Hryhoriy (Grigoriy) Arshynov, a Ukrainian civil engineer who devoted his life to preserving desolate Jewish sites in his homeland, passed away on Nov. 1, 2020, from complications related to the coronavirus. He was 59 years old.

Arshynov, known to his friends as “Grisha,” served as the head of the municipal council of Ostroh, some four hours west of Kyiv, where he was born and raised in an assimilated Jewish family, according to the JTA. During the 1980s, he began to delve into his Jewish identity and got involved in preserving cemeteries in Ukraine.

In 2015, the neglected state of the once grand 17th-century Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh was widely made known by the Hebrew University’s Center for Jewish Art. The Maharsha—Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) originally from Krakow, Poland—was a famed Talmudic commentator. The synagogue, built in 1627, was damaged during the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648-1657), when many Ukrainian Jews were massacred by marauding Cossack hordes. Centuries later, it was damaged again during the Holocaust.

Arshynov dedicated himself to restoring the structure so that it could once again serve Jewish life.

Arshynov invested personal funds in the project and secured several donors to support restoration of the synagogue, which had progressed to an advanced stage by the time of his death. Friends have since set up a GoFundMe web page to help the project see its completion in Arshynov’s memory.

“It is difficult to overstate the contribution Grisha made to the preservation of Jewish heritage in Ukraine; for decades, he worked to ensure that Jewish historical sites in Ostroh and beyond not be allowed to fall into neglect and disrepair, and he pioneered the protection of such sites across the country,” the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative said of its founding director.

“His passing is a great loss to Jewish heritage protection in western Ukraine and a real setback for projects we had planned with him in Rohatyn for 2021,” said Marla Raucher Osborn, who collaborated with Arshynov through her work with Rohatyn Jewish Heritage.

Restoring the Maharsha Synagogue stirred a deep sense of responsibility, he revealed in a short film about the project.

“And this is the last point: If not me, because my older children are in the USA, and it is unlikely that they will deal with Ostroh synagogue,” he said in the film. “I am the last one who can do it. I thought that it is my last chance to make the most of my life.”

Arshynov was buried in the Ostroh Jewish cemetery, which he almost single-handedly restored.

Readers are invited to express their condolences or memories of the departed in the Reader Comments box that follows this article.

To provide additional information for this article, or to submit the names and information about other Jewish victims of the coronavirus, please use this form.