ORT was founded in St Petersburg, Tsarist Russia, in 1880 to provide employable skills for the Russian Empire’s impoverished Jewish people. ORT distributed funds to Jewish schools for handicraft and agricultural training and provided grants or loans to artisans and farmers throughout the Russian Empire, which at that time included what is today’s Ukraine.
In the 1900s the organisation began to sponsor cooperative ventures, to support training programmes in Jewish schools and to establish its own vocational schools. During and after World War I, ORT’s workshops, credit and labour offices saved thousands from starvation and unemployment.
Following the 1917 Revolution farming became an important means of livelihood for the Jewish population in parts of Ukraine. ORT provided technical advice and economic aid to the old Jewish colonists in southern Ukraine, who had suffered greatly during the pogroms and civil disorders. It also promoted new Jewish agricultural settlements in suitable areas. New ORT settlements were organised in Berdychiv, Kamyanets Podilskyy, Vinnytsya, Cherkasy, and Novohrad-Volynskyy. Agricultural training courses and an agricultural cooperative in Odessa were enlarged, and a club was created to promote farming pursuits among Jewish youth and adults. ORT created small vegetable gardens at some 50 Jewish primary schools and a technical book on Jewish farming was issued by the local ORT in Kiev.
Toward the end of the 1920s the Jewish settlements in Ukraine were combined by the government into three large Jewish national districts: Kalinindorf (1927), Novozlatopolie (1929), and Stalindorf (1930). This was followed by the collectivisation of Jewish colonies around 1930.
During the 1930s industrialisation attained high priority in the USSR. Soviet ORT in Ukraine had offices in Kiev, Kharkiv and Odessa, and in cooperation with Soviet economic agencies was instrumental in establishing new industrial undertakings. These included a brick factory in Lipovtsy, artels in Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Chernihiv, Kiev and Kharkiv, and cooperatives in Crimea. With help from ORT Union, Soviet ORT supplied artisans with machinery and tools, helped modernise their shops, and expanded opportunities for additional manpower. It also provided homeworkers with loans for machinery.
In 1938 ORT’s cooperation agreement with the Soviet authorities expired and was not renewed. All work was stopped, and inventories, shops, equipment, and bank accounts in Crimea, southern Ukraine, and elsewhere were taken over by the authorities.
ORT returned to Ukraine in 1997 with the opening of the first ORT Ukraine school in Odessa. In August 2000, ORT and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine signed a memorandum to formalise their cooperation in the fields of general, elementary and secondary professional education. Since then ORT has made a major impact on the quality of its Jewish schools in the country and subsequently on the Jewish communities in which those schools are located, providing Jewish people with excellence in education for all ages from pre-school to the elderly.