A Summer Oasis: Ukrainians at Szarvas

Living in Odessa with his unemployed mother and seasonally employed father, Nikita Vichorev, 14, gets a lot of assistance from JDC's Hesed social welfare center in Odessa, Ukraine: a food card to purchase groceries, winter relief like blankets and warm clothes, school supplies, and subsidized participation in Jewish community events.

This summer, the teen -- an accomplished violinist -- is headed to Szarvas, the pioneering international Jewish summer camp operated by JDC and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in rural Hungary.

He's one of dozens of children from Ukraine and Russia that will attend the camp's 25th summer -- a welcome respite from the tension gripping their nations.

“To imagine that our son would one day go abroad and even spend a dozen days with his peers from other Jewish communities is something we could never predicted," said Svetlana, Nikita's mother. "I am thankful to our Hesed for offering this chance to us."

Nikita will be joined by 13 other children from Odessa, along with 68 other Ukrainian kids from Kiev, Kharkov, and Dnepropetrovsk. In addition, 98 children will participate from Russia.

The Ukrainians and Russians are not the only children attending Szarvas from the former Soviet Union; thirty kids from Moldova will make the trip, as will a group of 22 children from Minsk, Belarus.

About four hours northeast of Odessa in the Ukrainian city of Kirovograd, 17-year-old Remizova is also preparing for Szarvas.

One of the organizers and most active participants of the Kirovograd Hesed's Mifgash Youth Club, Anya was a madrich (counselor) at the club's first Shabbaton in 2010 organized a family shabbaton for children and parents in 2013.

Anya participates in every possible Hesed event: visiting homebound and bedridden war veterans, cleaning the Jewish cemetery with other youngsters and adults, observing Jewish holidays with vulnerable elderly; and performing in community holiday celebrations.

Though she's proud of her extracurricular activities and impressive involvement in the Jewish community, Anya said Szarvas represents an exciting new step -- especially at such a difficult time for Ukraine.

“Luckily, I can boast of many friends and interesting events in my life. But I hope that Szarvas will bring me more Jewish friends from around the globe," she said. "I’d like to learn about how Jews live in other parts of the world,  and to then transfer that knowledge then to my friends in Kirovograd. I want all of them to feel part of the global Jewish community, just as I hopefully will in Hungary."

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