Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Travel To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine
March, April, 1997


Arranging adoption in Israel for those children who are legally orphaned is another issue under study. Among the factors to be considered are the opposition of the Ukrainian government to the emigration of such children and procedures in Israel for appropriate placement of Ukrainian Jewish children.34

44. Dnipropetrovsk is the hub for Joint Distribution Committee activity in eastern Ukraine. The Dnipropetrovsk office supervises significant programs in eight heseds; Dnipropetrovsk is the largest, followed by Kharkov and Donetsk. A regional branch of the St. Petersburg-based JDC Institute for Communal and Social Service Workers is located in the Dnipropetrovsk hesed building.

The center of JDC activity in Dnipropetrovsk, the local hesed building is a large structure similar in function to the hesed building in Kyiv. The Dnipropetrovsk facility has been much better accepted than its Kyiv counterpart because the former is more centrally located, less extravagantly appointed, and also supports several programs for children in addition to those for senior adults.

The Dnipropetrovsk Shaarei Hesed welfare service provides assistance to some 4,700 elderly Jews and works in cooperation with other Jewish welfare organizations (see below) in helping an additional 1,500 clients. Three hundred volunteers, most of them recent retirees, have been enlisted to visit homebound elderly and perform other functions. Shaarei Hesed operates several canteens in the city, delivers food parcels, organizes neighbor-hood “warm homes”, coordinates homecare, ar-ranges medical assistance, loans medical equipment, provides various sociali-zation opportunities, and trains paraprofessionals and volunteers. Many of the volunteers participated in a two-day seminar in October 1996 at a summer camp owned by the local Chabad religious community.

Volunteers celebrate birthdays of several colleagues at the Dnipropetrovsk hesed.

Tsivos Hashem, the youth movement of Chabad, operates a youth center on the ground floor of the hesed building. Major activities are billiards, board games, and various electronic games, such as Nintendo. Some youngsters are also engaged in informal religious activities, but entertainment appears to dominate the agenda. The center is open after school, during evenings, and on Sundays. To critics of the emphasis on entertainment, defenders of the youth center program declare that such activities as billiards are very popular; if the Tsivos Hashem center were not available, many Jewish youngsters would patronize commercial billiards parlors where alcohol and drugs are also sold.

The JDC-administered “Simcha” creative arts center for children is located on the second floor of the building. It offers classes in various arts and crafts -- such as painting, ceramics, and puppetry -- and drama. The instructors appeared to be quite skilled and very creative, and much of the children’s work was sophisticated. While visiting the center on a weekday afternoon after school, we saw elementary school-age children en-gaged in a painting class and adolescents partici-pating in a drama class. Both groups were thor-oughly absorbed in their respective activities.

Children in JDC “Simcha”” painting class

With encouragement and assistance from Dr. Judith Wolf and her daughter Susan Wolf Fordham, both of the Boston area, JDC in Dnipropetrovsk has established a club for disabled children, including several with cerebral palsy, and their parents. Local attitudes and government neglect have isolated most of these children and their families, excluding handicapped youngsters from school and forcing parents to forgo employment so that they can care for children at home. The recreational and educational opportunities (as well as some humanitarian aid) provided through JDC have been extraordinarily well received by the families. The Dnipropetrovsk program for such children is the first offered by JDC in the successor states.

Shimon Strinkovsky, the first Israeli professional to direct JDC operations in Dnipropetrovsk, is returning to Israel during the summer months. Mr. Strinkovsky has been viewed as a “human bulldozer,” someone who “gets things done” without much finesse. However, few people with whom we spoke welcomed his forthcoming departure; the less graceful aspects of his operating style seemed an acceptable price for his accomplishments in establishing the hesed and implementing other JDC programs in the city and region. Itzhak Averbuch, the JDC director in the Volga region, will replace Mr. Strinkovsky. We attended a dinner given at Beit Baruch in Mr. Strinkovsky’s honor during a transition visit by a JDC team that included JDC post-USSR director Asher Ostrin, Mr. Averbuch, and additional JDC staff. Other guests included a number of local Jewish activists.

We also met with Mikhail Bichuch, who had recently been appointed director of JDC welfare operations. Mr. Bichuch, a local man who had worked for JDC in other capacities, is highly respected. He is replacing another individual who was transferred out of Dnipropetrovsk by JDC due to poor performance.

45. Boris Pessin continues as President of the Evreisky Soviet (Jewish Council). We met with him at the Soviet’s welfare offices, which are located in a theater building, on a Sunday morning. The premises were bustling with activity as Sunday is one of the five days each week when individuals can register for assistance (for themselves or for relatives). Volunteers manned eight tables, one for each of eight districts in the city. Curators for the various districts were eager to show us their records, which included applications, records of home visits, summaries of services requested and rendered, information on next of kin, etc. Assistance is given only after two inspectors visit the prospective client at home on separate occasions to evaluate need and make recommendations.

Clients over 60 years of age are assigned to one of three categories. The largest category is that of individuals living alone and without support of local relatives; approximately 70 percent receive four food parcels each year, 20 to 25 percent receive six food parcels, and the remaining five to ten percent receive two food parcels annually. A second category includes survivors of concentration camps, and the third consists of eight gentiles who helped Jews during World War II.

Individuals under 60 years of age may qualify for assistance if they are victims of the Chernobyl disaster, suffering from cancer, or invalid children. While we were in the office, a distraught single mother of three children between the ages of four and 14 approached the welfare service for funds to purchase medicine and nutritious food for the youngest child. The four-year old girl was ill with pneumonia. A paraprofessional social worker at the welfare service was familiar with the case and verified the need for cash assistance; she added that the four-member family lived in deplorable conditions in one room, and that infections were quickly transferred from one child to another. Touched by her plea but somewhat uncertain regarding the mother’s ability to purchase and dispense the appropriate medicine and food, we entrusted funds to a welfare supervisor to manage the acquisition and administration of necessary medication and nutrition.

The supervisor requested that the woman write out a receipt, describing the condition of her child and acknowledging the gift of funds for her care.

The welfare service of the Jewish Council employs a nurse, but no physicians. When a physician’s care is necessary, patients are referred to physicians at Shaarei Hesed.

Boris Pessin said that his organization provides some assistance to a local nursing home in which some residents are Jews. Few nursing homes in the post-Soviet successor states enjoy a good reputation. Underfunded and generally neglected, such facilities are disdained by all but the very desperate. Mr. Pessin said that many of the elderly Jews in such homes were all but forced into them. Younger members of their families, with whom they had shared an apartment, would sell the apartment prior to making aliyah. If the older person was unable or unwilling to go to Israel, a public nursing home might be the only available residence.

The Jewish Soviet has a small library and distributes copies of Russian-language Jewish newspapers. It also provides free hairdressing on Mondays for both men and women. Another operation is a legal aid bureau.

We also met with Boris Pint, the director of the Jewish Soviet dating service. Mr. Pint said that the service was free of charge and enrolled 1,000 members, 200 from Dnipropetrovsk and 800 from other cities, including Dnipropetrovsk immigrants in Israel, the United States, and Germany. The service advertised in Jewish newspapers and in other Jewish media. In the nine years of its existence, it had facilitated 35 marriages; unfortunately, three of these marriages have ended in divorce.

46. Israel Rashal, the director of Sochnut (the Jewish Agency) in Dnipropetrovsk, previously worked for Sochnut in Donetsk, a major industrial city to the east of Dnipropetrovsk. Budgetary constraints have forced Sochnut to withdraw its Israeli shaliach (emissary) from Donetsk. Based in Dnipropetrovsk, Mr. Rashal now serves both cities as well as a number of additional Jewish population centers in east central Ukraine, such as Kirovograd and Zaporozhe. He visits the Donetsk office for three or four days every month. A local Jew manages Sochnut operations there on a daily basis.

Mr. Rashal said that between 120,000 and 150,000 Jews and their families reside in the east central region of Ukraine covered by the Sochnut Dnipropetrovsk office. Reflecting severe local economic distress, aliyah from this area is very high. Although aliyah usually decreases in January and February, figures remained high during these months in 1997. However, it is likely that aliyah will decrease by about 10 percent every year beginning in 1998 because current heavy emigration is depleting the aliyah pool.

34. See pages 53-54 for a report about Jewish street children in Odesa and page 61 for general observations about the issue.

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