Home Health Care in the Former Soviet Union

May 13, 2019

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Liudmila Starikovich lives just a 10-minute walk from the nearest supermarket, but she’s entirely dependent on her JDC care team for food, medicine, personal hygiene items, and more.

Disabled all her life and severely overweight due to a hormone condition, Liudmila hasn’t been outside in nine years.

“My JDC homecare worker is the sunshine in my window,” she said. “Since I have a cataract, she reads to me. She bathes me, she cooks for me, she does laundry for me, she cleans. She is my eyes, my legs, and my ears.”

Starikovich is one of nearly 90,000 elderly Jews JDC cares for across the former Soviet Union. Most live alone, and many live on pensions as low as $2/day.

After paying her utility bills, Starikovich — a retired librarian and the daughter of two World War II veterans — is left with just $40 each month. Without JDC assistance, she’s sure she wouldn’t be able to survive.

“We Belarusians have lived through so many terrifying tragedies — Chernobyl, the war, the Holocaust,” she said. “It’s necessary to support those who are in need, and there are plenty of us. Without JDC support … well, I don’t even want to think about that.”

Jewish values are at the heart of JDC’s mission and response, said Svetlana Marshak, the director of social work at the Hesed social welfare center in Minsk.

“Our work isn’t easy, and I can’t deny that we face difficulties,” she said. “Still, I love this work and I do it because I’m Jewish, our clients are Jews, and supporting the vulnerable means guaranteeing the future of our community.”

Marshak, who’s worked for JDC since 2005, said some cases move her to her core: Liudmila Starikovich is one of them.

“Many destinies have passed before my eyes over the years, but there are some cases that really reach the soul … the ones where you realize that if JDC didn’t exist, we could really lose a person,” she said. “With Liudmila, the closest person in her life is her homecare worker. JDC has become her de facto family.”

I LOVE THIS WORK AND I DO IT BECAUSE I’M JEWISH, OUR CLIENTS ARE JEWS, AND SUPPORTING THE VULNERABLE MEANS GUARANTEEING THE FUTURE OF OUR COMMUNITY.

Across 11 time zones and 11 countries, JDC provides more than 18 million hours of home health care each year and operates 69 Hesed social welfare centers — the largest Jewish humanitarian relief effort since World War II.

But that scale isn’t what Starikovich thinks about each day.

For her, JDC is closer to home, more intimate: It’s a hot meal delivered, a comforting conversation, a dignified life.

“This organization has helped me since 1998, and I’ve never encountered anything other than utter kindness and understanding. They know the needs of a person,” she said. “It’s not only the aid they provide — they just get it.”

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