Urgent Aid to Jews Under Threat From Rising Violence, Frigid Winter

February 10, 2015


Despite her own battle with cancer and struggles as the single mother of a preteen with immune deficiencies and chronic respiratory issues, Marina Kasyanov is a portrait of optimism and grace.

The 42-year-old, who must spend a significant portion of her meager $121 monthly income on healthcare-related costs, lives with her 12-year-old daughter Michel in the small southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol.

Each winter, Marina frets about the state of her modest two-room apartment: Will she be able to keep it warm enough in Ukraine’s brutal cold to protect Michel from developing one of her frequent infections?

That’s where the JDC-supported Jewish Family Service comes in, providing the Kasyanovs a new space heater and other winter relief supplies, as well as vitamins, fruits, and vegetables.

Michel was so moved by the gift of the heater she was compelled to write a thank-you letter to the director of JDC’s local Hesed social welfare center — one of a network of 32 such centers serving 60,000 Jews in need in more than 1,000 locations across Ukraine.

“My mother and I wanted to buy a heater very much to make our room warmer,” the tween girl wrote. “The heater is so great. It is so big and new. Thank you from our family.”

JDC has significantly expanded its Winter Relief Program in Ukraine this year in response 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, subsidies for utility payments, and the provision of 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 in any given year, it’s 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.”

Though her infections force her to miss class from time to time, Michel is a strong student, passionate about singing, playing the violin, and knitting. She’s also fond of foreign languages, including Hebrew. In 2013, she took part in Melitopol’s City Day community festival, representing the city’s Jewish community.

Marina, too, wrote a letter to the local Hesed after the family received the heater they so critically needed.

JDC’s support of her family, she wrote, gives her daughter the chance of a better future.

“I want to say thank you to the welfare center for the regular assistance and support given to my daughter,” she wrote. “It really helps us.”

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