Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Vinnytsia, a city in western Ukraine with a large Jewish population, was considered a safe haven as it was far from the front lines. But the residents’ sense of security was irretrievably shattered when the city came under Russian attack late last week.
Over 23 people were killed, including three young children, and over 100 people were injured when three Russian missiles fired from a Russian ship in the Black Sea damaged offices, residential buildings, stores, and a medical clinic on Thursday. President Volodymyr Zelensky called the killings an act of terrorism – a deliberate targeting of civilians in a location without military value.
Rav Shaul Horowitz, who heads the Chabad house in the city together with his wife, told B’Chadrei Chareidim that “due to our reputation as a safe city, thousands of refugees moved here, and many of them are still here.”
Rav Horowitz accounted how a Jewish woman from the local community was the only survivor among passengers of a public bus that was caught in a missile’s path. The bus driver, who understood the impending danger, ordered everyone to bend over. She was the only one on the bus who heeded the driver’s warning — and the only one who survived.
After the missiles hit, volunteers from the Chabad house went door to door to check on the members of the Jewish community, especially the elderly. Jewish kehilla representatives distribute food packages to the refugees, some of whom live in the Ohr Avner school.
The Jewish kehilla in the city has a long and tragic history. Almost the entire Jewish population was wiped out during the Cossack pogroms of 1648-49. During the 1930s and early 1940s, the city was the site of massacres, first during Stalin’s purges and then during the Holocaust in Ukraine and the Nazi occupation
Vinnytsia had a pre-war Jewish population of over 34,000, but only 17,000 of these Jews remained when the Nazis took over the city, with the rest having fled or been deported earlier. The Einsatzgruppen committed terrible atrocities in the city, slaughtering almost all the remaining Jews by shooting them into open pits.
One infamous photo, The Last Jew of Vinnista, shows an Einsatzgruppe member about to shoot a Jewish man kneeling in front of a mass grave. The text The Last Jew of Vinnista was written on the back of the photograph, which was found in a photo album belonging to a German soldier. The city was captured by the Red Army on March 20, 1944.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)