Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Welfare Activities


The primary provider of welfare services to the Jewish population of Kyiv is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The writer met with Raisa Gritsenko, director of the JDC hesed, and Olga Vasylchenko, director of children's services, in April. In June, during a subsequent trip to Kyiv, she met with Amir Ben-Tzvi, the director of JDC operations in the Kyiv area.[141]



90. The Kyiv hesed serves 9,600 welfare clients in the city of Kyiv itself and additional hundreds in Kyiv oblast, the region around the city, said hesed director Raisa Gritsenko. The region includes Bila Tserkva (Belaya Tserkov), which has about 200 clients, and several others cities and towns that have 100-150 clients each; these include Brovary, Irvin, and Boryspil. Additionally, noted Ms. Gritsenko, the region also includes a number of smaller Jewish population centers. The client census has decreased in all categories in recent years, Ms. Gritsenko stated.[142]


The number of elderly Jews served by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims aganst Germany continues to decline as Holocaust survivors die, said Ms. Gritsenko. Recipients of Claims Conference-financed services now number 4,800 in Kyiv and another 410 to 415 in the surrounding area. However, she stated, about 250 additional individuals received a one-time Claims Conference payment as individuals "b.i.e." (born in evacuation), and another 2,000 elderly received another one-time disbursement under still different criteria.


About 1,430 clients in Kyiv and another 140 in the region receive patronage services, that is, homecare, said Ms. Gritsenko. Echoing the statements of hesed directors in other cities, Ms. Gritsenko said that current economic conditions have eased past problems in finding homecare workers. People are desperate for employment and will accept many kinds of work that they previously rejected, she explained.


Additionally, the hesed is issuing 5,600 smart cards or discount cards to clients in the city and another 690 to clients in the region in 2013. The cards, which must be purchased by users, entitle them to discounts at certain supermarkets and pharmacies. At the beginning of 2013, Ms. Gritsenko continued, the hesed served 184 individuals in a meals-on-wheels program, but budget constraints forced a contraction of services to just 84 recipients of hot meals in the second quarter of the year. The hesed subsidizes about 670 clients in hot meal programs operated by the Brodsky synagogue and the Home for Assisted Living operated by Rabbi Bleich.[143]


The hesed serves several hundred clients in a senior adult day program at the hesed. They are brought into the hesed once monthly for various social activities and a health care assessment. They also consume a hot meal with food brought in by an outside caterer. Most clients are transported between their homes and the hesed by hesed-owned vans, but some are dropped off/and or picked up by relatives, said Ms. Gritsenko. A club room with various activities is open six days each week for other Jewish elderly who elect to use the space and its supplies for arts and crafts or other activities.


In addition to services for the elderly, JDC began to operate a Jewish Family Service in Kyiv in 2004.[144] To have two children in Ukraine is to be poor, said JFS director Olga Vasylchenko. In post-Soviet Ukraine, she stated, education and health care no longer are free. JFS has identified three priority groups of clients: families with two or more children, families with children who have mental and/or physicial disabilities, and single-parent families. JFS provides welfare assistance to about 800 children every month in Kyiv and the surrounding area, she continued; this aid includes food parcels, clothing and other supplies (especially in winter), medical consultations, and cash subsidies.


The hesed building accommodates two groups of 15 children with mental or psychological disabilities three times each week in a preschool designed to help them prepare for entry into public grade school. The preschool offers speech therapy and other assistance. JDC also raises funds for specific children, mounting small campaigns among local donors.


Parents of at-risk children are instructed in childcare and offered socializing opportunities. Employment advice also may be offered. Both children and parents are included in various Jewish-identity building programs, including holiday celebrations.


JDC also operates 10-day family camps in the Crimea. About 300 people are expected to attend the camps in 2013, said Ms. Vasylchenko. The camps, which target middle-class families, require some payment by participants, but also are significantly subsidized. Camp programs include both recreational opportunities and Jewish renewal components. More recently, JDC has begun to offer summer camping for children and adolescents in direct competition with the Jewish Agency and other camp providers supported by local and international Jewish organizations.


JDC continues to struggle with inadequaces of the building that its programs occupy, a former kindergarten. In addition to a poor location at the top of a small hill and far from public transportation lines, the proportions of the structure do not easily accommodate senior adults, some of whom are unsteady on their feet and would be better served by wider corridors and stairwells, an elevator, and larger rooms. Fol-lowing purchase of the original two-story structure, JDC added the third floor; engineering regarding this addition was imperfect at best. The building suffers from signifi-cant water infiltration and mold.[145]


Photo of the hesed in Kyiv: the writer.





91. Rabbi Mordechai Levenhartz, who directs Tsirei Chabad programs in Kyiv, operates a neighborhood welfare service in addition to the day school described earlier in this report.[146] Located in a poor neighborhood, Tsirei Chabad works with JDC in identifying Jewish families and individuals who need assistance. Food is brought to the apartments of impoverished families, elderly individuals who cannot manage on their pensions, and people in poor health. A hot meal is served to about 80 people on Shabbat. Additionally, said Rabbi Levenhartz, Tsirei Chabad helps individuals who are hospitalized, especially those with cancer and those who are too young to receive assistance from JDC.[147]



92. The Home for Assisted Living sponsored by Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich is housed in a structure originally designed as an apartment building. When renovated under Rabbi Bleich's direction to serve as an assisted living center, it was configured to accommodate 85 Jewish elderly in 65 one- or two-room apartments, each with its own bathroom and kitchen facilities. Residents were to pay for their new apartments with proceeds from the sale of their old apartments; the proceeds were deposited in a trust fund that was expected to yield sufficient funds to support operation of the building. In addition to the residential units, the building also includes a kitchen and small dining hall, a synagogue/multi-purpose room, other program rooms, a suite of medical offices, and several staff apartments.


The Home for Assisted Living (top) is located in a pleasant residential area of Kyiv near public transportation.


Photo: Rabbi Bleich's office.



The synagogue/multi-purpose room on the ground floor is used as a day center (see below) and for other programs. Viktor Popovich, at left, manages the facility.


Photo: the writer.




The number of residents in the Home never reached even half of its capacity. Other organizations, principally JDC, blocked grants from foundations and other institutions that had been approached about start-up funding, assistance for Holocaust survivors, or other forms of support.[148] Locally-generated income never reached its goal because social conditions forced Rabbi Bleich to accept several residents who were homeless, that is, who had no property to sell and no proceeds to transfer to the Home.


Viktor Popovich, the manager of the facility, said that 27 individuals currently reside in the Home, all of them in units on floors two through four. They pay whatever they can afford. Two residents are bedridden (лежающие), he stated. In response to a question, Mr. Popovich said that some people learn about the facility from occasional advertisments that the Home places on the Internet or in newspapers; however, the main source of information appears to be "the Jewish radio," that is, word-of-mouth. Two health professionals, including one nurse, are on duty at the Home around the clock.


[141] See pages 145-147 for the interview with Mr. Ben-Tzvi.

[142] The decrease in number of clients is due to general population decline and to a tightening of eligibility standards, thus excluding many Jewish elderly from care.

[143] See page 133.

[144] Cynics are quick to note the similarity in name to family service agencies supported by many Jewish Federations in the United States, suggesting that JDC is engaging in deliberate deception to portray their programs as extensions of local Federations and agencies in an effort to attract additional donors. JDC children's programs also are termed Beitenu (Heb., Our Home) collectively. See the Kyiv Beiteinu website at The site is accessible in both Russian and English versions.

[145] See the report of an interview with Amir Ben-Tzvi, pages 145-147.

[146] See pages 107-108.

[147] Most hospital patients in Ukraine are expected to provide their own food, bed linens, surgical instruments, and medications.

[148] The Joint Distribution Committee never offered a cogent explanation for its obstructing actions, but the assumption is that it feared loss of its monopoly over major welfare ventures in the post-Soviet states and associated fundraising privilege. JDC also blocked applications for funds from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany by the Beit Baruch Assisted Living Facility in Dnipropetrovsk and by an independent Jewish Community Center in Kyiv. See footnote 84, page 69, and page 139.


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