Jewish Pre-School Teacher Killed As Fighting Rages in Ukraine

The recent rise in violence in Ukraine struck Donetsk’s Jewish community hard, claiming the life of a pre-school teacher.

The victim, Irina Shelkayeba a”h, 54, a mother of two, was at home Tuesday evening, when her apartment was hit by rocket fire. She served as an assistant teacher in Donetsk’s nursery, Ohr Avner, for the past nine years.

“She was a very good and sincere person,” Rabbi Pinchas Vischedsky of Donestsk told Hamodia. “She did her work with great dedication and with a smile for everyone.”

Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists has been raging for the past year, but recently intensified as separatists try to win a stronger position in light of newly initiated peace talks.  “People are very weary. They have given up, as the war just continues without any end in sight soon,” said Rabbi Vischedsky. “Most Jews from Donetsk have left the city, but there are still thousands that remain and they are in great danger, living in a situation of tremendous hardship.” Earlier in the day, two rockets hit the Hesed Social Welfare center in Kramatorsk. B’chasdei Hashem, neither exploded and no injuries were reported, according to a statement from the Joint Distribution Committee, who supports the site. However, the nine-story building did sustain damage and was evacuated. The center serves over 560 elderly and poor Jews in the area.

“[Separatist forces] are just shooting wildly into cities,” Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, told Hamodia. “They don’t have the ability to aim accurately so they just fire at large population centers. These incidents have made it a bigger story in the Jewish media, but people have been getting killed non-stop for the past year.”

According to several media reports, shelling that hit Donetsk’s bus terminal caused the temporary closing of the town’s only shul, Beis Menachem, which is in close proximity to the station. Igor Kozlovsky, of Enerjew, an organization that helps build young Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union, is a former resident of Donetsk. He said that while the majority of the residents have fled to other regions or emigrated, thousands of residents, especially, the elderly, are unable to leave.

“I have a hope that this war will end soon. I still have relatives there. My sister’s house was hit by a rocket,” Kozlovsky told Hamodia. “Some people assume that those that have remained are on the terrorists’ side, but I know this is not true. There are many people who work in hospitals; others need to keep their jobs to have money to live on. They just want a chance for a simple, peaceful life.”