Montreal rabbis land in Poland to support refugees

The rabbis will be handing out food, clothes and children’s toys to those crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland. Roughly 1.7 million people have now fled Ukraine, the UN refugee agency says.

The 3 rabbis will be handing out humanitarian aid at the Ukrainian-Polish border

Rabbi Reuben Poupko is one of 3 local rabbis in Europe. Here he is giving at a Montreal protest in solidarity with Ukrainian people on Feb. 27, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a murderer. (CBC News)

Three Montreal rabbis landed in Warsaw, Poland on Monday to help support humanitarian efforts as refugees from Ukraine flood into the country each day. 

They will be handing out food, clothes and children's toys to those crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland, and said they plan to stay there for two days. 

Roughly 1.7 million people have now fled Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency, in what they called "the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II."

Russia announced a handful of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee Ukraine starting Monday, although the evacuation routes were mostly leading to Russia and its ally Belarus, drawing criticism from Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to pummel Ukrainian cities including Mykolaiv, south of the capital of Kyiv, indicating there would be no wider cessation of hostilities.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko is from the Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Côte St. Luc, and has been speaking out against Russia's invasion since it began in late February.

Poupko has roots in Ukraine and said he's inspired by Ukrainians' bravery, adding what's happening in their country should be a wake-up call to the world. 

"We can't take freedom for granted. It's a wake-up call that when you tolerate what happened in Crimea and in Donbas a few years back, this is maybe the result," he said alongside the other rabbis after arriving in Warsaw. 

"[We] need to stand up to tyranny early before it metastasizes."

WATCH | Montreal rabbis explain why they wanted to go to Poland: 

Montreal rabbis reveal what inspired them to go help Ukrainian refugees

4 months ago
Duration 3:36
Rabbis Reuben Poupko, left, Mark Fishman, centre, and Adam Scheier arrived in Warsaw, Poland on Monday. (Lauren Mccallum)

His late mother was born in Ukraine, and his grandfather was a rabbi in the country before they came to North America in the 1920's.

Over one million Jews were killed in Soviet Ukraine during the Holocaust, historian Dieter Pohl estimates. 

Poupko also wants Canada and other Western countries to do more to provide help to Ukrainian refugees.

"Everyone has to stand up and do their part," he said.

Rabbi Adam Scheier represents the Shaar Hashomayim Congregation in Westmount, and is a descendant of Ukrainian refugees himself. 

"They left in search of their freedom. They were forced out, driven out," he said. "To see history repeating itself in this way, and to see people so vulnerable, scared and in need of the assistance of others, that's certainly something that's drawn me to this place."

Rabbi Mark Fishman from Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Montreal's West Island doesn't have any family ties to Ukraine, but said he didn't feel comfortable sitting on the sidelines. 

"There's this unbelievable humanitarian crisis that's unfolding and as we are watching the television and the news on the internet, it's just a lot of hand-wringing, and feelings of helplessness. So much needs to be done," he said. 

"Jewish people are one large extended family. A stranger who we have never met before and never will meet ever again, we consider as our brothers and sisters."

With files from Lauren Mccallum