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UKRAINE

Germany welcomes Ukraine’s Jews 77 years after the Holocaust

At the entrance to a school in Berlin, multicoloured letters spell out "welcome" for nine Jewish children from Ukraine above a drawing of the German, Ukrainian and Israeli flags surrounded by red hearts.

Ukrainian Jews in Berlin
Germany's Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein (3rd L) listens to the testimonies of Ukrainian jews Irina (L) and Ilona (R) from Kyiv at Berlin's Jewish International school in Berlin on March 24th, 2022. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Staff and pupils at the school, run by a “progressive traditional” Jewish movement known as Masorti, warmly greeted the children who fled their homes in Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkiv following the Russian invasion.

Seventy-seven years after the end of the Nazi regime, Germany has become a place of refuge for thousands of Ukrainian Jews.

In Berlin, they have been received by a sizeable community of Russian-speaking Jews who have moved to the capital since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It’s remarkable that Jews come to Germany given the terrible crimes committed by Germans in Ukraine during the Second World War,” Felix Klein, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, says on a visit to the school.

READ ALSO: ‘It feels like a dream’: The Ukrainian refugees arriving in Berlin from war zone

Some 3,000 Ukrainian Jews — out of a total of 283,000 refugees from the war-torn country — have already arrived in Germany, according to figures provided by Klein.

‘Well prepared’

That Ukrainian Jews would look to the country for protection “does not go without saying”, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster says. “But Germany has taken on its historic obligations.”

Since the Russian invasion began in late February, Germans have come out in their droves to show solidarity, offering places to stay, warm meals and clothes to Ukrainians who have left everything behind.

The Jewish community in Germany is “particularly well prepared” to greet them, says rabbi Gesa Ederberg at the school where around 60 children between the ages of six and 12 are taught in both German and Hebrew.

Germany's Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein

Germany’s Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein addresses reporters after listening to the testimonies of Ukrainian jews Irina (sitting, L) and Ilona (sitting R) at Berlin’s Jewish International school in Berlin on March 24th, 2022. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

“Forty percent of our members have Ukrainian roots,” she says, while “80 percent speak Russian.”

In the last 30 years, Germany has become a destination for Jews emigrating from the former Soviet Union to whom it has given residence and work permits.

Between 1993 and 2020, more than 210,000 Jews from places such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova have made Germany their new home.

The country’s Jewish population, almost extinguished during the Shoah, is now Europe’s third-largest behind France and Britain.

A new member of the “welcome class”, Sonia, 11, with a blonde fringe and socks pulled up to her knees, says she has found in Berlin a Jewish community “much bigger than in Odessa”.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: How Germany’s government plans to help Ukrainian refugees

‘Grateful’

For Ilona, joining back up with the Masorti community, which she was a part of in Kyiv, has been like finding a family.

“We have a roof over our heads and have been able to bring our children to safety,” says the mother of two girls, aged 13 and five.

“We were on a train to Chernivtsi (in the southwest of Ukraine) when the war broke out,” Ilona says with tears in her eyes. “We stayed there a week,” she says, before being evacuated by bus.

Despite the anxiety that grips her when she thinks of her husband, who stayed behind to fight for Ukraine, or her sister and niece stuck in Kyiv, Ilona says she is “extremely grateful” to Germany.

The strong links between Jews in Ukraine and Germany have helped to evacuate 120 children from Odessa, most of them orphans, and moved many to open their doors to refugees.

Berliner Till Rohmann has made the spare rooms in his house available to host two families from Odessa and Kharkiv.

“We are doing what we can to make them feel at home,” says Rohmann, a musician who has previously welcomed refugees from Syria into his home.

“Compared with 2015, we have some cultural similarities with the Ukrainian Jews,” says Rohmann, himself Jewish.

“We can communicate in Hebrew and can say the Shabbat prayers together.”

By Yannick Pasquet

READ ALSO: How people in Germany can support Ukraine

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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