Betsy Gidwitx Reports


In 2014-2015, said Rabbi Glick, 14 boys reside in the boys' home, including two internally displaced boys from Donetsk.  The girls' home also has 14 residents, including several from Poltava.[16]


The two homes receive operating funds from the Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетров-ского еврейского общины), said Rabbi Glick, but it has been very difficult in the current economic environment to raise additional money for recreational activities.  Therefore, the homes have ceased such activities as music lessons and sports.  Resident children "camp hop" during the summer, moving from one Chabad camp to another; the different camp directors will receive them for a two- or three-week session and then send them to another camp.


Both homes are supervised by counselors, most of whom are only several years older than their eldest charges and none of whom has relevant education/psychology/social work background.  Some do not speak Russian or Ukrainian.  The two facilities are guarded by security personnel throughout the day and night.



7.  Старший брат, старшая сестра (Older Brother, Older Sister) is an outgrowth of the Dnipropetrovsk Kehilla Project of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Jewish federation in Boston.[17]  Adapted from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Boston, a constituent agency of CJP, the Dnipropetrovsk program is completing its Bar Mitzvah year.  It is funded by a CJP grant.


Tanya Kaplunskaya, the director of the Dnipropetrovsk project, said that 75 pairs of older/younger siblings (mentors/mentees) are now active, an increase of five over the previous year.  However, she continued, the program is now encountering two problems.  First, it is increasingly difficult to find big brothers/big sisters because the Jewish young adults who usually fill these roles are leaving Ukraine in large numbers due to the economic situation in the country.  Second, the economic situation itself has created additional burdens for families, especially for the single-parent families whose children need Older Brothers/Older Sisters most critically, and has limited the capacity of Older Brothers/Older Sisters to operate programs on which its constituency depends.  Because many students and young adults in Ukraine lack resources to carry out the two-person events that characterize JBB/BS relationships in the United States, the Dnipropetrovsk project has organized a number of large programs, such as excursions to ice skating arenas and amusement parks, in which mentors and mentees can participate.  Now, Ms. Kaplunskaya continued, funding for these outings is very scarce, causing the project to reduce its offerings, the first time in its history that it has had to cut back on these opportunities.  The Chabad Philanthropic Fund provided some resources for a Pesach program, but some other programs have been eliminated.


Most of the younger siblings, said Ms. Kaplunskaya, are pupils from School #144.  Two youngsters have Down syndrome, one has cerebral palsy, one is confined to a wheelchair, and one has serious psychological issues.  Perhaps four are internally displaced children from the combat zone in the east.  Not all are halachically Jewish.  Through contacts in the day school and elsewhere, she learns of children who would benefit from a relationship with a mentor.  The program is sufficiently well-known in the community that some parents or other adults even approach her on the street to recommend a child in need of an older companion.


Most of the big siblings volunteer through the Hillel student organization or through Jewish Agency young adult programs.  Ms. Kaplunskaya, who is a psychologist, interviews all participants and matches mentors and mentees.  She is always looking for new opportunities to bring the older and younger siblings together; in addition to excursions to parks and sports arenas, some pairs also have participated in Holocaust memorial events and in a "telebridge" event with Russian-speaking senior adults in Boston. Other pairs visited a nearby military hospital, bringing gifts to soldiers from all over Ukraine who are recuperating from battle wounds there.


A psychologist by education and training, Tanya Kaplunskaya brings considerable professional experience to her work as director of the Старший брат, старшая сестра (Older Brother, Older Sister) program in Dnipropetrovsk.  Her parents, who now live in Israel, were among the first local Jews to welcome Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki when he came to Dnipropetrovsk in 1990; both of them subsequently worked in the Jewish community for many years.  Ms. Kaplunskaya's daughter also lives in Israel.


Photo: the writer.


In response to a question about the general mood in the city, Ms. Kaplunskaya said that people are very positive, very patriotic.  They don't talk about the war or about Vladimir Putin of Russia.  Generally, people do not follow the news compulsively, if only because no one trusts news sources, whether from Ukrainian or Russian broadcasters.  The economic situation is terrible (ужас), but it is "necessary to live" so people try to be reasonably cheery and to help each other.  Because Dnipropetrovsk is a major assembly and medical care nexus for the war in the east, many wounded soldiers, some of whom are seriously maimed, are in the city.  Thus, she continued, the reality of the war is very visible.  The presence of troop movements and wounded soldiers has led to a great deal of volunteer activity, which bolsters the sense of unity and patriotism.



8.  A Special Needs Educational Resource Center, located in a wing of the Beit Chana Jewish Women's Pedagogical College,[18] enrolls 60-62 children and adolescents, as well as a few young adults.  Another five youngsters receive care at home.  For most participants, their time at the Resource Center or in homecare is their only regular education experience; however, several are enrolled in public school classes and come to Beit Chana for individual assistance, and others also attend a social/recreational program operated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint), which meets less frequently and is less educational in nature.[19] 


In response to a question, Resource Center Director Tamara Olshanitskaya said that the Center does not enroll any children from internally displaced families currently residing in Dnipropetrovsk.  The Center has been approached by several such families, she continued, but declined their enrollment because of space limitations and because of a disinclination to work with youngsters suffering from trauma related to their displacement as well as fundamental special needs.


Many of the Resource Center children are autistic, stated Ms. Olshanitskaya, and many others are intellectually impaired and have other disabilities as well.   Due to improved obstetrical care, the number of youngsters with cerebral palsy actually is declining, she said.  A few clients have not been diagnosed precisely, Ms. Olshanitskaya con-tinued, but it is clear that these youngsters are severely impaired and unable to attend conventional public schools.



Tamara Olshanitskaya, right, has directed the Resource Center since its inception.  She has spent considerable time in the United States, where her daughter and grandchildren now reside.


Photo: the writer.



When the program first started some years ago, she responded to a question, about 65 percent of the children were Jewish.  Today, only about 40 percent are Jewish.  Many Jewish families with a special-needs child emigrate to Israel where opportunities for youngsters with disabilities are far greater than in Ukraine.


Youngsters attending the Resource Center are placed in one of four groups according to age, type of disability, and degree of impairment.  Some younger children are prepared for public school special education classes, but others are so seriously afflicted that public schools are unable to accommodate them.  In addition to the five who receive care at home, several young adults who have outgrown the conventional program, come to the Center for individual therapy.  The few available private institutions for children with disabilities are too expensive for most families, said Ms. Olshanitskaya.  Additionally, she commented, many families find the smaller Resource Center to be more welcoming and comfortable.  The Resource Center operates an extended day program.  It is closed for one month during the summer, stated Ms. Olshanitskaya, in order to provide a vacation for its overworked staff.


The Resource Center premises include eight teaching/therapy spaces in five classrooms of various sizes, a sports hall, and an outdoor play area with equipment designed for special needs youngsters.  The program offers basic literacy and mathematics skills, speech therapy, art and music therapy, physical education, and massage.  The music therapist, noted Ms. Olshanitskaya, studied in Israel and is very talented. Additionally, the program offers horse-centered animal therapy; youngsters are able to ride horses and to feed them. 


A group of Resource Center children, their mothers, a teacher, and a trained volunteer are seen in the photo at left.  Much of the equipment in the Center has been provided by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.


Photo: the writer.



Medical care is provided through the Jewish Medical Center, said Ms. Olshanitskaya.[20]  The primary JMC pediatrician is very experienced and understanding, Ms. Olshanitskaya stated, and has excellent connections with all medical specialists and services in the city.  Psychologists are on staff and work with both children and parents.  


The Resource Center is unable to afford all of the professional staff that it requires.  It needs additional psychologists, social workers, and special education teachers.  It is very dependent upon volunteer helpers, among them retired teachers who come to the Center several days each week to work with individual children.  Parents and grandparents of client children also have undertaken responsibilities that extend beyond their own children or grandchildren.


[16]  Donetsk is located within the combat area; Poltava is located between Kharkiv and Kyiv (see map of Ukraine on first page of this report) and is outside the combat area.  While the dormitory boys were attending a summer camp in 2014, some 25 internally displaced Jews from the combat area were accommodated in the boys' home.  They were transferred to other facilities before the boys returned from camp.  A Chabad family from Donetsk continues to live in the girls' home.

The reduced census in the two homes parallels a general Ukrainian Jewish demographic decline and follows a pattern observed in Jewish children's residential facilities in several other Ukrainian cities. 

[17] See page 15 for further information about the ties between Dnipropetrovsk and Boston.

[18]   See page 7 for additional information about Beit Chana.

[19]   See page 8 for additional information about JDC operations in Dnipropetrovsk.

[20]   See pages 10-11 for additional information about the Jewish Medical Center.


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