Faces of the Ukraine Crisis: Aza Grigorenko

This isn't the first time Aza Grigorenko, 88, has been a refugee. It's not the first time she's been forced to leave her home because of war.

September 17, 2014

This isn’t the first time Aza Grigorenko, 88, has been a refugee. It’s not the first time she’s been forced to leave her home because of war.

As a teenager during World War II, she and her mother fled to Central Asia after the Nazis invaded her native Ukraine and her father was killed on the front lines. Even when it was considered safe enough to return, mother and daughter stayed away: With their hometown destroyed, they had nothing to return to.

Instead Aza and her mother settled in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, now caught in the crosshairs of a Ukraine in crisis. Aza soon adopted Slavyansk as home. There she studied to be a math teacher and went on to teach for 35 years. And it was there she met her husband and gave birth to her only son, Alexsandr. Even after her son moved to St Petersburg to study and eventually settled there, and her husband died, she remained. She became a client of JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in her late seventies and has been cared for by JDC for the last decade. Given her age and frailty, the homecare her local Hesed provides is particularly important.

When the crisis in Ukraine intensified at the start of 2014, Alexsandr came back to Slavyansk to relocate his mother. Local Hesed staff gave him the contact details for Hesed Abraham in St Petersburg and notified their colleagues about Aza’s arrival. But with exceedingly limited transport in the area, it took six months for Alexsandr to find a volunteer to drive them to St. Petersburg. Aza and Alexsandr currently share a small two-room apartment in a distant residential district of St. Petersburg. JDC-supported Hesed Abraham and Eva Welfare Center are doing their best to help her under such difficult circumstances; as a citizen of a foreign country, she is not eligible for a state pension or any other form of state social support. In July, Alexsandr applied for a temporary city registration for Aza but the application is still pending.

Since July 2014, JDC has provided Aza with 25 hours of homecare a week, as well as monthly medicinal subsidies and a food card.

Aza is just one of the thousands of Jewish elderly being assisted by JDC during the crisis in Ukraine. To learn more, visit our .

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