Ukrainian Flag
Ukrainian Flag

Members of the Jersey City Board of Education and the school community came together at Thursday night’s meeting to donate nearly $28,000 for survivors of the war in Ukraine and honor those who have fled the country, among them Zoya Tomash, the grandmother of board trustee Natalia Ioffe.

Natalia Ioffe was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, which was recently attacked by Russian forces. She immigrated to the U.S. with her family at age 11.

Tomash, a chemist and renowned scientist, had been leading a nonprofit in Ukraine before leaving her embattled hometown of Kyiv at her family’s urging. She attended the board meeting along with other Ukrainians.

Also at the meeting was Barbara Ioffe, Natalia Ioffe’s daughter. A sixth-grader at M.S. 4 , Ms. Ioffe briefly took the floor to read a poem she had written about her great-grandmother:

“My great grandmother lived there her whole life

and she would have stayed if it didn’t become a battlefront.

Siren after siren, bomb after bomb, she stayed unseen at home unable to flee.

That was until hope returned.”

The local school board’s efforts are part of a larger federal and statewide humanitarian response to aid Ukrainian refugees facing the conditions the younger Ms. Ioffe describes.

Gov. Phil Murphy wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on March 2, making it clear the state is “proud to do our part in welcoming Ukrainian men, women, and children who have left their generational homes.”

Biden on Thursday announced “plans to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression through the full range of legal pathways, including the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

In Jersey City, home to a thriving Ukrainian population, the schools recently held a “Dress Down Day” fundraiser for the citizens of Ukraine with proceeds going to Razom for Ukraine, an organization providing critical medical supplies and amplifying the voices of Ukrainians.

Students and staff were encouraged to wear the colors of the country’s flag, blue and yellow, the day of the event, a fundraiser in which students pay small amounts to wear something other than a uniform or the dress code. Students paid $1 and staff paid $5 for the fundraiser, a flier said.

At the meeting, Acting Superintendent of Schools Norma Fernandez presented a large check showing the $27,935.50 donation raised by the school community.

“We continue to view the destruction, and we wanted to do something to help,” Fernandez said. “On behalf of the students and staff of the Jersey City Public Schools, I want to present a check to Ms. Ioffe to share with Razom for Ukraine for the individuals who will find themselves starting new lives filled with uncertainty.”

Ioffe said her grandmother’s message to the acting superintendent was “Thank you for bringing me back with this.”

Her grandmother’s main sorrow in leaving her country is being separated from the people she was helping, Ioffe explained.

“For 60 years she was a career woman. She was a scientist, but she was also an executive in this field of science. She managed power stations, and then when she retired — people like that don’t ever retire — she formed a nonprofit specifically to help the veterans of her field.

“This is beyond family. You guys brought her back tonight to what she’s used to, like, her life.”

Andrea Crowley-Hughes is a writer and media maker motivated by chronicling and sustaining communities. Her reporting on education, sustainability and the restaurant industry has recently been featured...