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‘Irpin was beautiful’: Jewish leader mourns Ukrainian hometown shelled by Russia

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission.

When Alexander Gaidar left Irpin on February 20 to attend the funeral of his father in Germany, he had no way of knowing that the quiet Kyiv suburb which he has long called home would soon make international headlines. Sadly, that’s what happened on Sunday, after horrifying images emerged of Russian attacks against innocent civilians fleeing the war.

“We never thought that our town, without any military objects, would become a battlefield,” the 67-year-old Gaidar told Haaretz. Gaidar works as the executive director of the Union of Ukrainian Progressive Judaism Religious Communities – the local affiliate of the Reform Movement in Ukraine.

“For two days, I have not had any connections with my friends in Irpin,” Gaidar said in a phone conversation from Germany. “Our town is without electricity and internet. The Russian army is bombing a peaceful town and its citizens.”

About 2,000 civilians have so far been evacuated from Irpin, police said on Monday, although they did not make clear over what period of time these evacuations had taken place. Ukrainians fleeing the town, which is located some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of the capital, were caught in shelling by Russian forces on Sunday and forced to dive for cover.

Irpin residents scurried along pavements clutching children, luggage and pets as they made their way to waiting buses and cars. Soldiers and fellow residents helped elderly men and women who were falling behind. Some people crouched down when explosions went off nearby, apparently from mortar rounds. Several news outlets said that at least three people were killed – a woman and two children.

Gaidar accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having “brought death to thousands of people in Ukraine and, on the blood and suffering of Ukrainians, giving rise to hatred for Russia.” He added that “when they want to kill you and destroy your country and everything that is dear to you,” it was natural for people to develop negative feelings toward Russia.

“Nearly 100,000 people lived in Irpin,” Gaidar said. “It was a beautiful, peaceful town. The Russians are bombing and shelling residential areas of the city.” He pleaded with NATO countries to do more for Ukraine, saying: “Ukraine will not give up its freedom to the bloody aggressors and will fight. Ukraine really needs NATO’s help for air defense. This will save thousands of lives.”

Gaidar added that the World Union for Progressive Judaism has opened a fund to care for Ukrainian refugees, and that other Jewish groups were also working to help those affected by the war. The whole world, he said, needed “to learn the truth about my beloved country, which is now protecting not only itself, but many others from Putin’s madness.”

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission.

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