As fighting rages on, the Jewish Festival of Lights begins in Ukraine

Jews in Ukraine waging a “war between darkness and light” lit a giant menorah on Sunday night to start the eight-day Hanukkah holiday as tens of thousands were left without power and Russia’s nearly 10-month war claimed new lives.

Dozens gathered at sunset on the Maidan Independence Square in the capital Kyiv to light the first candle of what local Jewish leaders say is Europe’s tallest menorah. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko attended a ceremony organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine along with ambassadors from Israel, the United States, Japan, Poland, Canada and France. They chanted blessings under the flames of the menorah, which towered over the crowds and passing cars in cold weather.

Rabbi Mayer Stambler, a leader of the Jewish community in Ukraine, drew parallels with the story of Hanukkah, an eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians more than 2,000 years ago. When there was only enough oil left to keep the temple candles burning for one day and night, the oil inexplicably burned for eight days and eight nights—a feat now celebrated as the Jewish Festival of Lights.

“Actually, we’re experiencing the same situation now,” Stambler said, drawing a parallel to the current power outages in Ukraine caused by Russian bombing. “This is a war between darkness and light.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, congratulated the Jews of the world on Hanukkah and also noted the inspiration of this holiday for his people.

“Those who were fewer defeated the stronger. The light has conquered the darkness. It will be the same this time,” he vowed in a video address late Sunday.

Among those watching the Kiev Menorah illuminations was 47-year-old Viktoria Herman, who said the festival of lights brought her hope during the December days with the least sunlight of the year.

“There will be light and everything will be fine for everyone. And finally the war will end,” she said.

Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky said: “I wish the people of Ukraine all that Hanukkah symbolizes.

Volunteers distributed thousands of menorahs, candles, printed materials, family puzzles and holiday sweets to members of Ukraine’s Jewish minority.

Amid the holiday symbolism, Ukraine’s state power grid operator Ukrenergo said on Sunday it was still working to restore power supplies damaged by Russian missiles. The network operator announced that power consumption had increased compared to Saturday due to falling temperatures.

Zelenskyi reported that electricity was restored to 3 million Ukrainians on Sunday, adding to the 6 million the previous day.

On the battlefield, Russian forces shelled the center of Kherson on Sunday, the major city from which Russian soldiers retreated last month in one of the biggest battlefield setbacks in Moscow, Ukraine.

Three people were injured in the attacks, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy chief of staff to the president.

The southern city and its environs have been attacked frequently since the Russian retreat. Regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevich said Sunday Russia had carried out 54 rocket, mortar and tank attacks the previous day, killing three and injuring six.

In the city of Donetsk, capital of a region illegally annexed by Russia, a Ukrainian attack on a hospital has killed one patient and wounded several others, the Russian-installed mayor reported via messaging app Telegram.

Meanwhile in Russia, Belgorod region governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian shelling of the region, which lies on Ukraine’s northern border, killed one person and wounded eight.

In the final stages of the war, Moscow’s armed forces have heavily targeted infrastructure serving civilians, such as water and power lines, exacerbating Ukrainians’ suffering in winter.

Zelenskyy used Sunday’s final game of the World Cup to denounce the war.

“This World Cup has proven again and again that different countries and different nationalities can decide who is the strongest in fair play, but not in playing with fire – on the green field, not on the red battlefield,” Zelenskyy said in an English video Statement released hours before Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties.

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