Poland community center run by New Yorker serves as shelter for Ukrainian refugees

Josh Einiger Image
Friday, April 29, 2022
Poland community center serves as shelter for Ukrainian refugees
Krakow is the second-largest city in Poland, which has seen its population jump by more than 20% due to the influx of Ukrainian refugees.

KRAKOW, Poland (WABC) -- With millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine, many of them are going to Poland to find shelter at a Jewish community center run by a native New Yorker.

Jonathan Ornstein is from Queens and is the executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, where they are funding hotel rooms for hundreds of refugees every day.

People line up down the block every day looking for everything from toothbrushes to housing, including hundreds of weary, hungry, dejected mothers and their kids.

The children are too young to comprehend what Zoriana knows all too well.

"The whole time I see the news, I cry because it's impossible," Zoriana said. "It's so, I'm tired and exhausted, really exhausted because it's an abnormal situation."

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All she lives for are her kids, 8-year-old Sophia and 4-year-old Andriana. They fled to Poland to be safe. Her husband is back home protecting their country.

She made it to Poland's second largest city, a place all too aware of hardship and pain.

"We're in Krakow," Ornstein said. "It's an hours drive from Auschwitz. An hours drive from the epicenter of the holocaust."

About 90% of Krakow's Jewish population were exterminated by Adolf Hitler. For 30 years, Ornstein, who was born in Forest Hills, has made it his mission to keep their memory alive at the local Jewish community center he runs.

It's a mission that's evolved drastically in the past few months.

"We understand as another community Ukrainians are being victimized, we have to have learn the lesson of the holocaust which is not to be indifferent and not to stand silent as others are being victimized," Ornstein said.

About 500 miles away on Thursday, the secretary general of the United Nations made his way to the Kyiv region towns of Borodiana and Bucha, where hundreds of Ukrainian corpses, civilian non-combatants, have been found since Russian forces destroyed entire neighborhoods and then withdrew.

"I imagine my family in one of those houses not destroyed," António Guterres said. "I see my granddaughters running away in panic."

They are running away, in many cases, to places like JCC in Poland.

It has raised funds to stock shelves and provide free shelter for Ukrainian refugees of any religion.

Refugees like Zoriana, who's lost everything but Sophia and Andriana, who are the innocent victims of a vicious war.

"Kids. Only my kids. I live for kids," Zoriana said.

You can find more information on the JCC at their website. You can also help support the humanitarian effort by visiting the Corporate Aid for Ukraine website.


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