My name is Ori Shaham and I’m the Rosh Chinuch (youth educational leader) for Hashomer Hatzair USA. Three weeks ago I joined the 11th and 12th Hashomer Hatzair delegations to the TESCO refugee camp in Przemysl, which is on the Polish border with Ukraine. Volunteering with these delegations in the Hashomer Hatzair children’s center was perhaps the most meaningful thing I have ever taken part in, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to join.
I wanted to share some of my experiences and reflections with you all. Whatever I can’t describe in words, I hope the pictures and videos will do some justice :) There is a lot here, so I’ve split it up into sections.
The work we’ve done in the children’s center and our humanitarian aid in Ukraine has been possible because of the generosity of our community. Going forward, we also plan to create a youth center within Ukraine, in Kharkiv, to help with the rebuild of the city. Many of you have donated to make this possible already. If you would like to donate again or spread the word, you can do so here: https://campshomria.com/blogs/news/yachad-for-ukraine.
Some Reflections, Next Steps, and a Request:
I was left with a strong mix of emotions parting from TESCO. On the one hand, was the vivid realization of how senseless violence can so quickly uproot people’s lives. I met one teenager my younger brother’s age from Odessa, (who like my little brother has a great sense of fashion), who had grown up going to the beach as a kid. With an offhand remark, he mentioned how today the beach is filled with mines, and I wondered how long it would be, if ever, until he and other kids would ever be able to enjoy swimming there again. Speaking with another kid from the Donetsk region, whose demeanor and humor immediately reminded me of a chanich from mosh, it occured to me that it is unclear if he will ever be able to return to his family’s home if it ends up under Russian occupation, or what kind of a home (if any) he would have to return to.
On the other hand, I was left with a deep sense of hope. Seeing the larger response in the refugee camp, of over a hundred volunteers who came together from all over the world, the resiliency of the kids we were with and their parents, and the space of true joy created in the children’s center, made me think over and over again of how strong and loving humanity can be.
Going forward, we will continue being involved in this work as a movement. Every week, we have been sending humanitarian aid shipments into Ukraine, some pictures from our recent shipments are below. Soon, we also plan to open a children’s center in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to help be part of the post-war rebuilding effort. This center will be run by members of our ken in Ukraine and locals in Kharkiv, with the aim of also being able to provide work in the region.
I will quote Jenya, a member of our ken from Kharkiv who has spoken to our community before about her experience fleeing. When she spoke to us, she ended both times with saying to our community: “thank you for not being indifferent”. I want to echo Jenya’s words and thank you all — it's remarkable how our community has come together, from across generations, to help this cause. Going forward, I want to ask that we continue to not be indifferent to refugees in Ukraine, and worldwide. Despite the news cycle moving on, the war is still raging in Ukraine, particularly in the East. Some of the most brutal battles in Europe’s history are happening right now in the Donbas, and the Russian government is continuing its illegal invasion at the cost of tens of thousands of civilian lives. Caught in the middle of this are innocent people, women, and children, who want more than anything to simply have a normal life.
If you would like to donate or spread the word, our link is here: https://campshomria.com/blogs/news/yachad-for-ukraine. We are also looking to publish our story so we can keep raising awareness, so if you know of anyone in journalism that might be interested, please let us know.
I look forward to us continuing this work as a community, and providing spaces of love, hope, and resistance during this time.