Albany County

Local man seeks to shed light on Ukrainian refugee crisis

Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg

With reports indicating that Russia is repositioning its troops in Ukraine, one local man has embarked on a three-day-fact-finding mission to the Ukrainian border on Sunday in the hopes of casting a light on the plight of scores of refugees displaced by the war. 

Hank Greenberg of Slingerlands is one of 30 members of the Jewish Federations that will be traveling to the Polish village of Medyka, a major border-crossing between Ukraine and Poland, where thousands have sought refuge in the weeks since Russia’s deadly invasion.

“We see everyday on the news, we can’t escape it, the war itself — the strategy, the plotting and all of that,” Greenberg said Thursday. “Not only are cities in Ukraine like Mariupol being reduced to rubble, but the human toll is incomprehensible and the refugee crisis is growing.”

Greenberg hopes to share what he’s seen with local community groups to help bolster local fundraising efforts being carried out by the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, which has raised more than $100,000 to aid Ukrainian refugees so far.

The Jewish Federations of North America have raised more than $41 million to aid refugees — more than doubling its $20 million fundraising goal established at the onset of the around six weeks ago.

“Many people say, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’” Greenberg said. “One way to help is to provide aid.”

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More than 6 million Ukrainians have been displaced since Russia launched a full-scale military invasion on Feb. 24. Nearly 2 million have crossed into Poland, flooding small towns like Medyka, where volunteers have established temporary shelters for refugees as they wait to enter into the country or meet up with family.

Greenberg said aiding those in need is a central tenet of the Jewish faith, adding that Jewish people are all too familiar with ability of a ‘madman” to target innocent people — referring to the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed and scores more displaced throughout Europe during World War II.

“What we will never forget is the capacity of a madman to turn the world upside down and inflict unspeakable horror,” Greenberg said. “There are monsters in the world and there’s a monster in the world right now and that is (Russian President) Vladimir Putin.”

Putin falsely claimed that Ukraine, a sovereign nation since 1990, has always belonged to Russia in justifying his invitation, and has since engaged in a disinformation campaign to stave off criticism at home and abroad.

But world leaders called for increased action after a report detailing possible Russian war crimes was released on Sunday along with images showing civilian casualties in the streets of a town near Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv.

Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit that tracks human rights abuses around the world, issued a report alleging “several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine.”

The report details a number of incidents, including rapes, summary executions and several cases of violence against Ukrainian civilians between Feb. 27 and March 14.

The report was issued a day after Russian troops began withdrawing from the Kyiv region, leading to the discovery of mass graves and bodies in the streets, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

Images of the atrocities began circulation via the Associated Press and other media outlets, prompting world leaders to call for investigations.

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Reports indicate that Russian forces, which have sustained heavy casualties, are preparing to change their tactics and focus their invasion on the eastern and southern areas of Ukraine.

Greenberg, meanwhile, hopes his trip will help shed a light on Ukrainian refugees, which he fears are not getting the full attention they deserve.

He noted that the number of refugees will increase as the Russian invasion continues and will continue to persist even after the conflict ends.

Everyone has a role to play in providing assistance, Greenberg said.

He plans to meet with community members and organizations to share what he saw while at the border in order to bolster fundraising efforts, which he said are just beginning.

The first meeting will take place at Temple Israel in Albany Wednesday at 7 p.m., just hours after Greenberg returns home.

“We haven’t seen, at least in the west, a humanitarian crisis like this in 80 years,” he said. “It’s World War II-era profound in terms of the gravity of the crisis from the refugee perspective.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

More News – The Daily Gazette

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