocery cart with an assortment of snacks, fruit, baby food, water and juice bottles to bring to the border. My grocery cart was overflowing and one of the store clerks helped me to the car with all of the groceries. I had been checking in with Ery, who is with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on duty daily at the border assisting refugees, who told me what they needed.  Albert, who teaches B’nei Mitzvah in Iasi, had given me the name of Ery as a contact at the border.  It turns out, by the way, that Ery knows my newly found cousin, Emil Nadler, quite well, whom I was to meet for the first time later that week in Piatra Neamt, Romania.  Emil is the president of the Jewish community in Piatra Neamt, but that is also a story for another time… 

Early the next morning, following Google maps on fairly empty roads, I set out with my car full of groceries and medical supplies to the border crossing at Siret, Romania. I first found myself approaching a series of exhibition-style tents lining a narrow road.  I pulled over and realized this must be the border with Ukraine.  Everyone was just opening up their tents and there were many police around.  The tents belonged to international aid agencies from all around the world. I sent a text to Ery who sent me a photo of their tent so that I could find them.  I actually didn’t even realize until I arrived that I was providing the food directly to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s tent.  They have a large tent and are providing aid to all Ukrainians (not only Jews). Ery explained to me that approximately 2,000 people are streaming across the border daily. 

Ery and me at the JDC Tent, April 2, 2022

At the tent I met two ladies, both named “Lydia,” and three teens who were helping them.  The two “Lydias” were busy cooking soup, pasta and serving hot food and drinks to people as they approached the tent. (It was very cold, at one point,
Lydia grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around me with a big hug). One of the boys, Jakob, helped translate and I obtained permission to bring my car up to the tent.  The boys then brought in all of the food items and safely stowed the medical supplies in the back of the tent.

The Lydias at the JDC Tent, April 2, 2022

I was in touch via “Signal” (a communication app) with the journalists from Ukraine who were traveling from Chernivtsi (formerly Chernowitz) to Siret, Romania, to meet me.  I had to wait a couple of hours and Lydia had me bringing chocolate, snacks and drinks to the little kids as they arrived.  People were walking over the border carrying small bags, holding children.  Mostly women, children and old people (‘old’ like me, haha).  One young woman was walking with two tiny kids one on each hand, approximately 3 and 4 years, and just as I handed each one a treat, their grandparents arrived and swooped them up. I can’t imagine the emotions of the little family at that moment, knowing also, that they must have left the young father behind to fight.  Most people were not greeted by relatives, but were greeted by the different aid agencies and bused to a variety of locations where, Ery told me, they could rest and obtain help and make decisions about their relocation plans. 

Meanwhile, I was waiting and worrying about Olha and Angelina who were on their way to pick up the supplies.  Olha describes herself as a “media trainer and human rights defender.”  Angelina is a chamber music vocalist turned “driver” as she was in charge of driving across the border with Olha. Angelina’s husband works for the non-profit organization supporting Roma in Ukraine that has been helping coordinate getting the supplies to the journalists on the front line.  Olha is an old friend and colleague of Emine, who recently published this article: “A safe house in Poland offers LGBTQ Ukrainians sanctuary from Russian bombs” One of Emine’s colleagues, Alexander Chekmenev, (whom we are helping by sending these supplies) recently had a piece which filled the entirety of the New York Times magazine (NYT in Photos “Citizens of Kyiv”)

Finally, Olha and Angelina arrived and we sat down in the tent to eat some of Lydia’s soup, warm up and take some photos.  I gave them a bag of snacks, drinks and coffee and we fit all of the stuff into the trunk of their car. I have to admit that I snuck in three bottles of Romanian wine (which pleased Olha and Angelina!), as I heard that martial law in Ukraine currently forbids wine to be sold in stores. Olha then wanted to organize some photographs, in particular, one holding Olha’s Ukrainian flag, which is a kind of talisman for her as she has been keeping that flag through the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas where, I believe, Olha is from. Olha handed me a gift, a signed copy of “Apricots of Donbas”, by Emmy award winning poet, Lyuba Yakimchuk. This book had traveled throughout the war from Kyiv to Chernivtsi into Olha’s hands. I’ve included one of the poems below. Emine, by the way, is from Crimea originally.  Before the Pandemic, we had a wonderful family party at my sister’s house in France, celebrating the birth of Susanna, and all the relatives came (including Emine’s parents and brother), who are now trapped in Crimea.

Later, Olha sent the below photo as a tweet and said in her tweet:
“The donations came from Congregation Emanu El Synagogue in Victoria British Columbia #Canada Julia Herzog (in the center at photo) brought to #Romanian #Ukrainian border. Everything organize with dear @emineziyatdin #StandWithUkraine #ProtectJournalism.” April 4, 2022

Olha and Angelina and me, April 2, 2022

After visiting with Olha and Angelina, they were then on their way back to Ukraine to arrange transport of the supplies to Kyiv, and to continue their fight. Later, they sent  me a photo the journalists took in Lviv when they received the supplies:

Lviv, Ukraine, April 4, 2022

Here is a screen shot using google translate of a text I received from our journalist
friends when they heard about our donation:

Here is a poem by Lyuba Yakimchuk:
The return

we want back home, where we got our first grays
where the sky pours into windows in blue rays
where we planted a tree and raised a son
where we built a home that grew moldy without us

but the road back home blossoms with mines
needle grass and fog cover the open pits
we come back bitter, guilt-ridden, reticent
we just want our home back and a little peace

if only to go there, to breath the scent of mold
pulling yellowed photographs out of the family albums
we’re going home where we won’t grow old
parents and graves and walls waiting for us

we will walk back, even with bare feet
if we don’t find our home in the place where we left it
we will build another one in an apricot tree
out of luscious clouds, out of azure ether

Lyuba Yakimchuk, 2015

Art Display to Benefit Ukrainian Aid

Art display with instructions

Devorah Stone has a display up outside Caffe Fantastico on Quadra and Kings Road. The art was inspired by the conflict in Ukraine. The art is a combination of various mediums, and styles, abstracts, paintings, collages, landscapes, and sunflowers.

The display can be viewed at any time until June 1, and pieces can be purchased during Caffe Fantastico’s business hours by following the instructions posted on the window. All proceeds go to the United Nations for Ukrainian aid.

Summary of event details

  • Date: May 1 – June 1, 2022
  • Time: 7:00 am to 5:30 pm
  • Where: Caffe Fantastico, 965 Kings Rd, Victoria
  • Cost: varies
  • Registration: n/a
  • Contact: n/a

Letter of Thanks and How to Help

The following letter from members of the Ukrainian community came in response to Emanu-El’s letter of support and presence at the rally on February 27. Donations for humanitarian aid to Ukraine can be made to the Red Cross and these donations will be matched by the Federal Government.

Link to the Red Cross to donate:*MTY0NTg5NTczNy4yLjAuMTY0NTg5NTczNy4w&fbclid=IwAR1i63dvtOrxYHeNLQLCPsHFZ28UXE32RUHakmz4AaGwtlKFqq3WMCt40Mc

Letter of thanks:

Dear Rabbi Harry Brechner, Samuel Godfrey and the entire congregation of Temple Emanu-El,

My wife, Nataliia Kuksa, and I are very grateful to hear of your support for Ukraine and would like to express our personal thanks to the Temple Emanu-El congregation.

This is a terrifying moment for so many of our family and friends. We are on the phone every day with friends who have lost their homes and are sleeping with the masses in subway shelters with no sanitation while being bombed from above. Russian missiles and artillery are targeting hospitals, kindergartens, and apartment buildings. All men between the ages of 18-60 are being mobilized into the military. However, many adult women are also choosing to pick up a gun and fight. The government has released instructions on social media on how to make a molotov cocktail and exactly where to throw it at armored vehicles for maximum effect. People are hanging on to their dreams of democracy and freedom from tyranny and persecution.

Having the Jewish community’s support is especially meaningful to us because of a shared history of surviving persecution and genocide, particularly in the mid-20th century. Under the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian language, culture, and costumes were all banned from public life with penalties of imprisonment and death. The artificial famine created by Joseph Stalin, known as the Holodomor, killed somewhere between 4-10 million Ukrainians between 1931-1932 in an attempt to eradicate all memory of Ukrainian people. In the small village of Skvira, my wife’s grandparents survived by eating decaying walnuts that they dug up from the ground–the ones on their tree along with everything else had been taken by the Soviets. Cannibalism became normal as the only sustenance available was the bodies of neighbors lying in the street.

But I cannot emphasize enough that this is not, primarily, a war of race, culture, or religion—but of the Ukrainian people’s wish to repel the tyranny of a brutal authoritarian regime.

Most of the resistance in Kharkiv and Kyiv are primarily Russian speakers. Ukrainian is used in schools and government, yes, but Russian is the language you would expect to speak at a Kyiv or Kharkiv family home, supermarket, or social setting. Most Ukrainians are proud of their ties to the Slavic world. Nataliia’s mother is from the north of Russia, has a Russian passport, and has lived, worked, and studied in Ukraine for 31 years–before Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union. Yet it is the citizens of Kyiv and Kharkiv who are mostly sacrificing themselves for a chance to remain a part of western democracy. Meanwhile, thousands of Russians in Moscow are protesting against the war, suffering severe consequences once forced into Russian prisons.

Ukraine chose to give up all its nuclear armaments in 1994 with the guarantee that it would be protected from foreign invasion. And let’s face it, if they had not done so there would probably be a much smaller chance of a Russian invasion today. By helping Ukraine overcome this outrageous attack, we are showing the world how the democratic nations will continue to work in solidarity with those that are attempting to prevent nuclear war and uphold the principles of compassion, truth, and freedom.

If you could please forward this message to family and friends, I would be forever grateful. Also, please forward the link to the Canadian Red Cross. Any donations will be matched by the Canadian government. And please let people know that there will be a demonstration for Ukraine on this Sunday, February 27, at 12:30 at the BC Legislature Building.

Thank you for your support.
Best wishes,
Daniel Jordan & Nataliia Kuksa

The original letter sent by Rabbi Harry and Sam Godfrey on behalf of Emanu-El:

25 February 2022
St. George Parish, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
St. Nicholas the Wonderworker
Ukrainian Cultural Centre

To the Ukrainian community of Victoria,

It is with horror, dismay and sadness that members of Congregation Emanu-El are watching the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian armed forces.

And we mourn, along with you, the loss of life and the traumatization of innocent citizens across Ukraine.

Ukrainians, be they Catholic, Orthodox or Jewish, are all suffering now and our thoughts and prayers go out to them and to the extended Ukrainian community of Victoria, which must be consumed with worry about friends and family in your homeland.

Please know that our community is with your community at this difficult time, and if we can be of assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Sam Godfrey, President
Rabbi Harry Brechner
Congregation Emanu-el

Phone: (250) 382-0615