Providing Winter Relief for the World's Poorest Jews
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When the violence in Ukraine spread to the eastern city of Donetsk, the Khomich family — 49-year-old Olga, her 87-year-old mother Lyudmila, and her 8-year-old daughter Polina, who suffers from cerebral palsy — found themselves caught in the crosshairs of an escalating political crisis.
Afraid the fighting would reach their home or threaten their lives, the Khomich family fled Donetsk and found refuge in Zaporozhye, a city of 775,000 — around the size of Charlotte, N.C. — located about three and a half hours west. JDC has helped the trio find housing, medical care, a wheelchair for Polina, and other basic needs in their new city — essential goods and services Olga would otherwise be unable to.
But winter presents a new and ferocious challenge.
In addition to crippling economic challenges — including devalued local currency and pensions and a 50 to 80 percent increase in the costs of food and medicine — a series of energy-saving measures will be enacted in Ukraine this year, leaving many poor and elderly people with little resources to survive below freezing temperatures. Theses include planned power outages and asking citizens to lower heating thermostats to below 60 Fahrenheit.
That’s where JDC and its signature Winter Relief program comes in. Annually, the initiative deliver tons of heating fuel, warm bedding, and clothing to needy Jews across the former Soviet Union — and it's been critically expanded in Ukraine this year to respond to a harsh winter worsened by the country’s energy crisis, skyrocketing costs, ongoing unrest, and the growing needs of displaced Jews.
The ramp-up of services — including window repairs and replacements, subsidizing utility payments, and providing extra fuel — represents a seven-fold increase in JDC’s Ukraine Winter Relief budget.
“While winter relief is a lifeline for tens of thousands of Jews in need on any given year, its even more essential in Ukraine where utility prices have soared and the crisis has continued with no end in sight.” said Michal Frank, director of JDC’s Former Soviet Union department. “We have proudly stood by the Jews of Ukraine during this period and, together with our invaluable partners, have redoubled our efforts to ensure this winter is imbued with the warmth of Jewish solidarity and mutual care.”
JDC staff and professionals at the 32 JDC-supported Hesed social welfare centers in Ukraine are providing extra winter supplies and services to poor elderly, struggling families, and displaced Jews who often cannot afford their utility bills or have direct access to heating supplies.
For the Khomich family, the assistance has taken the form of warm clothing and footwear, in addition to the existing aid package they are receiving as a displaced family.
“Our work with the Khomich family and so many others … is the ultimate expression of our mission and dedication to Jews in need,” Frank said.
The program operates in cooperation with the local Jewish community and groups like Chabad and would not be possible without generous support from JDC’s Board of Directors,individual donors and foundations, and trusted partners, including Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Federations, World Jewish Relief, and the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany, she added.
There are more than 5,000 JDC clients remaining in eastern Ukraine, still suffering under shelling and fear of violence, and more than 2,000 displaced Jews JDC is caring for in different cities away from the conflict.