Amid blackouts and single-digit temperatures, living conditions are becoming unbearable in many parts of Ukraine. Chabad centers around the war-weary nation are going all-out to keep their communities warm and safe after aerial bombings and missile attacks damaged electric grid infrastructure and power lines around the country.

Temperatures have dropped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit, are expected to go lower, and with the sun going down in some places as early as 3:30 p.m., many residents are spending most of their days and nights in the dark and cold.

“People are suffering,” said Judi Garrett of the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU), Chabad’s boots-on-the ground network around Ukraine, who points out that there are also frequent communications outages. “There have been ongoing attacks for the last two weeks with destruction of homes and buildings. It’s been a real challenge,” said Garrett. “People are spending more time at Chabad centers and public shelters, and we are hearing about more injuries and casualties.”

Chabad centers have been distributing heaters, blankets, home insulation and food in cities and towns around the nation since the beginning of the war, but with electricity down in so many places, they are having a huge problem with people needing help heating their homes, especially in outlying areas, noted Garrett.

At the Chabad Choral Synagogue in Kharkiv, which has been used as a shelter since the start of the war and from which Chabad organizes many of its food distributions, generators provided by JRNU ensure the power remains on and they can continue their life-saving work even when the city grid goes down.

Keeping the Kharkiv Jewish community warm and fed during this crisis is crucially important, said Miriam Moskovitz, who runs Chabad of Kharkiv with her husband, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz. “Our biggest concern right now is the constant rockets over the last few weeks,” she said.

Even people in those parts of Ukraine who are lucky enough to have power fear it’s only a matter of time before they, too, might be in the cold and dark.

Many homes in Ukraine have turned to wood fires for cooking and warmth. - Photo Chabad of Cherkassy
Many homes in Ukraine have turned to wood fires for cooking and warmth.
Photo Chabad of Cherkassy

“For right, thank G‑d, now we have electricity, and we have heat,” said Chani Axelrod, who with her husband, Rabbi Dov Axelrod, directs Chabad-Lubavitch Cherkassy. “But there are no promises it will stay that way. It starts to get dark at 3:30 in the afternoon, and the city turns off the streetlights later in the evening. People really need flashlights and batteries to get around. It is not pleasant to be outside.”

She said that has spoken to people in other areas where the power has been off for a few hours almost every day, and that it is “very hard and can be quite dangerous for people.”

“It’s why people need critical supplies that we give them—like the portable lamps, the blankets—so that even if the power is out for a little bit we can keep them warm and their homes lit. Every day that we have electricity,” she said, “we say it’s a miracle.”

Donations to help the Jews of Ukraine can be made at the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine website.

A Jewish woman and child in front of their home in Cherkassy. - Photo Chabad of Cherkassy
A Jewish woman and child in front of their home in Cherkassy.
Photo Chabad of Cherkassy
With no street lights at night, rare snow removals and sub-zero temperatures, getting help to those who are in need is treacherous. - Photo: Chabad of Cherkassy
With no street lights at night, rare snow removals and sub-zero temperatures, getting help to those who are in need is treacherous.
Photo: Chabad of Cherkassy