Feature Stories

Homecare Worker Goes the Extra Mile to Rescue the Elderly

“I know that if I am not there for a day, no one will help them, and they will suffer,” explains homecare worker Tania, who braves winter’s extreme temperatures to ensure the elderly Jews she cares for survive the life-threatening conditions.
“I know that if I am not there for a day, no one will help them, and they will suffer,” explains homecare worker Tania, who braves winter’s extreme temperatures to ensure the elderly Jews she cares for survive the life-threatening conditions.

The extreme cold that enveloped the European continent last winter impacted many, but for thousands of elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU) living in already dire circumstances, the freeze became life threatening.

Some 24,000 of JDC’s 160,000 elderly Hesed beneficiaries live in villages located hundreds—even thousands—of miles from the nearest city, with rudimentary heating in rundown homes open to the cold and damp. Many have no indoor plumbing; some still get their drinking water from wells. Once hardy, these now fragile elderly brave the elements several times a day just to fill basic human needs.

Financially strapped even in good months, they’re unable to stock up for winter. Yet, when weather becomes extreme, even good neighbors cannot be relied on to bring a loaf of bread or some potatoes to stave off hunger.

But the Hesed welfare network that JDC helps support can and does—as it proved repeatedly last winter. Fueled by a mix of good planning, ingenuity, and dedication, staff members responded to even the most daunting of challenges, determined to keep the people they cared for safe.

In a year characterized by superlative efforts, what Tania, a home care worker in a rural corner of Ukraine, did for “her people”—as she affectionately calls the couple she cares for—stood out.

Tatiana, who lost both her legs in a long-ago car accident, and Bronislav, who’s walked with a severe limp since childhood, live in the same village as Tania, but she needs a moped to reach them on their remote farm. She visits them five days a week, waking at 4 a.m. to milk her cows and prepare food for her two children before spending six to seven hours cooking, cleaning, and generally caring for her increasingly immobile clients.

“I know that if I am not there for a day, no one will help them, and they will suffer,” says Tania.

So what did she do this past winter, when the mercury fell to -27 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow and ice made road travel unthinkable? Tania borrowed a horse and sleigh from her brother—and never missed a day! “I could not think not to go,” says Tania, “because they will just starve. How in this case is it possible to allow my own self-pity!”

For 70+ days, Tania filled the sleigh with food, water, and supplies, adding hay and blankets to keep the horse warm while she worked. And on the five days that her brother could not lend her the horse, Tania walked, for over an hour, in the bitter cold.

“For me, helping Tatiana and Bronislov is beyond the job,” Tania said, explaining what inspired her to go to such lengths. “Despite their condition, they do not lose heart! They amaze me with that. They are my close friends.... I am doing everything for them as for my relatives. I do not see any difficulties in my work; how is it possible to have hardships in the work that you love?”

Tags for this story: Elderly

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