Ukraine’s religious communities ask Russia to pull out troops

(JTA) — Religious communities in Ukraine, including the Jewish community, called on the Russian authorities to “stop its aggression against Ukraine” and pull out their troops.

The religious communities also appealed to the international community, including the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to “stop foreign invasion into Ukraine and brutal interference into our internal affairs.”

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Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, was one of the signatories of the letter, circulated by the Institute for Religious Freedom. Other signatories include the heads of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; the Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine; the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ukraine; and the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Russia! The Ukrainian people have only friendly, fraternal feelings toward the Russian people. Do not believe the propaganda that enflames hostility between us. We want and we will continue to build friendly and fraternal relations with Russia but only as a sovereign and independent state,” the letter stated.

In a statement released on Friday, Rabbi Michael Kapustin of the Ner Tamid Reform synagogue in Simferopol in the Crimean Peninsula, said he would be in the synagogue to light candles, despite the fact that services were cancelled due to security reasons.

“The city is occupied by Russians. Apparently Russians intend to take over the Crimea and make it a part of Russia,” Kapustin said. ”If this were the case I would leave the country. In this case, I will leave this country since I want to live in democratic Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, the Joint Distribution Committee announced early Sunday morning that it has activated emergency plans to help needy Jews in Crimea, which is home to about 17,000 Jews who live in and around Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosia, and Yalta. The assistance includes delivering food and medicine to the homes of elderly and poor Jews, establishing emergency phone chains, and increasing security around Jewish community centers.

The organization said in a statement that it has “prepared appropriate contingency plans in case the situation worsens.”

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