Protecting the Most Vulnerable in the FSU

November 5, 2013


Dora Pozel lives alone in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine, the only Jewish resident of a small, isolated village called Nizhnie Vorota. The nearest Jewish community center is located more than 20 miles from her home.

Though her mother raised her as Jewish, Dora was evacuated and sent to an orphanage during the Soviet repression of the 1930s. She then attended college, became a teacher, and married; she and her now-deceased husband had no children.

Without the help of JDC, Dora would not be able to survive. Even stretching her monthly pension, Dora cannot afford to heat her home on her own.

JDC gives Dora its full arsenal of assistance each winter through its Hesed network of social welfare centers. In addition to the medication and food help she receives throughout the year, Dora receives firewood, warm clothes, and bottled gas.

In recent years, JDC has even worked to winterize Dora’s home, equipping it with a gas stove and electric heater and installing a radiator.

Dora is not alone in receiving help from JDC to survive the harsh winter. In central and western Ukraine, 2,715 clients benefited from JDC’s Winter Relief Program last year.

JDC’s work in preparing the most vulnerable Jews for winter is one of its signature accomplishments throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU).

“In different parts of the FSU, winter assistance remains relevant and sometimes even critical for survival,” said Yulia Lidis, a JDC staff member in the region.

In the Moscow region, JDC used to operate a program that provided poor Jews with heaters and firewood, but as the city and its suburbs developed, houses in the region were increasingly well heated. The Winter Relief Program became less relevant and was discontinued.

JDC restarted the program last year when it became clear that the pensions of residents in the region were not enough to cover important winter needs. The program was modified to provide clients with warm clothes and blankets. Last year, 5,500 of the most vulnerable Jews in the Moscow region were served through Hesed.

The Winter Relief Progam is also crucial in Moldova, which remains one of the poorest countries in Europe with a third of residents living below the poverty line.

The program helps people like 64-year-old Stelian Obada, who lives alone in the small village of Corneshti, and suffers from cerebral palsy, severe arthritis, glaucoma, and central retinal artery thrombosis. His movement is extremely limited, and he lives on the equivalent of $23/month, his disability pension – half of which he must use to pay his electric bill.

Stelian’s village is located about 60 miles from the Moldovan capital of Chisinau (Kishinev) and his house is secluded, set far back from the main road in a remote valley. When it snows or rains, the road becomes impassable and JDCHesed workers must carry a nearly 25-pound food package to his front door.

Stelian also receives two tons of coal, one gas cylinder, and firewood to survive the winter.

More than 2,000 miles east of Moldova, Hesed Tikva in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, supports two vulnerable populations at the same time with its Winter Relief initiative. The Hesed places its orders for warm bedding and linens at a company staffed fully by the visually and hearing-impaired.

Last year, 84 bedding sets were purchased and distributed to Hesed clients, and the heating bills of 170 clients in four different locations were paid by JDC. In addition, 35 tons of coal was distributed to 16 clients in three locations without central heating.

For more information on our work in the former Soviet Union:

Services for victims of Nazi persecution in the former Soviet Union are generously supported by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

JDC’s work in this arena is generously supported by the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Charitable Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, UIA Canada and UJA-Federation of Toronto, Stan Silverman of Vancouver, the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, the Viterbi Family Foundation, Carole and Jerome Turk, the Skirball Foundation, Stacy H. Schusterman and Steven H. Dow, an anonymous foundation, Irwin and Joan Jacobs, The Parasol Foundation Trust, the Abraham and Sonia Rochlin Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, under the leadership of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Canada, World Jewish Relief, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

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